Idaho Fish and Game Commission Approves First-Ever
Once Extinct Coho Passing Lower Granite In Big Numbers
A record surge of returning spawners allowed the Idaho Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday to approve the first-ever fishery in the Clearwater River drainage to specifically target coho salmon.
The season will run from Oct. 17 to Nov. 16 on the Clearwater mainstem and Middle Fork Clearwater River from the mouth upstream to Clear Creek, and on the North Fork Clearwater River downstream from Dworshak Dam.
Anglers will be allowed to keep two coho salmon per day. The possession limit will be six, and the season limit will be ten. Coho limits are separate from those for fall chinook salmon. Anglers must have a valid salmon permit to legally harvest coho Salmon, and any coho salmon harvested must be recorded on that permit. Any coho salmon processed before transport must have the skin intact, with the adipose fin attached.
A coho salmon fishing rules brochure is available in PDF form
Native Idaho coho salmon had adapted to changing river conditions more poorly than Idaho's other anadromous species, and had been blocked from historic habitat by dam construction. The species was declared extinct in the 1980s.
But with the offending dams now removed, a Nez Perce Tribe reintroduction effort has flowered. The NPT program started the reintroduction program in 1994, using eggs from other lower Columbia sources to produce juvenile fish for release in the Clearwater and tributaries.
The successful program has now transitioned to a hatchery coho program that is totally fueled by fish have started and ended their life cycle in the west-central Idaho subbasin. In years with returns in excess of hatchery needs, some returning fish are also allowed to spawn in the wild.
As of Tuesday Oct. 14, nearly 15,000 coho salmon had passed Lower Granite Dam, which is located downstream from the Clearwater's confluence with the Snake River. That dam count is nearly triple the previous high for an entire season. The coho run is likely winding down, but more are still finding their way up and over Lower Granite's fish ladder at a rate of 300-500 per day. The peak daily total this year was 1,382 adult coho on Oct. 2.
"Without the Nez Perce tribe's efforts, Idaho sport anglers would not be getting this opportunity," said Pete Hassemer, Anadromous Fisheries manager. Coho spawners had been practically nil (11 total) during the 13 years prior to the first returns of coho from the tribal program in 1997
Coho released from the Nez Perce Tribe's hatchery program have not had their adipose fins clipped, so the Commission has also approved a temporary change in the rules regarding harvest. Anglers may keep coho salmon with an adipose fin during the one month season, and are encouraged to carefully identify any salmon before harvest. A guide to fish identification in Idaho is printed in our general fishing seasons and rules brochure and online
Fall chinook salmon with adipose fins must still be released unharmed and the Clearwater River upstream of Memorial Bridge is closed to fall chinook fishing.
Coho Salmon in Idaho: Back from the Dead by Roger Philiips, Idaho Statesman, 10/20/14
Nez Perce Tribe Brings Back a Lost Salmon Run by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 10/17/14
Nez Perce Tribe's coho restoration program
NOAA's Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund
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