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Idaho anglers start protest against treaty rights

Lewiston, Idaho (AP) 1-08

Sport anglers have started a protest campaign against the Nez Perce Tribe’s gillnetting season on the Snake and Clearwater rivers.

Members of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife Idaho have started collecting signatures on a petition they plan to send to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter. The group also plans to flood state and federal officials with e-mails from people concerned about tribal gillnetting.

“We are getting signatures like crazy,” Steve Alder, a member of the group in Waha in northern Idaho, told the Lewiston Tribune. “I don’t know if it is going to do any good, but at least we are trying.”

The tribe announced recently it was opening a commercial steelhead season on the Snake River from Lower Granite Dam in Washington state upstream to Hells Canyon Dam on the Idaho-Oregon border. On the Clearwater, tribal fishing would be from the mouth upstream to about Orofino Bridge.

Joseph Oatman, chairman of the tribe’s fish and wildlife commission, said that tribal fishermen put several gillnets in the Snake River mid January and those nets have captured one wild fish and no hatchery fish.

During late January, as many as 10 gillnets have been put into the Snake, but Oatman said he had no harvest information on those.

David Johnson, program manager for the tribe’s fisheries department, said the impacts of gillnet fishing can be managed just as effectively as hook-and-line fishing.

Johnson said hatchery runs in the Snake are “very healthy” and added, “Consistently we’re (helping restore) thousands and thousands of hatchery steelhead, and really their only purpose is for harvest. The tribe should deeply share in that harvest.”

The tribe, as part of an 1855 treaty it signed in exchange for giving up lands, has a right to 50 percent of the harvestable fish within the reservation and from traditional off-reservation fishing areas, but has typically not taken its share of steelhead.

This season, that would be 61,000 steelhead, though the tribe says it’s unlikely the harvest will come near that.

The Clearwater and Snake – favored among sport steelhead anglers – have a surplus of hatchery steelhead for fishing. But wild Snake River steelhead are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and sport anglers must release them unharmed.

Anglers fear the gillnetting will harm wild runs by indiscriminately killing hundreds of the native fish.

The petition circulated by the group acknowledges the tribe’s efforts to restore fish habitat and its right to harvest steelhead. But it calls on officials to “make it a priority to protect endangered wild steelhead” from commercial harvest outside of federally designated areas.

 

 

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