Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Poached salmon found near Stanley hatchery

Fish and Game opens South Fork chinook fishing June 17

Express Staff Writer

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is investigating the illegal harvest of three protected chinook salmon.

The investigation follows on the heels of one of the most dismal spring chinook spawning returns in Idaho's recent history.

According to Fish and Game Salmon Region Conservation Educator Vicky Runnoe, the filleted carcasses of three chinook salmon were found washed onto the weir grates at the Sawtooth Hatchery south of Stanley.

The first fish was found June 4, when hatchery employees checked the weir.

The fish was partially filleted and very fresh, indicating it had "probably" been harvested on June 3, according to Runnoe.

The second two fish were found in the same location June 11. Both had been fully filleted and were also fresh enough to indicate recent harvest.

"The harvest of these three chinook salmon represents the flagrant violation of the closed season on these protected fish," Runnoe said. "There is currently no season for chinook salmon in the upper Salmon River. With chinook numbers in serious decline and projected salmon returns lower than predicted, the loss of even these three adult fish represents an important loss to the entire recovery effort."

While chinook returns were not sufficient this year to support an anticipated upper Salmon River fishing season, the big fish are returning in large enough numbers to support a fishing season along the South Fork of the Salmon River.

The season there will open Friday, June 17.

Unlike the spring chinook fisheries on other rivers in Idaho, the South Fork will remain open seven days a week until harvest goals are achieved. Anglers will be allowed to harvest one adipose clipped chinook per day and will be allowed to have three in their possession.

Fisheries managers with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game are forecasting a surplus of 1,200 to 2,400 hatchery summer chinook will return to a trap on the South Fork. That would allow a hatchery harvest of 600 to 1,200 chinook for recreational anglers and the same amount for tribal harvest.

"Those are very fluid numbers," said Fish and Game Anadromous Fisheries Manager Sharon Kiefer. "They may go up or down as we get additional data from pit tags, trapping and from the fishery."

In addition to the limited number of available hatchery fish, the South Fork fishery is restricted by a limit on the number of naturally produced chinook subject to incidental take. Incidental take refers to the number of mortalities that result from catching and releasing. The amount of incidental take allowed this year is expected to be low due to the low number of natural fish expected to return.

The 2004 season ended in the middle of the three-day Fourth of July holiday weekend when both the harvest and incidental take targets were achieved. Managers say the likelihood of the fishery closing before July 4 this year is high.

Anglers targeting chinook salmon must have a valid Idaho fishing license and a salmon permit. Barbless hooks are required, and anglers must immediately release all fish that do not have a clipped adipose fin. Any angler who keeps a salmon must quit fishing for that day, and any angler who has three fish in possession must also quit fishing.

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