The Idaho Department of Fish and Game declined to advance a request by the Clearwater Chapter of the Idaho River Community Alliance to extend coho fishing on the Clearwater River.

Ed Schriever, director of the agency, responded to the request that came from chapter president Toby Wyatt, saying that extending the season would pose too great a threat to hatchery B-run steelhead. The return of steelhead to the hatchery is projected to be one of the lowest ever and will not be large enough to meet spawning goals. In response, the state shut down steelhead fishing on the Clearwater River and part of the Snake River in September and closed both coho and fall chinook fishing on the river on Sunday.

Wyatt had asked the department and its governing commission to consider allowing coho fishing to continue in a short section of the Clearwater River between the U.S. Highway 95 bridge and the railroad bridge, both near Spalding. The group later reduced the proposal and asked for just a few hundred feet of the river near the mouth of Lapwai Creek to remain open to bank anglers. The group said doing so would give displaced anglers a fishing opportunity that could be closely and easily monitored by fisheries managers.

Schriever responded that steelhead are likely to be increasingly present in that section of river this month and be at risk to incidental hooking.

“Beyond Oct. 13, the abundance (although low) of steelhead will increase in the Clearwater River. The stretch of river you have identified in your coho proposal represents an area we would anticipate steelhead presence and increasing level of bycatch during your proposed coho season. Given the heightened concern for steelhead brood stock, and the sensitivity surrounding the potential for any incidental handling mortality of steelhead, the department does not intend to advance your proposal to extend the coho fishery to the commission for their consideration,” Schriever wrote.

The proposal was opposed by the Nez Perce Tribe, which is a co-manager of Dworshak National Fish Hatchery where many of the steelhead will return and responsible for the reintroduction of coho into the Clearwater River. The tribe closed all of its salmon and steelhead fisheries in the Clearwater River and the lower Snake River in an attempt to boost steelhead returns to the hatchery.

Wyatt said the request was made in the spirit of the group’s mission statement to advocate for more angling opportunity, and he still believes a limited coho season could be implemented without affecting steelhead.

“The impacts on steelhead would pretty much be zero, and there is a lot of coho,” he said. “That one particular hole we were asking to be open is full of salmon, and I know when salmon are in high concentration in a hole there is literally no steelhead there.”

Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.

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