Low steelhead numbers prompt review

East Oregonian –

The steep decline of threatened Snake River steelhead over the past five years has triggered a review under an adaptive management provision of the federal government’s plan to protect the fish.

Barry Thom, regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service, notified officials at the Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration late last month the four agencies must quickly complete an analysis to determine if steelhead numbers can be expected to decline even further over the next two years, and if so, what steps can be taken to stop or slow the slide.

The number of both hatchery and federally protected wild steelhead that return to Idaho, Eastern Washington as well as Northeastern Oregon have been sliding for the past four years.

Numbers are so low this year that officials closed steelhead fishing on the Clearwater River and its tributaries and parts of the Snake River.

In addition, bag limits for hatchery steelhead have been reduced on rivers that remain open to fishing.

A provision in the federal plan, known as a biological opinion, that attempts to balance the needs of Endangered Species Act-protected salmon and steelhead with the operation of the dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers, requires NOAA Fisheries to closely monitor fish numbers and potentially take extraordinary measures if the numbers drop sharply.

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