A steelhead update from Joe DuPont (8/28/18)

Hi everybody, it is late enough in the year that we now have a good feel for what the hatchery steelhead A-run to Idaho is going to be like.  These are the hatchery fish destined for the Salmon and Snake rivers.  At this point in time (8/28/18), typically over 70% of these hatchery stocks of steelhead should have passed over Bonneville Dam.  Unfortunately, the information I have for you is not good.  If you look at all the steelhead count data at Bonneville Dam, you would have to go back to 1944 to find a year with a lower window count (54,704) than we have for this time of year (June 1 through August 27).  When I pulled out the PIT-tag data that shows what the hatchery return to Idaho looks like, the results weren’t any better.  We have been hoping for a super late run like last year, but it doesn’t look like it is going to happen.  If you look at the graph below, you can see that we are projecting this year’s runs of hatchery steelhead to the Salmon and Snake rivers to reach about 14,000 fish (shown in red), which is less than last year’s run of 22,500 fish. 

steelhead_counts_8-28-18
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Joe DuPont

The obvious question is, with this low of a return, do we need to change our rules to insure we meet our brood stock needs for these hatchery programs.  We can get a feel for this by looking at what percent of fish that pass over Bonneville Dam ultimately made it to our hatchery racks in Idaho in previous years.  What our analysis tells us is that these returns are still large enough to meet brood needs, but if we don’t reduce harvest some, we could find ourselves short.  For this reason, we have elected to change the steelhead rules in all waters open to harvest in Idaho to 1 fish per day.  This rule starts on Monday September 3 and will continue through October 14.  At that point, we will need to decide what rules are appropriate; otherwise, our general rules will take over.  Likely, we will make a decision during the week of Oct 7 on how to proceed.  This will also give us time to evaluate the return of hatchery fish to the Clearwater River, which tends to come in about a month later than fish destined for the Snake and Salmon rivers. 

Many of you have also been asking me about our wild steelhead.  I can tell you the wild run is also very depressed; however, we believe our fishing rules are effective at protecting wild fish.  Our analysis shows that impacts on wild fish from our sport fisheries (through catch and release) has averaged around 3%, and NOAA Fisheries has told us that this type of impact rate is acceptable for their recovery.  As I’m sure you all recall, last year we implemented restrictive rules due to the down return, and fishing effort dropped considerably.  We suspect this will also occur this year, which will only reduce the impacts our sport fisheries have on wild fish.

I know this is not the news you wanted to hear.  I certainly don’t like giving it.  If these is a bright side, we have seen down years in the past rebound with good returns.  Let’s hope that our wait isn’t too far away.

I hope you all have had a great summer.  Fall is almost here.

Joe DuPont