Salmon and steelhead receive a lot of attention but what is Idaho Fish and Game doing for native fish that do not travel to the Pacific Ocean?
Fisheries managers from each of Idaho's seven administrative regions reported examples of efforts to conserve and manage native fisheries to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission at its recent meeting in Jerome. Efforts to help resident native fish are coordinated under a Commission-approved statewide management plan and other species management plans.
Fisheries managers want to protect self-sustaining, genetically pure populations of sturgeon in a Snake River system that is broken by dams into nine distinct reaches. Most of those reaches do not support reproduction but the river in the Hells Canyon reach and from Bliss Dam to C.J. Strike Dam does, Southwest Region fisheries manager Jeff Dillon explained.
Dillon said maintaining sturgeon in the other seven reaches of the Snake River depends on stocking of hatchery produced fish and translocation of wild fish.
Moving wild fish includes placing adults captured from below C.J. Strike into the Bliss reach of river and juveniles from the Bliss reach to the river below C.J. Strike Dam.
Fish and Game studies show that each adult sturgeon caught by anglers below C.J. Strike may be hooked or hooked and landed several times annually. Sturgeon mortality caused by anglers hooking them is the subject of a continuing Fish and Game study.
Clearwater Region fisheries manager Joe Dupont noted that circle hooks have reduced mortality in other species. Fish and Game is considering making the use of circle hooks mandatory while fishing for sturgeon. Some of the initial research has been promising. A drawback of using circle hooks is that catch rates are lower, making them unpopular with some anglers.
Dupont said his crews using a metal detector have also looked for metal in sturgeon and found that half over six feet long had metal in them. Using a portable x-ray machine, researchers turned up one fish that contained 14 hooks, swivels and other pieces of metal.
Studies are planned to determine the actual mortality rate from sturgeon fishing.
As of January 1, anglers will be required to use a slider rig when fishing for sturgeon. The new fishing rules booklet explains the rule and shows an illustration.
In answer to Commissioner Gary Power's question about hooks dissolving in sturgeon, Dupont said most anglers use stainless steel hooks and that those hooks will not dissolve and stay in the fish unless passed through the digestive system.
Dave Teuscher, fisheries manager in the Southeast Region, reported that eight miles of stream on Fish Haven Creek, tributary to Bear Lake, have been made available again to native cutthroat trout since culvert replacement has been done. Non-native eastern brook trout were removed from the stream and cutthroat trout are the only trout reproducing in that creek.
Salmon Region fisheries manager Tom Curet said 70 miles of coldwater habitat has been reconnected for native trout in the last 10 years in the Salmon River basin. Much of the funding for improvements has come through anadromous fisheries programs but has been good for native trout as well as steelhead and salmon. On Big Timber Creek, diversion and water right changes to sprinkler irrigation have allowed water back into the creek and opened 50 miles of habitat.
Upper Snake Region fisheries manager Dan Garren said his region is working to preserve mountain whitefish in the Big Lost River at a level that will support a recreational fishery. Mountain whitefish numbers are now meeting most management goals with the exception of the river reach below Mackay Dam.
Opportunities for improving habitat for native Yellowstone cutthroat trout are more challenging in the Magic Valley Region than for native trout in some other regions because their range has been severely reduced in south-central Idaho. But fisheries manager Doug Megargle said the restoration plan for the Raft River drainage has been implemented to the point that a native cutthroat trout population has been restored in Six Mile Creek. Non-native fish were removed from Six Mile Creek as a part of that work. An existing core population exists in nearby Eight mile Creek, and fish were transplanted from Eight Mile Creek to Six Mile Creek as part of the restoration efforts for Yellowstone cutthroat trout.
Dale Allen, fisheries manager in the McCall subregion, said data is being gathered on high mountain lakes. Those lakes were barren of fish before white settlement and have been stocked in recent years from the air at the rate of 250-300 lakes a year. About 750 lakes are planted with fry on a rotating basis.
Allen said researchers are looking into the possibility that stocking fish in high mountain lakes is contributing to the decline of amphibians. Fish and Game may need to develop a strategy for conserving amphibians. Fish and Game plans to write an alpine lake management plan in the near future.
Native trout restoration is underway in the Panhandle Region also. Fisheries manager Jim Fredericks said that effort involves management of lake trout, a species introduced in 1925.
Restoration in Upper Priest Lake is complicated by lake trout coming through the Thorofare from Priest Lake, which is mostly a lake trout fishery. Most lake trout migration comes in the fall and researchers are looking for a practical way to halt that seasonal movement. The alternative would be to try to suppress the population of predatory lake trout in the lower lake.