US protections for Idaho salmon and rainbow trout are here to stay


FILE – This photo provided by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game shows fisheries biologist Eli Felts looking at Loon Creek to count Chinook salmon spawning grounds in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, Idaho on September 9 2020. A five-year review by U.S. officials determined that Endangered Species Act protections for ocean salmon and rainbow trout that spawn in the Snake River and its tributaries in Idaho must remain in place. (Conor McLure/Idaho Department of Fish and Game via AP, File)


A five-year review by U.S. officials determined that Endangered Species Act protections for ocean salmon and rainbow trout that spawn in the Snake River and its tributaries in Idaho must remain in effect.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Division review released Thursday found that rainbow trout, spring and summer chinook, sockeye salmon and fall chinook returning to Idaho in the Pacific Ocean rivers still need their federal protections.

Protections include limits on fishing, restrictions on the amount of water that can be used for irrigation, pollution controls for industries, and dam operations on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

The review indicated that the threats of climate change increase the urgency to carry out recommended fish recovery actions, including improving fish passage at hydroelectric dams, restoring their habitats, controlling predators and changing hatchery practices.

Of the four species that return to Idaho, sockeye salmon are considered the most endangered and were listed as endangered in 1991. The fish spawn in high mountain lakes in central Idaho and nearly disappeared for much of the 1990s.

An elaborate hatchery program run by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game that tracks the genetic history of each fish aims to restore the species.

But the sockeye salmon population hasn’t improved much since it was listed as an endangered species, according to the study. The species remains “at high risk of extinction” amid the challenges of climate change, lack of food in the oceans blamed on warming water and predation by sea lions.

The Snake River Spring-Summer Chinook, listed as Threatened in 1992, includes fish populations in part of the Snake River and in Washington State in the Tucannon, Grande Ronde, and Imnaha rivers. The fish are also considered endangered in parts of Idaho’s Salmon River.

Historically, the fish have spawned in areas of Idaho they can no longer reach, including above Hells Canyon Dam and parts of the Clearwater River Basin, the federal review said.

“Overall, the information analyzed for this five-year review indicates an increased level of concern in the risk status” for the fish, the researchers wrote.

The researchers cited declining population trends and that no fish populations meet a minimum threshold set by the Interior Columbia Technical Recovery Team. The team is working to interpret information related to fish recovery.

Fall Chinook was classified as Threatened in 1992 and includes fish in the main Snake River below Hells Canyon Dam, the Salmon River and Clearwater River basins, and in the Tucannon, Grande Ronde and Imnaha in Washington State.

These fish could be recovered by reintroducing them above the Hells Canyon Dam complex. But Idaho officials have fought that option, fearing that fish shields above the dams will limit farming and ranching activities along the river.

The review found that the risk of fish extinction has decreased for Snake River Fall Chinook, but “the implementation of sound management actions to address hydropower, habitat, hatcheries, harvesting and predation remains critical to recovery.”

Steelhead, a favorite sport fish listed as threatened in 1997, includes fish in the Snake, Salmon, and Clearwater rivers and the Tucannon, Grande Ronde, and Imnaha rivers in Washington state. The review noted that there were no longer any rainbow trout that once spawned in the tributaries above Hells Canyon Dam.

Lynn A. Saleh