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Washington changes status of Snake River steelhead

Steelhead anglers drift while fishing the lower Clearwater River above the railroad bridge near the confluence of the Snake River in this file photo. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)
Steelhead anglers drift while fishing the lower Clearwater River above the railroad bridge near the confluence of the Snake River in this file photo. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)
By Eric Barker Lewiston Tribune

The Snake River in Washington will move to catch-and-release-only fishing starting Saturday and lasting through the season, according to an emergency rule change posted on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

The agency will not allow any steelhead harvest on the Snake but will permit anglers on tributaries like the Grande Ronde, Tucannon and Touchet rivers to keep one hatchery steelhead per day. The agency is also suspending mandatory hatchery steelhead retention rules on those tributaries.

The move follows Idaho’s statewide suspension of steelhead harvest announced earlier this month. Both states are acting to ensure enough hatchery steelhead return to hatcheries to meet spawning needs. The 2017 steelhead run is shaping up to be among the worst on record. Through Sunday, only 622 steelhead had been counted at Lower Granite Dam. The 10-year average is 10,345.

Earlier this month, fisheries managers for the Columbia River basin downgraded their forecast of A-run steelhead returns to the Columbia River from 112,100 to just 54,000. Before the run began, biologists expected a poor return of steelhead and said the number of B-run steelhead would be particularly bad.

As the run began progressing up river, they were alarmed at the dearth of A-run steelhead and crafted emergency rules aimed at conserving the run and ensuring harvest doesn’t lead to future shortages. The strength of the B-run, which returns later than the A-run, is not yet known.

Madonna Luers, spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at Spokane, said runs returning to Snake River tributaries in the state appear strong enough to allow limited harvest. The normal bag limit for hatchery steelhead on the Grande Ronde, Tucannon and Touchet is three per day.

“We think we are OK with allowing one fish to be kept,” Luers said.

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