THE FOLLOWING ARE PRESS RELEASES FROM WDFW, IDFG AND ODFW, RESPECTIVELY
Amid concern about record low numbers of steelhead moving up the Columbia River so far this year, state fishery managers from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) have announced new restrictions on steelhead fishing in the Snake River, as well as several Snake and Columbia River tributaries.
The preseason forecast for summer steelhead traveling up the Columbia River was 89,200 fish, but only 36,452 fish had passed Bonneville Dam on the lower Columbia River as of Aug. 31, a record low number and just over half the 5-year average of 68,974 fish for the same date.
“We understand the attention and share in the concerns about this year’s low steelhead run and the status of wild steelhead in the Columbia basin,” said Chris Donley, WDFW’s Eastern Region fishery manager. “There are many factors impacting steelhead, and to do our part to conserve steelhead, these regulations are intended to support agency conservation goals, which include a limited harvest on surplus hatchery steelhead as part of hatchery reform efforts.”
As a result of these low returns, fishery managers have reduced hatchery steelhead limits in part of the Snake River and Grande Ronde River, while closing steelhead fishing on other sections of the Snake River, as well as the Touchet, Tucannon, and Walla Walla rivers.
“The forecast for this year’s upriver steelhead return was already low, but these numbers are below what anyone expected,” said Ryan Lothrop, Columbia River fishery manager with WDFW. “These are necessary steps to further protect a fish run that’s already in trouble. We hope that anglers can understand how important these restrictions are for preserving future runs on these rivers.”
The new regulations join similar restrictions in Oregon and Idaho, as well as proactive steps WDFW and co-managers took prior to the start of the season. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday adopted reduced steelhead limits on the Snake and several other Snake River Basin tributaries. Fishery managers from WDFW and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife recently implemented additional steelhead fishing closures and restrictions on several Columbia River tributaries. In Washington, this includes further restrictions in Drano Lake and closure of a section of the Wind River.
In addition, all areas of the mainstem Columbia River closed to steelhead fishing as of Sept. 1.
“Fishing restrictions are just one part of the equation when it comes to impacts on wild upriver summer steelhead,” Lothrop said. “These fish have one of the longest migrations for any stock in Washington, and face a wide array of obstacles on their way to the ocean and back to the spawning grounds. We’re working diligently with our partners and stakeholders to holistically address all the factors impacting these runs.”
The new restrictions on the Snake, Grande Ronde, Touchet, Tucannon, and Walla Walla rivers go into effect Sept. 3 at the following locations:
Snake River, from the mouth of the Snake River (Burbank to Pasco railroad bridge at Snake River mile 1.25) to the Lower Granite dam: Closed to steelhead fishing.
Snake River, From Lower Granite Dam upstream to the Idaho/Oregon state line: Daily limit 1 hatchery fish. Anglers may not continue to fish for steelhead after the steelhead daily limit has been retained.
Tucannon River, from the mouth to the Tucannon Hatchery Road Bridge: Closed to fishing for and retention of steelhead.
Grande Ronde River, from County Road Bridge (~2.5 miles above the mouth) to the Washington/Oregon state line: Daily limit 1 hatchery fish.
Walla Walla River, from the mouth to the Washington/Oregon state line: Closed to fishing for and retention of steelhead.
Touchet River, from the mouth to the confluence of the North and South Forks: Closed to fishing for and retention of steelhead.
At a special meeting, Idaho Fish and Game Commission reduced the bag limit for steelhead anglers to one fish per day and three in possession. The new bag limit starts Sept. 3 and runs through Dec. 31, which is the end of the fall season. The bag limit applies to the following sections:
Salmon River from Long Tom Creek (3/4 mile upstream from the Middle Fork Salmon River) to posted boundary 100 yards downstream of Sawtooth Hatchery.
Salmon River from the Lake Creek Bridge to Long Tom Creek (3/4 mile up- stream from the Middle Fork Salmon River).
Salmon River from its mouth upstream to the Lake Creek Bridge (about 6 miles upstream from the mouth of the Little Salmon River).
Little Salmon River from its mouth upstream to the U.S. Highway 95 bridge near Smokey Boulder road.
Snake River from the Washington State line at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers upstream to Hells Canyon Dam.
Snake River from Hells Canyon Dam to Oxbow Dam.
Clearwater River from its mouth upstream to the Memorial Bridge of U.S. Highway 12 at Lewiston.
Due to low returns, daily bag limits for hatchery summer steelhead will be reduced to one fish per day for the Snake River below Hells Canyon Dam effective Sept. 7.
Passage of steelhead at Bonneville Dam has been historically low and fisheries managers from Oregon, Idaho, and Washington are only expecting about 10,000 hatchery steelhead to pass Lower Granite Dam near Clarkston, Washington. The ten-year average for hatchery steelhead passage is about 70,000 fish. This means some hatchery programs in the Snake River Basin may struggle to collect the fish needed to spawn the next generation.
“The intent of reducing the bag limit to one fish per day is to ensure enough hatchery fish return to the trap at Hells Canyon Dam so we can meet production objectives,” said Kyle Bratcher, ODFW District Fish Biologist in Enterprise. “While we expect to narrowly meet broodstock collection goals, reducing the bag limit will allow us some breathing room if we come up short of our projections,” Bratcher added.
Summer steelhead are currently making their way through the main stem Columbia and Snake Rivers. While the steelhead season opened on Sept. 1, Bratcher doesn’t expect catch rates to pick up until the later end of the month. The best fishing is typically begins in October and continues throughout the winter.