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Unclipped Steelhead Smolts set for Release

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune - November 11, 1999

Indian tribes agree to reduce the numbers of wild steelhead taken
in exchange for planting hatchery fish

State, federal and tribal fisheries managers reached a compromise that will see 600,000 hatchery steelhead smolts released this spring without having their adipose fins clipped.

The release is occurring in conjunction with tribal efforts to rebuild wild salmon and steelhead runs through the use of fish hatcheries.

Hatchery-raised steelhead normally have the fin on the top of their backs and behind the dorsal fin clipped so they can be distinguished from wild steelhead when they return as adults. Wild fish are protected under the Endangered Species Act and must be released by anglers.

The compromise was hashed out last fall in negotiations between the Columbia River Indian tribes and state and federal fish managers. The tribes are permitted to incidentally take a limited number of wild steelhead in their commercial and subsistence fisheries that are protected by treaties with the U.S. government.

But under the agreement, the tribes have reduced the number of wild Clearwater River steelhead taken in their fisheries in exchange for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allowing the smolts to be released with their fins intact.

The tribes hope the fish will return as adults, spawn in the wild and boost native runs of steelhead.

"It's definitely part of a much longer term strategy to boost natural production, which will yield more fish and more harvest for everyone," said Intertribal Fish Commission spokesman Charles Hudson in Portland.

The release sites were carefully selected so the hatchery fish would not affect existing populations of wild fish, according to Sharon Kiefer, anadromous fish coordinator for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Boise. For that reason, most of the smolts will be released in the South Fork of the Clearwater River, where wild steelhead were all but extirpated by the old Harpster Dam.

"We chose areas where there is little to no natural steelhead spawning occurring," she said.

The department has some concerns the tribal efforts, known as supplementation, could actually harm wild stocks and they did not want the releases to occur in wild steelhead strongholds like the Lochsa and Selway rivers.

Kiefer said the smolts that will come from the Dworshak National Fish Hatchery at Ahsahka have been spawned from late returning steelhead so they more closely match spawning time frames of wild fish. Many hatchery steelhead return and spawn sooner than their wild cousins.

The fins have (not?) been clipped to protect the fish from sport harvest when they return as adults.

Up to 3 million hatchery smolts are released in the river each year.

by Eric Barker
Unclipped Steelhead Smolts set for Release
Lewiston Tribune, November 11, 1999

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