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Commentaries and editorials

Conservation Groups did Idaho a
Favor by Ending Steelhead Season

by Josh Babcock
Moscow-Pullman Daily News, November 17, 2018

Graphic: Snake River Steelhead have triggered the Early Warning Indicator of the Federal Columbia River Power System's 2014 Supplemental Biological Opinion Idaho wildlife officials have suspended the current steelhead fishing season following a lingering lawsuit by six conservation groups.

Those groups, one of which operates right out of downtown Moscow - Friends of the Clearwater - contend the state's steelhead regulations harm federally protected wild steelhead.

The groups claim Idaho lacks an approved Fisheries Management and Evaluation Plan from the federal government to allow steelhead fishing, a requirement to a steelhead season.

Wednesday in Coeur d'Alene, Fish and Game officials met with representatives of the organizations in an attempt to settle the lawsuit without closing steelhead fishing, but those attempts were unsuccessful, according to an IDFG news release.

Now, the season will conclude at the end of fishing hours Dec. 7.

The news is a lose-lose for every party involved.

Obviously, steelhead anglers won't be doing much angling. The IDFG has work to do with the federal government to get their management and evaluation plan approved. More importantly, the department has failed to do so since 2010. In turn, the conservation groups are tasked with doing more of their work by providing watchdog oversight of the IDFG on the matter. Idaho tourist towns dependent on steelhead runs will see slow times. Oh yeah, those fish, Idaho doesn't have a plan to manage their fragile species and they're dying off.

Anyone can see their numbers are dwindling. Just visit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website to see this year's daily counts and all the yearly counts dating back decades.

As of Friday afternoon, 102,594 steelhead passed Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River this year; only 33,214 were wild steelhead.

Those 102,594 steelhead are the fewest to pass Bonneville since 1978. The wild steelhead numbers are some of the lowest in more than two decades.

Of those 102,594 fish that passed Bonneville, 52,383 made it past Lower Granite Dam on the lower Snake River. Who knows how many of them made it into Idaho?

IDFG Director Virgil Moore, a professional biologist who has been involved in steelhead management, said in a news release he is aware how significant fishing is for Idaho anglers and the economy.

"The loss of that opportunity, even temporarily, due to a lawsuit over an unprocessed permit, is truly regrettable," Moore wrote.

While unfortunate for all involved, at the end of the day, the IDFG failed to meet federal requirements to a steelhead fishing season.

No one on this board has experience in biology, but it sure seems like a good choice to have a management plan for a species that was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1997.

Shutting down Idaho's steelhead season creates a ripple effect for many different groups. Some would surely like to blame the six conservation groups who threatened the IDFG with a lawsuit.

Those folks should blame the IDFG for not having a management plan in place and be praising the conservationists. Those groups are working to preserve a species in Idaho for future generations of anglers and tourists to see. If not for them, in the future, every steelhead season could be suspended.

Related Pages:
Steelhead Season Gets Snagged on a Legal Barb by Eric Barker, Lewiston Tribune, 11/16/18
Columbia Salmon Season Won't Reopen Until Jan. 1 by Staff, Chinook Observer, 11/14/18
Columbia River Salmon, Steelhead Fisheries Reopen Jan. 1 by Eli Francovich, Spokesman-Review, 11/13/18
Idaho Mulls Scrubbing Steelhead Season by Eric Barker, Lewiston Tribune, 11/14/18
IDFG Cuts Clearwater Steelhead Bag Limit by Eric Barker, Lewiston Tribune, 9/30/18

Josh Babcock for the Editorial Board
Conservation Groups did Idaho a Favor by Ending Steelhead Season
Moscow-Pullman Daily News, November 17, 2018

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