This week, Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) decided to close Idaho’s steelhead season effective Dec. 7, 2018, in what they have considered a response to a threatened lawsuit from six of our colleague environmental organizations: The Conservation Angler, Idaho Rivers United, Friends of the Clearwater, Wild Fish Conservancy, Wild Salmon Rivers and Snake River Waterkeeper.
Idaho Conservation League was not a part of the letter that triggered this choice set forth by the IDFG Commission.
Although we work closely with groups on both sides of the threatened lawsuit, we believe the issue was handled poorly – both in the timing of the letter sent to IDFG and in IDFG’s response which shifts blame and ignores their failure to renew the expired management plan. Neither the threat of a lawsuit nor the responding voluntary closure of the steelhead season are helpful for small businesses in rural Idaho communities that rely on steelhead fisheries for their winter livelihood.
That said, the fact is salmon and steelhead in Idaho are in trouble. Spend a few hours in Riggins and you will see that fishing businesses and outfitters are taking a hit from the lack of steelhead. Our state’s leaders are silently watching our fish go extinct. The four lower Snake River dams, located in Washington State, are driving Idaho’s steelhead to extinction. As of today, only 10,005 wild steelhead have returned – less than a third of what we saw 3 years ago. Communities, tribes and recreational economies depend on healthy wild fish populations, yet numbers continue to fall. Salmon and steelhead will go extinct on our watch if we don’t find common ground and actions to restore them.
At ICL we believe common ground and opportunities for action exist – and it will take individual Idahoans, Northwest leaders and agencies from all corners of the state to acknowledge the problem and start to stand up for salmon and steelhead. We see fishermen in Idaho as partners in this effort, and this latest incident only pushes us apart. When the divide over Idaho’s fish builds – everyone in Idaho suffers.
The best time to start working together is now. Acknowledge the facts that Idahoans are facing an extinction crisis. Talk with your local community leaders and devise a plan to take action. Contact Idaho’s governor-elect and tell him that Idaho has stayed silent for too long and it is time to get serious about saving Idaho’s salmon and steelhead. Ask him how he plans to change the policy that has failed Idaho’s fish for years. We will continue to work with our allies-conservation groups and anglers alike-who feel as strongly about Idaho’s wild fish and rivers as we do.