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Boise, ID


Date: September 22, 2003
Contact: Ed Mitchell
(208) 334-3700

Anglers See More Unclipped Hatchery Steelhead

Not every steelhead with a full adipose fin is a wild fish, but anglers must let them go anyway.

Steelhead anglers need to remember that only adult steelhead with a clipped adipose fin are legal for harvest. The adipose fin clip allows a selective fishery, targeting hatchery fish reared for harvest. Until recently, almost 100 percent of Idaho's hatchery steelhead had their adipose fin clipped when they were small fish in the hatchery. These fish are still produced to provide harvest fisheries.

Beginning in 2000, some hatchery fish have been used experimentally to test the ability of hatchery fish to boost natural populations of steelhead in selected streams where native steelhead habitat has been degraded. For this reason, some hatchery steelheads' adipose fins are purposely not clipped and, therefore, are not legal to harvest even though they are otherwise recognizable as hatchery fish. This important distinction has caused some discontent among anglers because "they know" the steelhead they just caught is a hatchery fish and believe they should be able to take it home.

This is a small but noticeable shift in the hatchery management program. The Little Salmon River near Riggins and the South Fork Clearwater River near Grangeville are the primary recipients of the unclipped steelhead.

These drainages were chosen because they have a long history of hatchery steelhead influence. Because of that, the experiment poses a low risk of harming true native steelhead streams. Statewide, about 15 percent of the hatchery steelhead smolts released since 2001 are part of this natural production experiment. This compares with 10 percent of the smolts released unclipped in 2000. The program is a collaboration among the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, Nez Perce Tribe, National Marine Fisheries Service, and US Fish and Wildlife Service. Similar efforts are being made in Oregon and Washington.

The Little Salmon and South Fork Clearwater Rivers are popular steelhead fishing streams, especially in the spring of the year. Anglers fishing these streams will likely catch more of these unmarked hatchery steelhead than anglers fishing in other waters.

These fish are being tracked as hatchery fish through Columbia River fisheries and monitoring sites such as dams. They are not counted as wild fish.

This experiment will be conducted for several years and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game will keep the state's anglers informed so there will be no surprises when a person has to release a few more steelhead throughout the season.

Even before this experiment was started, anglers have been telling the department that they release about 25 percent of the hatchery steelhead they catch each season.




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