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Idaho to suspend steelhead fishing

Threat of a lawsuit prompted the Idaho Fish and Game Commission to suspend the fall steelhead season beginning at midnight, December 7, 2018.

The lawsuit is based on the federal government’s failure to process Idaho’s Endangered Species Act permit for the steelhead fishery. Steelhead fishing will remain closed in 2019 until further notice.

In an open letter to fishermen, Idaho Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore said, “having been involved in steelhead management as a professional biologist, and being a steelhead fisherman for over 40 years, I’m well aware how important steelhead fishing is to Idaho anglers and local economies. The loss of that opportunity, even temporarily, due to a lawsuit and unprocessed permit is truly regrettable.”

Moore said Idaho was notified on October 9 of a pending lawsuit from six organizations, including the Conservation Angler, Idaho Rivers United, Friends of the Clearwater, Wild Fish Conservancy, Wild Salmon Rivers, and Snake River Waterkeeper.

The lawsuit objected to Idaho’s sport fishery for hatchery steelhead. The groups rejected a compromise that would allow some fishing on hatchery steelhead, with little risk to natural steelhead, without the approval of a federal permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service under the Endangered Species Act.

Moore said the groups singled out Idaho for their lawsuit even though he doesn’t believe there is a biological basis to close steelhead fisheries in the Snake River basin. Fisheries in the Snake River boundary waters remain open to anglers in Oregon and Washington. Tribal steelhead fisheries in Idaho will also continue.

The Fish and Game Commission said it intended to reopen the steelhead season when it gets a federal permit in early 2019, possibly March.

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