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Fall chinook permits issued to Idaho, Oregon and Washington, allowing for additional harvest of unclipped fish

Riverence Holdings grows eggs of steelhead, pictured here, and rainbow trout in Washington state and raises fish in land-based facilities in Idaho. (Pete Zimowsky / AP)
Riverence Holdings grows eggs of steelhead, pictured here, and rainbow trout in Washington state and raises fish in land-based facilities in Idaho. (Pete Zimowsky / AP)
By Eric Barker The Lewiston Tribune

Fall chinook season is now open on the Clearwater River and its North Fork, and anglers have the option of harvesting unclipped fall chinook in Idaho and parts of Washington.

The National Marine Fisheries Service approved a tri-state fall chinook fisheries management plan Friday and issued Idaho, Oregon and Washington permits that allow each of the states to liberalize fall chinook fishing regulations.

In Idaho, that means the Clearwater River is now open to fall chinook fishing Thursdays through Sundays from Memorial Bridge at Lewiston to the mouth of the South Fork at Kooskia, as well as the North Fork Clearwater below Dworshak Dam. The Clearwater remains open seven days a week from its mouth to Memorial Bridge. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission approved fall chinook fishing on the Clearwater above the bridge and the North Fork earlier this month, but made it contingent on the state receiving its permit.

Anglers in Idaho and Washington can keep one adipose fin-intact adult fall chinook per day in their six-fish daily bag limit in select waters. In Idaho, that is all river sections open to fall chinook harvest. In Washington, it is the portion of the Snake River from the downstream edge of the large power lines crossing the river near West Evans Pond west of Clarkston to the Washington/Oregon state line. Anglers fishing between the mouth of the Snake River in Washington up to the power lines near West Evans Pond must release adult fall chinook with intact adipose fins.

Chris Donley, fish program manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at Spokane, said the harvest of fall chinook with intact adipose fins is restricted to the shorter river section so agency officials can properly monitor harvest rates on those fish.

Prior to the permits being issued, anglers in all three states were limited to harvesting only adult hatchery fall chinook with clipped adipose fins. The majority of fall chinook returning to the Snake River and its tributaries are either hatchery fish that have not been fin clipped or wild fish with intact fins.

Information about any changes Oregon is contemplating based on approval of its permit was not immediately available Friday. Anglers in all three states can keep jack fall chinook with or without clipped adipose fins.

The rule change on the Clearwater above Memorial Bridge marks the first time the entire river has been open to fall chinook harvesting in many decades. The season is a new opportunity for anglers and many welcome it. But some anglers who enjoy the uncrowded conditions of the catch-and-release steelhead season there, particularly those who use fly fishing gear, opposed the move when it was discussed earlier this summer. They fear fall chinook fishing will attract large crowds and change the nature of the catch-and-release steelhead season.

The state is calling the season on the Clearwater a one-year experiment. Joe DuPont, regional fisheries manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Lewiston, said the state will collect data on the fishery and the degree of crowding and conflicts between steelhead and salmon anglers. The data will be used by a group of anglers the agency plans to convene this winter to discuss possible structures for future fall chinook fishing seasons there.

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