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Saturday, August 8, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gatherings set to protest steelhead season closure

Steelhead anglers ply the lower Clearwater River for steelhead. (Barry Kough / Lewiston Tribune)
Steelhead anglers ply the lower Clearwater River for steelhead. (Barry Kough / Lewiston Tribune)
By Eric Barker Lewiston Tribune

Steelhead fishing outfitters, guides and anglers from the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley and Clearwater Valley have formed a Clearwater chapter of the Idaho River Community Alliance and are planning a protest and parade of trailered boats Sunday.

The newly minted group is an offshoot of the organization founded by anglers, outfitters and guides and local businesses at Riggins and White Bird last week as a way of gaining a voice in steelhead management. Both emerged as a response to the pending closure of Idaho’s steelhead fishing season.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted to suspend steelhead fishing starting Saturday. The move was made in response to the threat of a lawsuit from what was six – now five – conservation organizations over the state’s expired Steelhead Fisheries Management and Evaluation Plan and an associated permit that allows anglers to incidentally harm a small number of wild steelhead during fishing activities. Wild steelhead are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Although the groups – the Conservation Angler, Wild Fish Conservancy, Friends of the Clearwater, Snake River Waterkeeper and Wild Salmon Rivers – believe a closure or other actions are needed to protect the dismally low return of wild steelhead to the Snake River and its tributaries this fall, many have viewed the lawsuit threat as the groups leveraging a legal technicality that will harm small businesses and anglers.

“These groups pick a weak group and an unorganized group and they go after them. I don’t think Idaho thought they would ever come after Idaho. Nobody around here thought this would happen,” said Wyatt. “We had no type of organization and no type of unity and now we do. It’s a really positive thing.”

Other board members include co-chairman and outfitter Jason Schultz of Lewiston, Orofino-based outfitter Jeff Jarrett, and anglers Matt Hosking of Lewiston and Rick Claffey of Clarkston.

The group is planning to hire an attorney experienced in environmental law.

“We have no lawsuits on the table. We are purely going to get a lawyer just to review the information, review what happened and get some advice and let us know where we should go from here,” Wyatt said.

Their first action will be to lead a parade of trailered boats starting at the Port of Lewiston parking lot at 11 a.m. Sunday. The group will drive to the Southway Boat Ramp, where the protest will be held.

“Any type of fisherman with a boat that wants to be in the protest parade can show up at 11,” he said.

The port of Lewiston was picked solely for its large parking lot. Wyatt said the group has not taken a stance on dam breaching, something the port opposes. He did say the group supports the release of hatchery steelhead in Idaho rivers.

The Riggins wing of the group will hold an 11 a.m. (MST) protest Saturday at the Riggins City Park along Main Street.

Idaho’s steelhead plan and its incidental take permit expired in 2010. Federal officials at NOAA Fisheries sat on the application for eight years because of a backlog of other applications, but are reviewing an updated version of the plan. It is not expected to be complete until February at the earliest.

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