Steelhead Season

The sharp decline of steelhead numbers in the past five years has triggered a review by several agencies tasked with protecting the fish.

LEWISTON (AP) — Steelhead outfitters and guides at an Idaho forum talked about solutions to the declining fish population that is hurting their businesses.

Those who work the Clearwater River met at an Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association forum Tuesday near Lewiston to explore their potential role in reversing fish numbers that have been shrinking over the past four years, The Lewiston Tribune reported.

“The goal was ultimately to re-engage the conversation about how the outfitting and guiding industry in Idaho can have agency in determining the future of salmon and steelhead that businesses in rural communities rely on, and to reaffirm our motivation to meaningfully do that,” association director Aaron Lieberman said.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission closed steelhead fishing on Clearwater River this year because of low numbers of hatchery steelhead.

The guides lost hundreds of customers, and hotels in the hard-hit town of Orofino had more than 700 reservation cancellations in the past two months, outfitters said.

“A lot of us believe this will not be an Idaho solution. It needs to be a Northwest solution,” said Jerry Myers, a fishing guide and retired outfitter from the city of Salmon. “Twenty-five years of science tells us we need a restored Snake River to stop the decline and rebuild our stocks to sustainable levels.”

Outfitters discussed breaching the four lower Snake River dams.

Ocean conditions play a major role in fish returns, but dams are the biggest human-caused factor in fish deaths, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife administrator Ed Bowles said.

It has become a people problem, and many outfitters say political leaders need to get involved.

“We desperately need help from state and federal leaders,” said Roy Akins, an outfitter from Riggins and chairman of the lower Salmon River Chapter of Idaho River Community Alliance. “This is about more than just restoring fish runs, this has also become a fight to save our small river towns in central Idaho.”

The association is holding its annual membership meeting in Lewiston this week.