Fish numbers continue to drop in Idaho and Garret Visser with Idaho Wildlife Federation said the trend is negatively affecting riverside communities in Idaho.
“There are towns in Idaho that are so reliant on steelhead and Chinook,” said Visser. “We want our representatives to realize that.”
To that point, Visser helped city leaders in riverside communities draft a letter that will be sent to Gov. Brad Little and other Idaho politicians in late January.
The letter asks politicians to realize the extinction of fish species in Idaho is a crisis and acknowledge past conservation efforts have failed. The authors also ask to bring community members from all walks of life — whether they be scientists, ranchers or anglers — to the table to discuss possible solutions. Finally the writers asked Little and his colleagues to involve other states in the Northwest and the federal government in the effort to increase fish numbers in the region.
“The point of the letter is to let us be a megaphone for communities affected by dropping fish numbers,” said Visser.
Visser said the economies of several towns in Idaho are built on fish. He said when fish runs are high, businesses in communities like Riggins and Salmon see huge bumps in revenue. Visser said in 2001 business owners in Riggins collectively made $10 million in one year from fishing and tourism-related industries.
Conversely, Visser pointed out that when the steelhead fishing season on the Clearwater River was closed in September because of low fish returns, businesses in the county lost about $8.7 million a month. The season has since re-opened.
“Riverside communities depend on fish, not just because of fishing, but also because of the money that comes in from out of state,” Visser said. “People come from all over to fish in Idaho and they spend money on hotels, food and entertainment.”
Visser said the letter is a launching point to start a conversation. He said the ultimate goal is to completely overhaul fish protection in Idaho and make it more robust. He doesn’t know what the overhaul will look like, but he said something needs to be done.
“So far $16 million to $17 million has been dumped into the fish problem and it’s not helping,” he said.
Visser said the letter will encourage communities in Idaho to work together and create a single voice asking for change. He expects the voice will start out small, but over time it will grow to the point it can’t be ignored.
“Idaho is the fish factory for the whole region,” said Visser. “We can lead other states in the area and demand better protection for fish.”