BOISE — The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is predicting this year’s return of salmon will be the largest in eight years.
Agency officials estimate 105,000 salmon will return, and Fish and Game commissioners will likely set a sport fishing season in March for the prized game fish that draws thousands of anglers to the Clearwater and Salmon river systems.
“They generate more excitement among fishermen than anything we’ve got,” said Ed Mitchell, a spokesman for Fish and Game. “They are not only a good fighting fish, they are excellent table fare. There are a lot of reasons for liking them.”
If a season is approved for 2009, it will mark the 10th consecutive year anglers are allowed to fish for salmon. That’s the longest streak of sport fishing in Idaho going back to the 1950s, the Idaho Statesman reported.
This year’s predicted run, if accurate, will be the second highest since 150,000 salmon returned to Idaho in 2001. That year marked the most salmon returning to Idaho since counts started at Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River in 1975.
Salmon returning from the Pacific Ocean migrate up the Columbia and Snake rivers to reach the Clearwater and Salmon rivers in Idaho.
“It looks like a really good season,” said Mitchell. “Not the best we’ve ever had, but one of the best seasons in memory, by all indications.”
This year’s forecast is based on last year’s return of “jack” salmon, males that return after a single year in the ocean.
Last year, about 16,000 jacks returned. That’s about 10,000 more than the average over the past 10 years.
The salmon run is made up of hatchery fish and wild fish. Anglers can keep hatchery fish but must release unharmed wild fish, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
The accuracy of the forecast for returning salmon to Idaho has fluctuated over the years, but has averaged 106 percent of the forecast over the past 20 years.