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Low steelhead return prompts reduced Idaho bag limit

In order to reduce harvest on hatchery steelhead and protect wild steelhead, Idaho Fish and Game has temporarily reduced the daily bag limit to one steelhead starting Sept. 3. The lower bag limit applies in the Clearwater River from the mouth to Memorial Bridge, North Fork of the Clearwater River, Snake River, Salmon River and Little Salmon River.

The bag limit reduction is set to expire on Oct. 14, at which time biologists will have a better idea of the steelhead run size and recommend whether to continue the reduced bag limit, change it, or revert back to the original bag limit.

The steelhead run is returning at about half the preseason forecast, which the bag limit was initially based on. Because of the low returns, fisheries managers need to ensure there are enough steelhead returning to replenish hatcheries with eggs, and also protect wild steelhead, which are not open to harvest.

Managers will continue monitoring the steelhead returns. They are getting a sense of the run size for A-run steelhead, which tend to return earlier, but late-arriving B-run steelhead are just starting to cross Bonneville Dam. Managers need get a better understanding of the number of Idaho-bound steelhead before deciding on bag limits.

Steelhead runs have been down for several years, due in part to ocean conditions that have not favored their survival. Last year’s return was less than half of the 10-year average, and projections are for a similar small return this year.

Idaho is managing the steelhead return in cooperation with Oregon and Washington.