IDFG Director Blasts Groups’ Steelhead Lawsuit Threat, Agency Details What Closure Means

Idaho steelhead managers are providing more details on today’s decision by the Fish and Game Commission to suspend fishing for the species as of midnight, Dec. 9.


The citizen panel made the move this morning under threat of a federal lawsuit from six organizations, three from out of state, who told IDFG in October they would sue over the agency’s lack of a federal authorization to hold fisheries over ESA-listed stocks unless the agency closed the season.

Officials say that an attempt to settle the dispute was unsuccessful after the groups asked for bait and boat bans, barbless hook restrictions, a prohibition on removing wild steelhead completely out of the water and closing steelhead fishing after Jan. 1.

IDFG claimed that deal would have made for “a disproportionate loss of angling opportunity for a particular user group, while preserving fishing opportunity for another.”

In a nearly 700-word letter to Idaho steelheaders, outgoing Director Virgil Moore explained that the commission didn’t want to go to U.S. District Court, lose because NMFS “dropped the ball on permit renewal” and waste sportsmen’s dollars to “pay bills for advocacy-group lawyers instead of conservation”

“Having been involved in steelhead management as a professional biologist, and being a steelhead fisherman for over 40 years, I’m well aware how important steelhead fishing is to Idaho anglers and local economies,” he wrote. “The loss of that opportunity, even temporarily, due to a lawsuit and unprocessed permit is truly regrettable.”


The permit in question ran out in 2010 but IDFG has been able to hold seasons in subsequent falls and winters “in coordination with federal managers,” according to an FAQ staffers put together.

For fans of Idaho steelheading, this means two things:

Per IDFG, fishing for steelhead will be closed in the Snake, Salmon and Clearwater, and it will be “illegal” to target them while seasons remain open on those rivers for whitefish, trout, sturgeon, etc.

As for the shared Snake, IDFG says “If Oregon and Washington continue their steelhead fisheries, anglers with a valid fishing license issued by Oregon or Washington may fish for steelhead consistent with the rules of those states.”

A WDFW official confirmed that.

“Short answer is we will keep fishing. Idaho anglers will be required to have a Washington or Oregon license if they are fishing for steelhead” on the shared Snake, said Chris Donley, the regional fisheries manager out of Spokane.

The six groups are using a page out of the same playbook some used in Washington in 2014, identifying an expired federal permit that provides cover for state fisheries over ESA-listed runs, then threatening a lawsuit.

In this case, they claim wild steelhead have been harmed during hatchery steelhead and Chinook fisheries.

Without the NMFS permit, the state is vulnerable to the suit from The Wild Fish Conservancy and Wild Salmon Rivers of Washington, The Conservation Angler of Portland, and Idaho Rivers United, Friends of the Clearwater and Snake River Waterkeeper, all based in Idaho.

But in its FAQs, IDFG states, “Angling has minimal impacts to wild steelhead and the majority (~85%) of the 5,000 miles of wild steelhead spawning and rearing habitat is closed to fishing.”

The agency says that most impacts on the fish occur downriver and that catch-and-release of wild fish has a 3 percent mortality rate.

Even so, a C&R fishery on even clipped steelhead can’t be kept open because it would accrue impacts on wild fish without a permit to do so.

As for when that permit will arrive, IDFG says it will take “a few months” for the feds to take public comment and finalize biops and other documentation, but it “may be completed in time to reopen the spring steelhead fishery,” which runs into April.

One thought on “IDFG Director Blasts Groups’ Steelhead Lawsuit Threat, Agency Details What Closure Means”

  1. I understand and support the desire to preserve and rebuild the wild Steelhead population in Washington, Oregon and Idaho rivers but do not agree with the suit filled in Washington, in 2014, and the threat of suit recently in Idaho.

    Hatchery run returns are generally timed to return into the river system earlier than native Steelhead to lessen the chance of cross breeding and sport catch.

    There are several threats to salmon and steelhead survival with the Columbia and Snake dams being the single largest contributor to smolt and adult salmon or steelhead death.

    Recently in Washington State the Elwah River dams were removed and biologists are seeing returns of Chinook Salmon and Steelhead which have already surpassed expectations.

    There are 3 abandoned dams on the Snake River if I remember correctly.
    Remove the dams and allow the once bountiful Sockeye Salmon runs rebuild themselves.
    Have you ever heard of the Columbia River Chinook Salmon known as the June Hogs?
    Look it up. The run was destroyed when the mighty Columbia was dammed! These fish topped the 100 pound mark as did the Elwah Chinook prior to the dams being built.

    Obviously, removal of the dams on the Columbia will never be an option, but remove the dams no longer in use.
    Who pays for this removal?
    Seems simple to me, who built, operated and owned them?

    Commercial gillnetting shall cease.
    There is no reason to continue to harvest fish with nets that are a third of a mile in length.
    Native take and the legal right to do so has been molested over and over again.
    If a Native American wants to exercise his or her right to fish and claims it is part of their heritage, then it shall be done as it was by their forefathers, not with monofilament nets.
    I and many others have been incredibly frustrated to see dozens of salmon and steelhead left on the shore, dumped in the water or thrown in the trash because someone was not responsible enough to have ice for their catch.
    It makes me very angry that there is no real accountability for the irresponsibility of many.

    I believe that Steelhead should be planted in as many natural tributaries as possible, not only in a main river system.
    It would be prudent to use triploid strains to help rebuild stocks and eventually allow them to spawn with native species.

    The thought that hatchery Steelhead are inferior because they are raised in concrete pens and are fed pellets troubles me… If this is truly a cause of inferiority, change the method… Nonetheless, do these fish not swim to the ocean, feed themselves while there and return to spawn just as any native fish does?

    Millions of dollars are spent every year by every State managing a hatchery system to allow us to have fish for harvest. Federal hatcheries also operate for the same.

    Let’s figure out how we can change our practices, which started in the late 1800’s , in order to rebuild runs.
    Take a look at the very successful Native Quinault Tribe fishery program.
    They have amazing returns of trophy fish!
    Seems to me that they have it figured out!
    Follow the lead of the successful ones if you wish to succeed!

    The fish know what to do and how to do it. Man, in his futile manner and controlling ways screw it up every time!

    Thank you for allowing me my 2 cents,
    Shawn L. In Washington State.

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