Modest bump in steelhead forecast not enough to reverse Idaho fishing closures

Fisheries managers in the Columbia River Basin delivered a tiny sliver of good news about the otherwise dismal steelhead run.

The biologists representing state, tribal and federal fisheries agencies modestly increased their steelhead forecast this week, including the much talked about B-run. According to the latest data, the managers collectively known as the Technical Advisory Committee now expect 72,000 steelhead to return to the Columbia River and its tributaries, up from 69,000. Included in that number is a new forecast calling for 6,300 B-run fish, of which 4,200 will be of hatchery origin and 2,100 wild fish.

An earlier forecast called for only about 4,500 B-run steelhead,including just 2,800 hatchery fish. The forecast for hatchery steelhead was so low that fisheries managers closed the Clearwater River and its tributaries and the Snake River downstream of the Couse Creek boat ramp to steelhead fishing.

The increased forecast, however, is not large enough to reopen the areas closed to fishing. Fisheries officials in Idaho and Washington called for the closures when it became clear too few steelhead would return to Clearwater River hatcheries to meet spawning goals, known as brood stock.

To make matters worse, about half of the hatchery B-run steelhead returning this year are bound for the South Fork of the Clearwater River where there is no trap to efficiently collect them for spawning.

“It’s really uncertain how many of those fish we are going to be able to get our hands on. Every uptick helps, but not enough to get us out of the hole we are in,” said Lance Hebdon, anadromous fish manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Boise. “We are so far in the hole it doesn’t change the necessity of the management action.”

In an effort to boost collection, some steelhead bound for the Clearwater River are being intercepted at Lower Granite Dam and trucked to Dworshak Hatchery. Hebdon said about 123 have been trapped at the dam so far this fall.

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