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Idaho Closing Portion of
Snake River to Chinook Fishing

by John Miller, Associated Press
Arizona Republic, May 4, 2005

BOISE, Idaho -- Hit by paltry numbers of returning salmon, Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials say they're closing a 23-mile stretch of the Snake River near Lewiston to spring chinook sport fishing to preserve the few fish headed upstream.

In a related action, four Northwest Indian tribes said they would not conduct ceremonial or subsistence fishing on part of the Columbia River this year.

Sharon Kiefer, the Idaho agency's manager of anadromous fisheries, said the closure, set to begin Wednesday, protects fish headed to Snake tributaries, including the Salmon and Grande Ronde rivers.

Idaho's spring chinook fishing opened 20 days ago. Officials in Washington and Oregon have already closed Columbia River chinook fishing.

While other Idaho rivers, including the Clearwater, Lochsa, Salmon and upper Snake River, remain open, those areas could have fishing limited or closed should fish numbers remain dismal, Kiefer said.

As of Monday, just 851 fish, or less than 1 percent of levels seen during 2001's record run, had passed through fish ladders at Lower Granite Dam on the Snake near Pullman, Wash., the last dam before fish swim into Idaho.

"If we start talking about closures in other segments, it'll be a clear indication that the run size is very dire," Kiefer said. "But right now, we don't have any clear indication that that is necessary."

Monday, Oregon's and Washington's fish and wildlife departments slashed their forecast for spring chinook expected to enter the mouth of the Columbia River from the Pacific Ocean to between 70,000 and 100,000 - well under half the 254,100 predicted earlier this year.

On Tuesday, just over 37,000 fish had returned.

The chinook enter the Columbia at this time of year to return to the streams where they were hatched two or three years before. There, they spawn and die.

Scientists don't have an explanation for the scarcity,- especially given that 437,000 fish swam past the Columbia's Bonneville Dam in 2001. Their offspring should be returning this year.

Environmental groups blame a series of huge dams along the Columbia and Snake for impeding both hatchery and wild chinook, the latter which has federal Endangered Species Act protection.

Most chinook that return to spawn are hatchery fish.

"Our greatest fear is that with the numbers of these fish, they could return to the levels of when they were put on the endangered species list," said Andrew Englander, a policy analyst for Save Our Wild Salmon in Portland, Ore.

Pacific Northwest sportfishing and tribal leaders have said the scarcity of spring chinook, especially after projections of a strong return, will be devastating for businesses and families who depend on the run.

According to one study, salmon-related commerce in 2001 added $90 million to Idaho's economy.

The closure affects the river from the Southway Bridge connecting Lewiston and Clarkston, Wash., to the Heller Bar boat ramp.

"Right now, we don't have enough fish here to fish," said Jason Schultz, owner of the 14-year-old Hells Canyon Sportfishing, based in Lewiston.

Starting May 1, Schultz and his company's two other guides were booked for 60 days solid for four-person fishing trips, at $700 per boat. He may scrap most of those trips, he said.

"There's a few fish being caught, but as a commercial guide, I can't take people out," he said. "Someone might bump into one and get lucky, but as far as me being a commercial outfitter, it's pretty tough to give a good trip on a guess."

Also on Tuesday, four Indian tribes - the Umatilla and Warm Springs tribes in Oregon, the Yakama Nation in Washington and Idaho's Nez Perce - suspended ceremonial and subsistence fishing by tribal members on the Columbia between Bonneville and McNary dams.

According to treaties dating back to 1855, each tribe is allowed to harvest 2,000 fish annually for ceremonial purposes, said Charles Hudson of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission in Portland, Ore. Salmon are used in rituals for everything from marriage to funerals.

So far this year, however, the Umatilla tribe has caught just 743 chinook and Nez Perce tribal fisherman have caught 422.

"We had anticipated a fairly smooth ceremonial fishery and a reasonable subsistence fishery, and even had plans for a commercial fishery," Hudson said. "But the fish have not shown up."

John Miller, Associated Press
Idaho Closing Portion of Snake River to Chinook Fishing
Arizona Republic, May 4, 2004

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