Steelhead anglers and fans of the fish hoping for better returns this year, especially for the large B-run fish, may want to lower their expectations.
Fisheries managers for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game are expecting another poor return to the Snake River and its tributaries and a devastatingly low number of B-run steelhead bound for the Clearwater River.
Alan Byrne, an Idaho Fish and Game biologist at Boise, said the state expects about 60,700 steelhead to return at least as far as Lower Granite Dam this fall. That includes 55,100 A-run steelhead that tend to spend one year in the ocean, and 5,600 B-run steelhead that usually spend two years at sea.
Byrne said the A-run will include about 35,950 hatchery fish that have had their adipose fins clipped, making them available for harvest, and another 2,250 unclipped hatchery fish. Wild A-run steelhead will number about 16,950.
The B-run is looking much worse. Of the 5,600 fish expected to return, just 4,130 are forecast to be clipped hatchery fish. Another 770 unclipped hatchery fish are expected to return, and just 665 wild fish are expected.
He said the B-run is likely to be similar to returns in 2017, when the agency implemented rules restricting the harvest of bigger steelhead. He also noted that if the modest prediction for the A-run return proves overly optimistic, it will be a tough year for anglers. Last year, about 94,700 steelhead were counted at Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.
This year, regional fisheries managers are expecting about 118,000 to return at least as far as Bonneville.
“It’s not very good compared to the last 10 to 20 years, but better than our actual run last year,” Byrne said. “But if the one-ocean component (A-run steelhead) is a no show, that forecast at Bonneville is likely optimistic.”
The run, measured at Bonneville Dam, is tracking behind last year’s.
“We are behind last year and if you remember last year’s run it was one of the lowest we have had since the mid-1970s,” Byrne said. “I’m not going to get too overly concerned yet. If this continues into the first week of August, then it is starting to get worrisome.”