Jim Osterhout fly-fishing the South Fork

Jim Osterhout fly-fishing the South Fork

Idaho Game and Fish Hurting South Fork Anglers Chances
Opinion by Ed Emory

Ed Emory Rainbow Trout
Ed Emory Rainbow Trout

Idaho Fish and Game’s recent electro-shocking and removal of 5,800 plus wild and naturalized rainbows and hybrids has gotten out of hand and will hurt anglers chances for years to come. The fishing industry, including local businesses cannot afford the impact of this practice. 

What is IDF&G’ s agenda?

Per their website, they purport the practice was needed to protect the Yellowstone Large Spotted Cutthroat population. In the 1990’s an ESA petition was written to list the Yellowstone Cutthroat. That petition was denied in 2001 and again declined on appeal in 2005.

Consequently, 15 years later, they are still operating, on assumption, to avoid any potential ESA listing. In reality, one could argue, the Snake below Palisades Dam would never be included in any future ESA actions because of the reasons below. 

Stocking records in Idaho in the upper Snake River region, dating back to 1890’s, suggest a lengthy and high level of hybridization of stocked rainbows, hatchery (more than 3.5-million Yellowstone and Snake River Cutthroats below palisades reservoir. In fact that was enough fish to stock the entire South Fork 14-times over with inferior hatchery fish. This has resulted in genetic dilution not seen above Palisades Reservoir. 

In the opinion of Dr Robert Benhke in his book (Trout and Salmon of North America 2002) he doubts that “the size of the spots on the fine-spotted Cutthroat trout became larger at the Wyoming Idaho border.”

Ed Emory Cutthorat Tro
Ed Emory Cutthorat Trout

Above Palisades Dam the Federal government and the state of Wyoming recognize and effectively manage the Snake River, Salt River and Palisades Reservoir for Snake River Fine-spotted Cutthroats. The Snake River Fine spotted is known to be an aggressive feeder thusly has a higher survival rate. This allows them to directly compete with rainbows and out compete Yellowstone Cutthroat for habitat and reproductive success. A Snake River Fine-spotted centric agenda ultimately makes more sense than a Yellowstone Cutthroat agenda. 

It is Idaho F&G’s biological opinion that the subspecies of Cutthroat changes below Palisades dam to Yellowstone Cutthroats. So one has to ask for what reason and how did IDF&G change the spotting pattern and native trout below palisades dam?

The economic ramifications and angler perceptions:

The evidence is clear that angler satisfaction and perception of IDF&G is changing and not for the positive. Anglers have absolutely voted their opinion by not choosing to participate in Idaho’s angler incentive rainbow removal program. Less than .5% of the over 300,000 plus anglers annually have chosen to participate. That is a deafening statement of a failed incentive program. And a strong vote to leave the fishery as it is!

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The local economies including shops, restaurants, and accommodations just to name few are suffering and will continue to as long as this misguided program is in place.

Time is now for a middle ground to protect the South Fork fishery. And to do what is economically sound for the citizens of Idaho and the anglers who come from near and far to revel in the diverse fishery the South Fork has to offer. 

IDF&G through a partnership with the local businesses should consider the following strategies.
• Full spawning tributary protection including acquiring water rights
• Snake River Fine-spotted Egg boxes in all of the tributaries not just in rainy creek
• Stock Snake River Fine-spotted to replace the losses due to electro shocking
• Approve a pure 6 rainbow harvest limit. 

The South Fork is the most successfully diverse fishery in the world. That diversity needs to be celebrated and not vilified. And the vast majority of us would like to keep it that way for generations to come. To have your voice of opposition heard please go to change.org and search for 

Stop Idaho Fish & Game electro-fishing removal of Wild South Fork of the Snake Rainbows

Then sign the petition. It’s that easy!

Your efforts will be rewarded in knowing you’ve made a positive impact on the most successfully diverse in the world!

A different opinionWhite Pelicans are killing our fish

Opinion is of the author and not necessarily  that of the Greater Yellowstone Resource Guide

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