IDFG sets chinook season closures
Only fishing in Hells Canyon will remain open
- By ERIC BARKER of the Lewiston Tribune
Idaho’s spring chinook season will end early on the Clearwater, Salmon and Little Salmon rivers but continue on the Snake River in Hells Canyon.
State fisheries officials determined Monday the closures are needed to guard against the uncertainty surrounding the flagging run. Despite a surge of chinook passing Bonneville Dam over the weekend, the run remains dramatically late, and officials fear too few fish may return to fill hatcheries and to spawn naturally in headwater streams.
“We still have concerns regarding the collection of brood at our hatcheries to make fish for the future,” said fisheries biologist Brett Bowersox at Lewiston. “In the Salmon River, the natural chinook abundance and estimate is currently lower than we need to be able to have an incidental mortality buffer on the fishery there.”
Fishing on the lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers will close Wednesday night. Fishing on the Clearwater and its tributaries, which was approved for Thursdays through Mondays only, will remain closed.
Bowersox said the run, as measured at Bonneville Dam, normally is 96 percent to 97 percent complete by this time of year. Through Monday, 50,693 adult chinook had been counted there, compared to the 10-year average of more than 136,000.
Nearly 10,000 of those fish were counted Saturday and Sunday. However, Bowersox said, many of them were destined for other tributaries of the Columbia.
“The Idaho component is a fraction of that total count. Even though the numbers have increased down there the last couple of days, we still have uncertainty surrounding how much longer these (higher count) days will continue because the run is so late.”
He said there is a chance that fishing seasons could be reopened if the surge is sustained.
“We will continue to monitor the counts over Bonneville, and the data we get over the next week or two weeks and see if there are any opportunities to reopen,” he said.
The Snake River between Dug Bar and Hells Canyon Dam is remaining open in part because high flows there damaged a trap that is used to collect hatchery fish, and because there is less concern over the possible impacts to wild fish.
“We expect to have very limited impacts,” Bowersox said.
The closure comes just as fish were starting to reach Idaho in catchable numbers. Counts at Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River climbed from several dozen a day early last week to more than 1,100 Saturday and 600 Sunday. The department estimated 32 adult chinook and two jacks were caught and kept on the Clearwater River over weekend. The department has not documented any harvest on the Salmon or Little Salmon rivers.