New Fall Chinook Salmon and Steelhead Seasons and Limits

Hi everybody, our commission met today to discuss and take action on fall Chinook Salmon and steelhead seasons and limits in Idaho.  They have made some important decisions that I am sure many of you would like to know about.

 

Fall Chinook Salmon

Before I get right into the seasons and limits the Commission passed, there are a couple changes that have occurred or could change in the near future with regards to fall Chinook Salmon that people should be aware of.  First, in 2018 it was decided to move the fall Chinook Salmon smolt release below Hells Canyon Dam (1 million fish) to Hammer Creek boat ramp on the Salmon River (river mile 52.5).  This change in release locations was decided to help create a “wild fish area” in the Snake River, which would hopefully help in delisting Snake River fall Chinook Salmon from the Endangered Species Act.  Because of this new release location, we are now able to provide more fishing opportunities for fall Chinook Salmon in the Salmon River.

The other notable change is recently the states of ID, WA, and OR developed a Fisheries Management and Evaluation Plan that outlines a strategy to allow harvest of wild and unclipped hatchery fish dependent on the size of the run.  The plan has received public review and our hopes are that it will be approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in early September.  If approved, this would allow anglers to harvest adult fall Chinook Salmon with an adipose fin.  With this understanding I have included the season and limits the Commission approved below.  They have been broken out into two sections, one for the Snake and Salmon rivers and one for the Clearwater River.  This is just a general summary of the rules.  For more details, you can click on this link https://idfg.idaho.gov/fish/chinook/rules (updates available Friday, 8/23).

Snake and Salmon rivers

Areas Open to Fall Chinook Salmon fishing

  • Snake River from the Washington/Idaho border upstream to Hells Canyon Dam.
  • Salmon River from its mouth upstream to the Twin Bridge boat ramp (river mile 64.3).

Opening Date

  • August 24, 2019.

Closing Date

  • October 31, 2019 for all reaches except upstream of Cliff Mountain Rapids on the Snake River (river mile 246) which closes on November 17, 2019.  All river reaches may close earlier by emergency order of the director.

Adult Daily Limits

  • Prior to NMFS permit approval: Six (6) adipose fin-clipped adult fall Chinook.
  • Upon approval of a NMFS permit: Six (6) adult fall Chinook, only one (1) may have an adipose fin.

Jack Daily Limits

  • There will be no limit on jack fall Chinook Salmon.  Adipose-clipped and unclipped fish can be harvested.

 

Clearwater River

There are some things people need to be aware of regarding fall Chinook Salmon fisheries on the Clearwater River before I share with you what the commission adopted:  1) We have been gathering public input since 2015 to understand anglers opinions on expanding fall Chinook Salmon fishing opportunities in the Clearwater River.  2) There are a diversity of opinions on how or if we should expand fall Chinook Salmon fishing opportunities.  3) It was decided in 2018 to organize a working group that will help develop rule proposals for both fall Chinook Salmon and steelhead in the Clearwater basin.  This strategy is supported by the 2019-2024 Fisheries Management Plan that was approved by the Commission.  4) If NMFS approves our permit, this is an opportunity to provide a one-year experimental fall Chinook Salmon fishery that will help us learn how angler effort, boating traffic, and angler satisfaction are influenced by this fishery.  This information can be used by the Working Group to help them develop seasons and rule proposals.

As most of you realize, we have been asking people (via a public meeting and internet surveys) how they would like this experimental fishery to be managed if one was adopted by the Commission.  The figure below is a summary of the responses we received from those who participated in each of these surveys.  As you look at this figure, it is important to recognize that the lower the score the more people like that option.  The results show that most people who commented would prefer to have an experimental season that was open 7 days a week in the entire reach of the Clearwater River.

angler_input_2019
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Joe DuPont

It is important to point out that 40% of the people who participated in the internet survey indicated they did not want to rank any of the fishery options because they didn’t want to expand fall Chinook Salmon fishing opportunity in the Clearwater.  On top of that, in our discussions with the Nez Perce Tribe, they indicated that they would like to see us implement a 4-day a week fishery to provide them more opportunity to gill net.  All this information was used in the development of seasons and limits that the Commission adopted which are as follows:

Opening Date

  • Clearwater River - from its mouth upstream to Memorial Bridge:  August 24, 2019.
  • Clearwater River – from Memorial Bridge upstream to the confluence of the Middle Fork Clearwater and South Fork Clearwater rivers:  Upon approval of NOAA ESA take permit.
  • North Fork Clearwater River – from mouth to Dam:  Upon approval of NOAA ESA take permit.

Closing Date

  • October 13, 2019.  All river reaches may close earlier by emergency order of the director.

Fishing Days

  • Clearwater River - from its mouth upstream to Memorial Bridge:  Fishing will occur 7 days a week.
  • Clearwater River – from Memorial Bridge upstream to the confluence of the Middle Fork Clearwater and South Fork Clearwater rivers:  Fishing will occur 4 days a week (Thursday through Sunday).
  • North Fork Clearwater River – from mouth to Dam:  Fishing will occur 4 days a week (Thursday through Sunday).

Adult Daily Limits

  • Prior to NMFS permit approval: Six (6) adipose fin-clipped adult fall Chinook.
  • Upon approval of a NMFS permit: Six (6) fall Chinook, only one (1) may have an adipose fin.

Jack Daily Limits

  • There will be no limit on jack fall Chinook Salmon.  Adipose-clipped and unclipped fish can be harvested.

 

 

STEELHEAD

 

As many of you know, steelhead returns are once again down.  The figure below shows the number (based on PIT tags) of hatchery steelhead that have passed over Bonneville Dam since 2011 that are destined for the Pahsimeroi, Sawtooth, and Oxbow hatchery traps on the Salmon and Snake rivers.  The importance of these traps is they are the ones responsible for collecting brood stock for all the hatchery Salmon and Snake rivers steelhead programs in Idaho.  If you look at this run year (red line) in the figure below you will see that as of yesterday, we were experiencing the second lowest return for these stocks since we have been collecting PIT tag data (since 2011).  In addition, if you forecast out how many will eventually make it past Bonneville Dam, it would turn out to be the lowest return we have seen in the past nine seasons.  When forecasting, I used the average run timing of the last two years.  Because of these poor returns, we are concerned that if we don’t reduce harvest that we may not meet brood needs for these steelhead programs. 

 

steelhead_returns_2019
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Joe DuPont

 

The hatchery steelhead destined for the Clearwater River are just starting to pass over Bonneville Dam.  Typically, by this time of year about 5% of the run would have passed over Bonneville Dam so it is difficult to make any predictions based on this information.  That being said, there is a fairly good model that we use to predict the 2-ocean hatchery returns to the Clearwater (steelhead that spent two years in the ocean).  It basically uses how many 1-ocean steelhead returned last year to predict how many 2-ocean fish will return this year.  The reasons we are focused on the 2-ocean fish are because these fish typically dominate the Clearwater return, and they are the ones we rely upon for brood stock.  This model estimates that the return of 2-ocean steelhead this year will be somewhere between what we saw in 2013 and 2017.  In both of these years, we restricted harvest of steelhead in the Clearwater to only those fish less than 28 inches to insure we met brood needs.

 

Interestingly, wild steelhead returns are not doing as bad as the hatchery returns.  In fact, more wild steelhead have passed over Bonneville Dam then have hatchery steelhead to date.  The wild steelhead return is still down, but more have passed over Bonneville Dam (as of 8/21/19) than what we saw in 2017, 2018, and most of the 1990’s by the same date.

 

The information I provided above was used by the Commission when deciding whether the seasons and limits for steelhead in Idaho should be modified this year.  The seasons and limit changes they adopted are summarized in the tables below (changes are in red).  These changes will only apply for the Fall Season.  For more details on steelhead rules, you can click on this link https://idfg.idaho.gov/fish/steelhead/rules  (updates available Friday, 8/23).

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Joe DuPont

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That is all I have for you today.  As always, if you have any questions, feel free to call.  Enjoy your weekend.