Landers: It’s short-sighted to end fishery restrictions

Fish managers in Washington and Idaho are under pressure to liquidate gains that fishing restrictions have made in native trout fisheries:

• Washington buckled on Saturday by easing redband-trout-protecting rules on nine miles of the Kettle River.

• Idaho is planning meetings to air proposals that would allow anglers to kill westslope cutthroats grown to hefty proportions by catch-and-release rules in the St. Joe and Coeur d’Alene rivers.

Biologists in both states agree that more than a decade of increasing wild trout populations and sizes could be turned back or erased in a couple of years by relapsing to rules that allow bait fishing or more liberal harvest.

We’re not talking about hatchery fish raised and planted specifically for anglers to enjoy from hook-up to cookout.

The discussion doesn’t include plentiful options to fill freezers with prolific panfish or smallmouth bass.

The issue is wild trout that need special protection to flourish in degraded habitat and endure the love anglers have for catching them.

Kettle River: The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to lift selective-fishery rules for youth anglers on the Kettle River from Curlew north to the Canada border at Danville starting May 26.

The rule originated with a proposal to lift special rules for all ages on the entire river in Washington. The proposal came from the Ferry County advisory group formed in the early 1990s to work with Fish and Wildlife managers, improve the river’s ailing fishery and give native redband trout a chance to thrive.

The state responded to that group in the ’90s by enacting selective-gear rules that prohibit bait and require anglers to use artificial flies or lures with single barbless hooks to reduce hooking mortality on fish that are caught and released. The limit is two fish with a 12-inch minimum size.

Last year, the advisory group said some locals wanted to tap the improving fishery with bait. A lot of other locals disagreed, along with the region’s fly-fishing clubs and most other people with any reasonable appreciation for wild redband trout.

But instead of standing up for the wild fishery, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department managers compromised. They recommended that youths 14 and younger be allowed to use bait to fish in a 9-mile stretch of the river where they’d likely do the least damage to the redband fishery.

The agency had a chance and a ton of support to take a stand and raise the river’s status and suggest to kids that their help is needed as much as everyone else’s to maintain a special wild trout fishery.

Before the proposal was adopted, Commissioner Rolland Schmitten of Lake Wenatchee said he was concerned about impacts to the fishery and hoped the agency would monitor the Kettle River and report back to the commission.

Yeah, sure thing: The agency’s budget offers zero hope that will happen.

North Idaho: Pressure apparently is mounting from the Silver Valley and St. Maries areas to roll back catch-and-release rules that have helped create world-class cutthroat fisheries on the Coeur d’Alene and St. Joe rivers.

“Most people seem delighted with the rules and the improvements, but we’re hearing from people who want to go back to harvesting,” said Jim Fredericks, Idaho Fish and Game Department regional fisheries manager.

In 2000, the catch-and-release section on the St. Joe was increased from Prospector Creek down to Avery. An increase in the number of larger trout was documented in that stretch within a few years.

In 2008, anglers supported IFG in a landmark decision to declare year-round catch-and-release rules for cutthroats in the entire Spokane River drainage, which includes the Coeur d’Alene and St. Joe rivers.

“The fish populations in the lower reaches improved to numbers and sizes comparable to the upper reaches where catch-and-release had been in place,” Fredericks said.

“We found a four- to five-fold increase in densities of trout – a very marked and clear improvement. And we have a lot more fish over 14 inches long.

“It’s the Catch-22 of quality regulations. If you build up the population to where fishermen see big fish and more of them, some people see that as proof it’s time to start harvesting fish again.”

Idaho Fish and Game is planning an angler opinion survey on the prospect of allowing cutthroat harvest again in the Coeur d’Alene and St. Joe.

Fredericks said he also will hold public meetings, perhaps in March.

“If we went back to a 14-inch minimum size limit, it’s fair to say that within a couple of years we’d see a big decrease in the number of fish longer than 14 inches,” he said. “These are wild cutthroat streams and they’re not tremendously productive.”

In other words, anglers could take a giant leap back to 1999, when you couldn’t buy a fish in the St. Joe more than 14 inches long.

The challenge is to prove, once again, to a few more people, that wild trout are far more valuable in a river than in a frying pan.

Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or richl@spokesman.com.

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