LEWISTON — Count the annual Clearwater Snake Steelhead Derby among the casualties of declining steelhead runs over the past four years.
The Lewis Clark Valley Chamber of Commerce announced Tuesday it is discontinuing the annual event. In a news release, the organization said its board voted unanimously to pull the plug on the weeklong derby centered around the Thanksgiving holiday.
The cancellation is not a one-year pause in reaction to the closure of steelhead fishing on the Clearwater River and a section of the Snake River near Lewiston and Clarkston.
Instead, Kristin Kemak, executive director of the chamber, said the board voted in June to stop hosting the derby because of declining participation and now annual uncertainty over the state of the steelhead run.
The chamber has been analyzing the derby, which acted as a fundraiser for the nonprofit civic organization, for several years. Kemak said financial returns from the derby have eroded to the point that it doesn’t make sense to expend the significant effort required to organize the fishing contest.
“We do think the inconsistency of the fish counts has had an impact on that,” she said. “It was once a major fundraiser. Now the efforts we put in to host the event outweigh the financial benefit of doing so.”
Blake Harrington, communications and events coordinator for the chamber, said faltering steelhead runs and the related threat of fishing closures, along with on-again, off-again regulations that required anglers to release large steelhead, made it difficult to plan, attract anglers and secure partners and sponsors.
In place of the derby, the chamber is planning the new Rogers Dodge Outdoor Cookoff to be held Nov. 16. The main feature of the event will be a Dutch oven cooking contest. Camp Chef, a Vista Outdoor subsidiary, will be a major sponsor and donate prizes in the form of outdoor cooking equipment, as well as hold several demonstrations.
“We are just really excited,” Harrington said. “I feel like this event can reach more people and it’s family-friendly.”
Late last month, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission closed steelhead fishing in the Clearwater River basin and on the Snake River between the Idaho-Washington state line and Couse Creek boat ramp south of Asotin. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife followed suit and closed the Snake River to steelhead fishing from its mouth to Couse Creek boat ramp. Both closures were adopted to protect hatchery B-run steelhead.
The closures recently took effect. The agencies had previously slashed steelhead bag limits and required anglers to release all steelhead longer than 28 inches. Last year, Idaho announced it would close steelhead fishing in December because of a lawsuit it faced from a coalition of environmental groups.
The planned closure was averted at the last minute when the Idaho River Community Alliance negotiated a settlement. The 2018 A-run component of the steelhead return was far below expectations, prompting bag limit reductions in Idaho and Washington.
In 2017, low numbers of steelhead prompted a temporary closure of steelhead harvest seasons in Idaho and Washington.
When harvest reopened, anglers were required to release all steelhead longer than 28 inches to protect the depressed B-run of the red-sided fish. In 2016, the A-run of steelhead collapsed, leading to reduced bag limits.