Responding to poor steelhead numbers, Idaho, Washington and Oregon have slashed daily bag limits on the Snake River and its tributaries.
All three states cut the daily bag limit for hatchery steelhead from three fish per day to two. Oregon’s rule takes effect today. Idaho’s new bag limit starts on Monday, and Washington’s will follow on Tuesday. The catch-and-keep steelhead season on the Snake, Salmon, Grande Ronde and Imnaha rivers opened this morning in Idaho and Oregon and had opened previously on the Snake River in Washington.
Fisheries officials are responding to poor fish counts at dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers and a new forecast released on Monday that calls for just 96,500 steelhead to return to Bonneville Dam, the first they encounter on their return from the Pacific Ocean. If the prediction proves accurate it would be the worst return since 1978.
“Making this change now will help us meet our conservation objectives for wild steelhead and still allow anglers some fishing opportunity,” said Chris Donley, fish program manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at Spokane. “However, we will continue to monitor the run of steelhead to the Snake River and adjust as necessary.”
Jeff Yanke, district fish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife at Enterprise, Ore., said the rule will help protect wild fish and ensure enough hatchery fish survive the fishery for spawning next spring.
“Our current estimates suggest enough hatchery fish will return to meet program goals and support recreational harvest, but we also need to manage conservatively this early in the season,” Yanke said. “We found that this approach was successful last year to increase survival and returns to wild spawning tributaries and hatchery facilities.”
Chris Sullivan, salmon and steelhead harvest coordinator for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Boise, said the Idaho bag limit will remain in place through Oct. 14. By that time, Sullivan said, the state’s fisheries managers will have enough information to decide if the bag limits should be revised.
“We will be assessing whether or not to continue under that framework – under the one-fish bag limit – go back to the three-fish bag limit or, going the wrong direction, we could be looking at additional restrictions,” he said.
From June 1 through Thursday, only about 59,000 steelhead had been counted at Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. During last year’s poor steelhead run, more than 72,000 steelhead had been counted there during the same time period. This year’s count is about a quarter of the 10-year average. At Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River, only 1,862 steelhead had been counted as of Thursday. The 10-year average is 10,753.