The Pacific Fishery Management Council regulates fishing from Washington south to California but has little impact on the salmon that spawn in Idaho.
That’s because the salmon and steelhead that leave the Columbia River as tiny smolts turn north when they leave. They are fished by Canadians and Alaskans, before they return to the Columbia and Snake rivers as thick, long adults.
Those areas have their own regulatory agencies and Idahoans have little say in the matter. But remarkably, there are two Idahoans serving on the 14-member Pacific Fishery Management Council that will meet this week beginning Thursday at the Riverside Hotel in Garden City.
Cal Groen, the former Idaho Department of Fish and Game Director, serves with Herb Pollard, a former Fish and Game Regional Director and National Marine Fisheries Service biologist. David Ortmann, a fishery biologist and recreational angler from Coeur d'Alene, is the state's alternate.
Idahoans have often served as the honest brokers on the council since they don’t usually have a dog in the fight. But now the council is working on an issue that could have a profound effect on Idaho’s salmon and steelhead:How to protect forage species, like smelts, sand lance and saurys that are important food for salmon in the Pacific.
In June, with the vote of the Idahoans, the council voted on a motion that states the intent of the Council to prohibit any new fisheries on currently unmanaged forage fish unless and until the science shows they can be harvested at a sustainable level that still accounts for the ecological value they play in the entire ecosystem.
“Forage fish affects everything,” Groen said in a telephone interview. “It’s important that the council is looking at that.”
Paul Shively, manager of the Pacific Fish Conservation Program, Pew Environment Group, said the key is to make sure council acts in a timely matter so we can have a precautionary approach to forage fish management.
“Too often, our fisheries dealt with in a management by crisis mode,” Shively said.
The demand to increase fisheries to feed farmed fish, livestock and chickens is putting pressure on forage fish in Asia and Shively, a former chairman of the Save our Wild Salmon coalition, said it’s an increasingly important issue for the future of Idaho’s salmon.
"Idahoans know a ton about the dams, but they may not think about the other factors that can lead to strong salmon and steelhead returns like ocean conditions,” Shively said.