Editor’s update 11:45 a.m., Nov. 14, 2018: Due to the threat of a lawsuit, Idaho’s Fish and Game Commission this morning has voted to suspend the state’s fall steelhead season after Dec. 7 and won’t open the spring season, which begins Jan. 1, 2019, until a fisheries plan is OKed by NMFS, per a report from Eric Barker at The Lewiston Tribune. He says the commission feared IDFG “would be on the hook for legal fees should the season continue and the groups follow through with their intent to sue.” Below is our earlier story on the issue.
Another state, another low-hanging-fruit lawsuit in the works by wild steelhead zealots against fishery agencies.
In 2014 it was WDFW and its Chambers Creek early winter program in Puget Sound; in 2018 it’s IDFG and its A- and B-runs.
The two agencies’ lack of federally approved management plans for hatchery operations and to hold fisheries more so than low runs leave them vulnerable to suits.
Washington’s was eventually settled out of court and a new plan is in place after several disrupted fishing seasons, but now Idaho is under threat.
In October, the Wild Fish Conservancy and Conservation Angler, along with Rivers United, Friends of the Clearwater and Snake River Water Keeper notified IDFG that they were going to take it to court in December if they didn’t close steelhead season by early in the month.
This year has seen a low run to the Snake River Basin and all three states dropped the limit to one already, but this lawsuit is very similar to the one WFC and others pursued against WDFW several years ago when it didn’t have a NMFS-OKed hatchery genetic management plan for the Skykomish and other winter rivers.
HGMPs provide the states with Endangered Species Act coverage, and at the time draft plans for multiple rivers and stocks were piling up on the federal fishery overseers’ collective desk following a raft of listings throughout the region.
In IDFG’s case, its expired all the way back in 2009, per Lewiston Morning Tribune outdoor reporter Eric Barker.
“The state submitted a new monitoring and evaluation plan the same year but officials at Fisheries Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration let it sit idle while working on other pressing issues,” he writes in a story out overnight.
Also at risk are Idaho’s spring, summer and fall Chinook fisheries.
What to do about it is on the agenda of Idaho’s Fish and Game Commission meeting today.
“Department and federal agency review processes to date have found Idaho’s management frameworks for hatchery steelhead and chinook fisheries do not jeopardize wild steelhead populations,” reads a staff briefing out ahead of the confab. “The Department has monitoring and evaluation frameworks in place for hatchery steelhead and chinook fisheries, with annual reporting to NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.”
Barker reports NMFS is working on a new draft plan and it’s out for public comment now.
Still, IDFG may have to close steelheading as of Dec. 7 to head off the risk of a lawsuit being filed on the 9th, Barker reports.