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Fish and Game Predicts a Salmon Season Next Year

by Roger Phillips
The Idaho Statesman, July 20, 2002

Fisheries chief says 2003 run is looking good

MCCALL -- Before this salmon season is even over, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game is predicting there will be another one next year.

At the Fish and Game Commission's regular meeting Friday, F&G fisheries chief Virgil Moore said the 2003 salmon run will be better than earlier predictions.

F&G is predicting about 45,000 salmon will return to Idaho next year. That figure is well below this year's run of 75,000 spring chinook, but still more than triple the average runs between 1991 and 2000.

F&G's predictions are based on the number of “jack” salmon that return after spending only one year in the ocean. Most salmon spend two or three years in the ocean, so the jack count is an indicator of the next year's run.

“We're much higher than the 10-year average,” Moore said. “We will be able to have a fishery.”

The news is particularly good considering next year's run came from a smaller-than-normal number of salmon smolts released in 2001. Those smolts migrated to the ocean during a drought, which is often fatal for young fish.

In 2001, Rapid River hatchery near Riggins, which is a major source of sport-caught salmon, released only 700,000 smolts. The hatchery typically releases between 2 million and 3 million smolts a year.

Although overall migration conditions were poor in 2001, Moore said there were several spring storms that sent pulses of water down the river systems and helped push the smolts toward the ocean.

Moore also said that early indication for this fall's steelhead season looks promising, but nothing like the huge run last fall.

He predicts this fall's steelhead run will be about 60 percent of last year's.

“We should have a fairly good fishery, but it won't be like it was last year,” he said.

Also at the commission meeting, F&G natural resources chief Tracey Trent showed commissioners the preliminary results of a survey on motorcycle and ATV use during hunting seasons.

“Basically half the hunters use an ATV when they go hunting,” Trent said. “We have to accommodate their use without being damaged by it.”

ATVs and motorcycles can be regulated in three ways, Trent said. F&G can regulate them as a method of hunting, land management agencies can regulate their use on public lands, and legislation can be passed to manage them.

Commissioners already have established one hunting unit in the state, Unit 47 near the Nevada border, where ATVs and motorcycles are not allowed for any hunting use except travel on roads.

Getting land management agencies to change their rules or getting any legislation appeared unlikely, at least in the short term.

“Waiting for the Bureau of Land Management of the Forest Service is going to take a while,” Trent said.

F&G director Steve Huffaker also added that, with ATV users and non-users evenly divided, it's unlikely legislation would pass.

“It's an extremely polarizing situation, so there's going to be no legislative fix,” Huffaker said.

There's also a major problem enforcing existing laws. Hunters already cannot chase game or shoot from any motorized vehicle.

“There is not enough enforcement in the world to catch them,” Huffaker said.

One thing the survey obviously showed was the dramatic increase in the use of ATVs in the past decade.

The recent survey showed that compared with a similar survey in 1988, seven times more hunters say they always use an ATV or motorcycle while hunting. On the flip side, 80 percent of hunters in the 1988 survey said they never used them for hunting, and that number decreased to 35 percent in the recent survey.

Roger Phillips
Fish and Game Predicts a Salmon Season Next Year
The Idaho Statesman, July 20, 2002

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