With the 1995 run of steelhead returning to Idaho shaping up as the worst in years, the state Department of Fish and Game may change or cancel fall harvest seasons for the fish.
“The idea that we may have season closure or regulation changes is on the table. It’s being considered,” Fish and Game spokesman Jack Trueblood said Wednesday.
Mitch Sanchotena, executive coordinator of Idaho Steelhead & Salmon Unlimited, said a total of 9,033 of the oceangoing trout passed Bonneville Dam from July 1 through July 15. That was 73 percent of the number counted during the same period last year and 35 percent of the average for the seven largest steelhead run years from 1980 through 1994, Sanchotena said.
“This is not very good news for Idaho’s sport fishermen and related businesses,” he said.
Trueblood said Fish and Game expects even worse numbers for the later B-run of steelhead returning to the Clearwater River after two years in the Pacific Ocean than for the A-run fish now returning to the Snake and Salmon rivers after one year at sea.
“The recommendations that the department pulls together actually won’t be too solid until mid-August. The dam counts can change virtually overnight, so we hesitate to jump to conclusions at this point in the summer,” Trueblood said. “Give us two more weeks and we’ll have a better feel for it.”
Opinions and recommendations from department personnel on the steelhead situation will be submitted to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission at its Aug. 17-18 meeting in Sun Valley. The harvest seasons now are scheduled to open Sept. 1 on the Salmon and Snake rivers and Oct. 15 on the Clearwater.
Sanchotena said closing the seasons could cost Idaho’s fishing-related businesses more than $30 million, but Trueblood said a small steelhead run would hurt the economy even if Fish and Game takes no action.
“If the season is open and the numbers are extremely low, the impact on the economy is virtually the same,” he said. “People won’t go there to fish if it’s lousy.”