F&G monitoring low steelhead return, may alter season

Smaller-than-expected steelhead return to the Clearwater River is causing concern

Idaho Fish and Game’s fisheries staff continue to monitor steelhead returns over Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, and the run appears to be smaller than earlier forecasted, which could prompt the Fish and Game Commission to alter the already-restricted season.

Through Sept. 12, biologists estimate about 372 Clearwater hatchery steelhead have passed Bonneville Dam based on PIT tags. The small, electronic tags are embedded in fish and help biologists know to which river migrating steelhead are destined. On average, about 35 percent of the hatchery steelhead returning to the Clearwater River would have passed Bonneville Dam by Sept. 12.

Fisheries staff are now forecasting the total number of Clearwater-bound hatchery steelhead at Bonneville Dam could be as low as 1,050 fish, which is less than the broodstock needs for the Clearwater’s hatcheries. The dip in the steelhead forecast is exclusive to the Clearwater, and the projected returns of hatchery steelhead returning to the Snake and Salmon rivers remain the same.

In August, the Commission reduced the statewide bag limit to one steelhead per day, which should allow enough fish to return to hatchery traps in the Snake and Salmon rivers to meet broodstock needs in those rivers. Staff will continue to monitor steelhead returns and evaluate management actions they might propose to the Commission regarding the Clearwater steelhead season if further changes are needed.