With a federal fisheries permit in hand, a WDFW steelhead manager says Washington-licensed anglers will be able to continue to fish the Snake shared with Idaho after IDFG announced their season would shut down in early December due to a lawsuit threat.
“We’re not going to close because we have ESA coverage and a Fisheries Management and Evaluation Plan,” said Chris Donley, the state regional fisheries manager in Spokane, this morning.
That plan was approved back in 2011 by the National Marine Fisheries Service and WDFW’s had federal coverage since 2007.
Donley said that Idaho anglers who have a Washington-issued fishing license and steelhead catch card can fish the shared Snake under that authorization.
He was quick to add that WDFW did not view this as a chance to make money off of Gem State guides and anglers who won’t be allowed to fish the Clearwater, Salmon and Snake after Dec. 7.
That’s because Idaho’s FMEP for steelhead and Chinook fisheries lapsed in 2010 and NMFS has yet to issue a new one, though a draft is out for comment now and could be in place by early next year.
It’s that lack of coverage — rather than this year’s low return of A- and B-runs — that allowed six organizations, including the Wild Fish Conservancy of Duvall and The Conservation Angler of Portland, to threaten IDFG with a lawsuit last month.
The groups said that if the agency didn’t close steelheading in Gem State waters by Dec. 9 to prevent harm to Endangered Species Act-listed wild steelhead, they would take the state to federal court.
IDFG balked at a proposed settlement because of the conditions it would have imposed — bait and boat bans, barbless hook restrictions, and a Jan. 1 closure — and instead of spending money on court costs and lawyers fees, the Fish and Game Commission voted 6-0 to shut fishing down.
Challenging it in court might have cost $50,000, according to a state attorney general’s estimate included in a Lewiston Tribune article out this morning.
Idaho’s decision still drew scathing comments from guide Kyle Jones, who on Facebook vented his “utter frustration” with the state’s lack of a permit and wondered how he was going to make up $20,000 in lost winter revenue.
This is practically the same play that WFC et al made in 2014 in Puget Sound with the Chambers Creek early winter steelhead program.
In that case it was the other piece of the regulatory puzzle, the lack of a federally approved hatchery genetic management plan covering fisheries over another ESA stock, that was the target of opportunity.
With seemingly ever-increasing listings throughout Western salmon and steelhead country, the paperwork has piled up on NMFS’s collective desk, and between that and other work it’s assigned, progress approving FMEPs and HGMPs has been slow, leaving state fishery agencies vulnerable to lawsuits.
According to Lewiston Tribune outdoor reporter Eric Barker’s article, David Moskowitz of The Conservation Angler said closing the fishery would have benefits, Idaho’s rejection of the deal offered was more social than biological, and the threat of litigation was “meant to send a signal to everyone who is supposed to take care of these fish.”
For WDFW’s Donley, summer steelhead returning to the Inland Northwest have been all but handled with kid gloves from the time the fish entered the Columbia at Buoy 10, with reduced limits, night and thermal refuge closures — even full closures on the mainstem — all the way upstream.
Absent a conservation concern, he’s left wondering what the organizations’ aim is.
“How many more wild fish does this create when we have so many hydropower, habitat and hatchery issues to overcome?” Donley says.