As a former Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner, state Sen. Jeff Siddoway says he “feels horrible” about being cited for illegally keeping a king salmon he caught in Alaska.
Siddoway, a six-term Republican lawmaker from Terreton, said he has been salmon fishing in Alaska for 25 years and he knows how complicated the regulations can get during the short action-packed king salmon fishing season.
While king salmon (also called chinook salmon) fishing is limited in Idaho, its population is stronger in Alaska, which has robust commercial and sport salmon fishing. Anglers are allowed to keep their catch unless the population runs low, then emergency restrictions start. When those emergency restrictions start, they can be confusing and change quickly.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed the Kenai River to king salmon fishing on June 20 due to low early returns. At that time just 2,116 large king salmon (30 inches or longer) had passed by a sonar fish-counter.
On July 16, Alaska Fish and Game issued a superseding order allowing catch-and-release king salmon fishing only. By that time, about 2,770 large king salmon had passed the fish counter.
“Historically the quarter point of the late run arrives around July 17. Without further restrictions to harvest, the goal for Kenai River late-run king salmon is not expected to be achieved,” said ADFG Cook Inlet Management Coordinator Matt Miller in a July 16 news release announcing the catch-and-release only order.
The catch-and-release-only order is effective from July 18 to July 31, which is when the king salmon season officially closes.
Siddoway, who is retiring this year after six terms, was cited for catching and keeping a king salmon on July 21.
Siddoway told the Statesman that he stopped by a tackle shop and queried about the fishing restrictions. He said he was told no-bait, single-hook lures, which is how he fished and that was totally legal. But, he said he did not know it was catch-and-release only. He caught a fish, pulled it into his boat and went upstream to take a picture. The king he caught was 37 inches long and weighed about 30 pounds.
“I lifted the fish up to take a picture of it and holy cow,” said Siddoway. He said people on several nearby boats began shouting at him. “They just started yelling, ‘You can’t keep kings. You can’t even get them out of the water.’”
Guides and local anglers often monitor other anglers to ensure everyone is complying with the restrictions.
“If you brought a king salmon out of the water on the Kenai right now you would hear about it from the 15 boats around you,” Miller said. “There’s policing going on. Honest people make honest mistakes, but we’re trying to minimize that. We want compliance not citations.”
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Siddoway returned to the dock, acknowledged to officials he had caught and kept a king and accepted his fate.
“I just screwed up. There is no excuse,” he said. “I should have paid attention. I didn’t. I paid the consequences,” he told the Statesman.
The mistake cost him $260, which includes $100 for keeping a fish in closed water, $150 for restitution and a $10 court fee.
“They took the fish and took it to the food bank,” he said. “They did not take my license or confiscate any of my equipment, which I certainly know they could have done.”
Siddoway, 69, is a sheep and elk rancher known for his wry humor and for being a staunch supporter of controlling wolves, lowering taxes and increasing teacher pay.
He is retiring this year from the Idaho Legislature after serving 12 years representing District 35, which encompasses Butte, Clark, Fremont and Jefferson counties in eastern Idaho.
He chaired the Local Government and Taxation committee from 2013 to 2016. He was selected to chair the House State Affairs Committee in 2017.
Siddoway endorsed two-term District 35 Rep. Van Burtenshaw, son of former state Sen. Don Burtenshaw, to replace him. Burtenshaw won the GOP primary for the seat in May. He does not have a Democratic challenger.
Outdoor journalist Kris Millgate is based in Idaho Falls, Idaho. See more of her work at www.tightlinemedia.com.
Cynthia Sewell is Idaho Statesman’s government and investigative reporter. Contact her at (208) 377-6428, firstname.lastname@example.org or @CynthiaSewell on Twitter.