Guides, outfitters and the businesses that depend on the recreation economy fueled by consistent salmon and steelhead season are looking at an unknown future with dismal fish returns in Idaho.
During a panel discussion, Our Fish, Our Past, Our Future, held in Salmon and sponsored by the Lemhi County Historical Society and Museum, the Sacajawea Center and Trout Unlimited River of No Return Chapter, stakeholders gathered to discuss the prospect of a future with no anadromous fish.
Aaron Lieberman, executive director of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association said it was time to make noise about declining runs. Laura Zuckerman at the Post Register described panelists echoing that sentiment.
“If we don’t do something differently and bigger, the trajectory is clear,” Lieberman said, forecasting a loss of heritage and tradition in towns such as Salmon. “As far as the people I represent are concerned — outfitters and guides — the disappearance of these fish would be catastrophic within the industry.”
After officials announced the closure of the Clearwater River steelhead season due to poor returns, Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune reported widespread concern by guide businesses, many worried they would have to close their doors.
Barker described businesses canceling trips, and counties hemorrhaging money. The Idaho Department of Labor estimates that fishing brings in $8.61 million per month to Nez Perce and Clearwater counties. They also estimate the closure could lead to the loss of 43 jobs and $1 million in wages.
“The longtime customers are heavy hitters in the fishing economy,” Barker wrote. “They fly in from around the country, rent cars, stay in hotels, eat daily at area restaurants and shop at stores to buy gifts to take home to their families. That kind of spending, and the spending of anglers with shallower pockets, reverberates through the economy, according to studies by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Idaho Department of Labor.”
After the closure was announced a small group of anglers gathered for the annual spey clave hosted by the Red Shed Fly Shop.
Steve Pettit, retired biologist for the Idaho Game and Fish, addressed the group noting he does not believe that salmon and steelhead will recover as long as the dams stand.
“We all know our fish are in dire straits. I give our wild stocks of salmon and steelhead a decade,” he said. “If something huge doesn’t happen, they are going to be toast. The hatchery fish are doing worse than the wild fish this year, so it should be a wake-up message to the Idaho Fish and Game Department that something major has to happen.”
Members of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides association have not reached consensus on breaching the dams, but they do seem to agree on one thing says Lieberman.
““I think the majority, if not supermajority, are in the camp of what we have done hasn’t worked.”