The Idaho Department of Fish & Game (IDFG) has decided to close steelhead fishing in the state, effective December 7th, in response to the filing of a 60 day Notice of Intent to Sue filed by six different environmentalist and anti-hatchery organizations. It is important to note that this potential lawsuit is not based upon conservation concerns, rather it is about administrative and permitting issues. The draft Fisheries Management and Evaluation Plan (FMEP) for this fishery is currently available from NOAA for public comment, and it is expected to be approved in the coming months, which would eliminate the basis of the legal action being threatened.
This closure is yet another blow to sport fishing in the region, which has seen limited salmon and steelhead seasons over the past several years. According to IDFG, the annual salmon and steelhead sport fishery is worth approximately $100 million dollars in the Clearwater region. The IDFG Commission needs to hear from you! Please tell them that shutting down the fishery due to administrative inadequacies is counterproductive to actual efforts in restoring wild steelhead populations. Ask IDFG to consider keeping the fishery open with the current, conservative limits and regulations in place, which are proven to protect wild steelhead while harvesting abundant hatchery fish.
Sadly, this unfortunate situation was entirely avoidable. For nearly a decade, NOAA Fisheries have failed to approve the FMEP required under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), leaving these steelhead fisheries and IDFG at great risk of this type of procedural lawsuit. This legal threat is clearly designed to take advantage of this inaction. Unfortunately, the recreational fishing community, IDFG, and the local economy that depends on these fisheries will pay the price. IDFG relies heavily on funding from license sales, and closing steelhead fisheries over an administrative issue will certainly harm their funding sources and in turn their ability to conserve and protect wild steelhead.
CCA Washington, our members in Idaho, and the recreational fishing community support wild fish recovery efforts as well as responsibly managed fisheries. With an observed impact rate of around 3.2% on wild steelhead, the Idaho steelhead sport fishery is a prime example of a well thought out, conservation minded fishery. Greater threats to wild steelhead, such as bycatch in non-selective gillnets, and predation by over abundant sea lions, should be the focus of these activist groups. Forcing a closure to a selective and important recreational fishery based solely on an administrative shortcoming is not the answer!
Please ask IDFG to stand strong and not cave to the pressures of these anti-fishing and anti-hatchery extremists.