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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, March 3, 2004


Salmon fishing
season could be
boon to Stanley

Express Staff Writer

In a move that could boost Central Idahoís rural economy, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game is hoping to open about 40 miles of the upper Salmon River to chinook salmon fishing.

If approved, about 35 to 40 miles of fishing would be accessible between two reaches, from the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery to the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River and from Ellis to Salmon.

Angling for anadromous fish in Idaho can be big business. Steehlead fishing seasons on the upper Salmon River draw significant crowds each spring. Anglers say a chinook fishing season would be welcomed wholeheartedly. Express photo by Willy Cook

"The last time we had a chinook fishery in these parts was 1978. Thatís too long," said Idaho Department of Fish and Game Fisheries Biologist Tom Curet.

Curet said the department is working to allow sport fishing of surplus hatchery chinook in the upper Salmon, but he warned the process could be lengthy because hatchery-raised salmon are listed as an endangered species in the riverís upper reaches.

The prospect of fishing in the upper Salmon region clearly excited many anglers.

"Weíre thrilled to death," said R.L. Nick Nicholson, president of Idaho Steelhead and Salmon Unlimited. "ISSU has been urging Fish and Game and (other officials) to do that for the last four years. We think that if the harvest is sustainable, itís wonderful."

Nicholson qualified his enthusiasm, however.

"Simply opening that stretch of river to a salmon fishery does not mean that the fish situation is healthy," he said. "The fish that theyíll be fishing for are hatchery fish. Until we have a wild, sustainable fish run that is producing catchable numbers, no fish people are going to be totally happy."

To get the ball rolling toward season implementation, the department must submit a "taking" permit application to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by March 15, Curet said.

NOAA would then complete an environmental review of the plan and offer a biological opinion on the action. The plan would also be published in the National Register and held for public opinion for 30 days afterward.

While it is possible that NOAA could accomplish the necessary steps in time to offer a 2004 chinook season, Curet said that could be a daunting task.

Studies have found a correlation between recovering salmon populations and recovering rural economies. Don Reading, a former Idaho State University economics professor, found that Idahoís 2001 chinook season on the Clearwater River and the lower Salmon River brought about $10 million into Riggins, alone. The state received an economic boost of nearly $90 million, Reading wrote a report prepared for the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

By contrast, the upper Salmon River basin from North Fork, north of Salmon, to Stanley remained closed to salmon fishing, and less than 1 percent of 2001ís recreational windfall trickled to the eastern side of the state.

Wood River Valley fishing outfitters who guide on the Upper Salmon agreed that a fishing season could help boost the communities of Stanley, Challis, Salmon and small towns in between.

"It would be a boon to that area up there," said Terry Ring, owner of Ketchum-based Silver Creek Outfitters. "If the Department of Fish and Game feels there are adequate stocks to do that, I think it would be a great thing."

While Ring said he would place his trust in the department to ensure that a season is implemented only if adequate stock are available, one of his competitors said he is not so sure.

"I think itís still a pretty fragile situation," said Bill Mason, who owns Sun Valley-based Bill Mason Outfitters.

Mason agreed that a chinook fishing season could help some of Central Idahoís struggling communities, but said action should not be taken because of political pressure to do so.

"It would be great if the numbers justify it," Mason said. "Itís a numbers game, and I donít know what the numbers are."

Julie Meissner, who owns Stanley-based Sawtooth Fishing Guides, said she believes instituting a fishing season is an excellent idea.

"Iíd love to see the wild fish come back, but until something happens downstream, thatís not going to happen," she said. "Until we get some wild fish returning, we may as well do something with the hatchery fish."

Nicholson said he is excited to see Central Idaho reap the rewards of a renewed chinook salmon fishing season.

"That upper area of Idaho has been financially hurt for the last 10 yearsóitís no secret," he said. "This would give them a real shot in the arm, financially."


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