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Idaho Fishing Communities Could Be "Collateral" in Shutdown

The ongoing government shutdown is delaying a key permit needed to keep steelhead season open in Idaho. (Ryndon Ricks/Flickr)
The ongoing government shutdown is delaying a key permit needed to keep steelhead season open in Idaho. (Ryndon Ricks/Flickr)
January 16, 2019

RIGGINS, Idaho - Idaho communities that rely on steelhead fishing soon could feel pain from the government shutdown.

Last year, an expired federal permit for endangered steelhead threatened to close the entire season. However, anglers and environmental groups reached a deal last month to keep it open until March 15 while the Idaho Department of Fish and Game secured a new permit. Now, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries workers in the region furloughed, that process has been delayed.

Riggins City Councilman Roy Akins, an outfitter, said Feb. 15 is the earliest he expects Idaho officials to have the permit.

"We just happen to become more collateral, another innocent bystander, another story that probably very few people will hear," he said, "and they're going to be potentially greatly affected by the outcome of the closure of the federal government."

Akins also is chairman of the Idaho River Community Alliance, which helped broker the agreement last month to open the season. He said many central Idaho communities rely on steelhead fishing in the winter. Steelhead have been in sharp decline in the Northwest, which is why NOAA's Sustainable Fisheries Division is tasked with permitting.

With the government closed for nearly four weeks, Akins said he doesn't expect NOAA to finish the permit by March 15, which would end the rest of the season. However, he said, it's important the job is done right.

"We can't rush it, but we need these guys back in the office immediately," he said. "We've been waiting for almost 10 years to receive this permit and now here we are again, in a situation out of our control, where we're just standing around waiting. And the permit's in an office with the lights off and nobody at work."

Last week, the Idaho Conservation League sent a letter to Gov. Brad Little, encouraging him to ask the Trump administration to take federal fisheries biologists off the "non-essential employees" list.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID