Comment about Structure of the 2019 Clearwater River Fall Chinook Salmon Season

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Background

In the past, fall Chinook Salmon fishing has been limited to the Clearwater River downstream of Memorial Bridge.  This is partly because only about 15% of the fall Chinook in the Clearwater River had clipped adipose fins, and IDFG did not have a permit from NOAA Fisheries to harvest unmarked hatchery or wild fish. Recently the states of Idaho, Washington, and Oregon submitted a Fisheries Management and Evaluation Plan (FMEP) to NOAA Fisheries that outlines a strategy to allow harvest of wild and unmarked hatchery fall Chinook dependent on the size of the run.  The FMEP is currently out for public review and may be approved by early September, which would allow the Idaho Fish and Game Commission to consider expanded options for setting a fall Chinook season.

Previous public meetings and surveys of anglers on the Clearwater River have shown the majority (> 70%) of anglers would prefer to expand fall Chinook fishing opportunity in the Clearwater River.  However, there has been some disagreement about how to provide this opportunity without reducing the fishing experience of catch-and-release steelhead anglers who would be fishing at the same time (September through October 14). 

Upcoming Season

The 2019 adult fall Chinook run to Idaho is projected to be around 5,400 natural and 10,000 hatchery fish with about 15% of the run marked with an adipose fin-clip. The proposed FMEP with this run size would allow about 1,200 adipose-intact and 2,000 adipose-clipped fall Chinook available to be harvested.  About half of this harvest would be allocated to the Clearwater River.

Currently, it’s uncertain how much additional fishing effort will occur if a fall Chinook fishery is opened in the Clearwater River and how it will influence the experience of steelhead anglers.  If the FMEP is approved, IDFG would likely propose a fall Chinook fishery on the Clearwater River.  The fishery would be carefully monitored to provide estimates of effort and harvest, and gauge overall satisfaction of both steelhead and fall Chinook anglers. 

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