The Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted on Friday to close steelhead fishing on the Clearwater River due to low returns of the threatened species.
In a news release, Fish and Game said the closure goes into effect at midnight Sept. 29 and “covers the Clearwater River upstream to the confluence of the Middle Fork and South Fork, along with the North Fork, Middle Fork and South Fork tributaries. The section of the Snake River downstream from the Couse Creek boat ramp to the Idaho/Washington state line will also be closed to protect Clearwater-bound steelhead.”
By Wednesday, only about 1,100 hatchery steelhead headed for the Clearwater River had passed the Bonneville Dam, according to data transmitted by electronic PIT tags embedded in the fish.
“Based on average run timing, we estimate that this will result in approximately 2,300 fish crossing Bonneville Dam by the end of the season,” said Lance Hebdon, anadromous fishery manager for Idaho Fish and Game, in the news release. “The result for Idaho anglers is that only 1,700 hatchery steelhead destined for the Clearwater River will make it to Lower Granite Dam by the end of the season.”
Clearwater River hatcheries require 1,352 fish to meet broodstock needs, Fish and Game said. That means all fish destined for the Clearwater are needed for hatchery operations, leaving no surplus for anglers.
Steelhead seasons remain in place on the Snake and Salmon rivers, though anglers are limited to one hatchery catch per day and may not keep fish larger than 28 inches from the Snake River.
Experts have been concerned about steelhead returns since the beginning of the year, when biologists predicted yet another year of low returns for steelhead and salmon. Earlier this month, biologists in Idaho and Washington downgraded the already conservative predictions.
The change to the Clearwater steelhead season does not affect the ongoing fall chinook salmon season, which closes Oct. 13. The Fish and Game Commission on Friday also approved a coho salmon season on the Clearwater to run alongside the chinook season.