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Biologists, Anglers Concerned
About Low Steelhead Numbers

by Associated Press
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 3, 2006

BOISE, Idaho -- Biologists with the state Department of Fish and Game say they are concerned by early numbers that could indicate a low return of steelhead to Idaho.

"It's definitely got our attention," Sharon Kiefer, anadromous fish manager for the department, told The Idaho Statesman. "We're not in a panic yet, but we're paying real close attention."

The 10-year average number of steelhead that have passed through Bonneville Dam by early August is 120,000. So far, just 66,000 have made it past the dam. Bonneville is the first of eight dams the oceangoing fish pass before reaching Idaho.

Last year at this time, about 106,000 steelhead had made it past the dam. In 2001, more than 300,000 steelhead had passed the dam by this time.

The 10-year average total of steelhead past the dam is 312,000.

Fishing seasons and bag limits this season will not be changed unless the run turns out to be well below recent years, Kiefer said.

Most steelhead returning this year headed to the ocean in 2005, when ocean conditions were poor for young fish due to low amounts of phytoplankton and zooplankton, primary food sources.

Mike Cummins, who owns the Shed Fly Shop in the northern Idaho town of Peck, said he hooked his first summer steelhead last year on July 1, but so far this year has not heard of anyone catching a steelhead.

"I might be worrying about them in a month if there aren't any up here," said Cummins, who gets about 95 percent of his business from steelhead anglers.

Though catch-and-release fishing for steelhead is open in many of Idaho's rivers, the only spot currently open to catch-and-keep fishing is a small stretch of the Clearwater River near Lewiston. The general steelhead season opens Sept. 1.

Boise angler Jeff Barney said he plans to fish for steelhead, but how much depends on the size of the run. "It's certainly cause for a great deal of concern," he said of the low early returns.

Oregon, Washington and Canada are other options if steelhead numbers aren't good in Idaho, Barney said.

"The economics are worth it for me to travel if the (steelhead) numbers are there," he said.

Associated Press
Information from: The Idaho Statesman
Biologists, Anglers Concerned About Low Steelhead Numbers
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 4, 2006

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