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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

December 16, 2009 at 10:22 AM

Word on Columbia River sturgeon expected by tomorrow, and the news may not be good

There are plenty of issues arising about the Columbia River sturgeon population, and it could affect how the sport fishing seasons will turn out next year.

“There are concerns about the population itself, and the abundance number of legals [sturgeon between 38-inch minimum to 54-inch maximum] is estimated to be just under 100,000,” said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist.

“Some other not so positive signs were the sport catch of sub-legal sturgeon has dropped off quite a bit in recent years, and on top of that you have stellar sea lions impacting and preying on the broodstock [white] sturgeon,” Hymer said.

Abundance estimates for harvestable size sturgeon were at 123,400 fish in 2006; 135,400 in 2007; and 97,000 in 2008.

An alternative indicator of legal-size abundance, harvest per angler trip in recreation fisheries, remained relatively stable from 1995 through 2007, but declined by 24 percent in 2008 from the previous 13-year average.

The sea lions preying on white sturgeon is a new and growing threat, which has been seen by fisheries officials around Bonneville Dam and Beacon Rock.

Estimated consumption of white sturgeon near the base of the dam alone has increased from 413 fish in 2006 to 1,710 in 2009.

The sport catch estimate in the Lower Columbia River in 2009 is projected to be 18,129 white sturgeon from 115,231 angler trips, which is the lowest catch since 1990.

“The sturgeon catch in the Willamette [on the Oregon side of the Columbia] has also gotten bigger, and so there is some concerns about that as well,” Hymer said.

The joint fisheries staff are recommending that the current four-year sturgeon management agreement be renewed for one year [2010] with the combined harvest guideline being reduced from the current 40,000 fish [36,800 actual harvest]. Although the new guideline has not yet been developed, initial estimates indicate a reduction of up to 35 percent may be needed to compensate for redcued sub-legal and legal fish abundance.

Because Washington and Oregon fisheries officials are in the final year of the current joint agreement from 2006-09, a new management agreement will be in place until February 2010.

Thus the staff, which meet tomorrow (Dec. 17) are expected to make decision on sport sturgeon fishing for January and February only. The rest of the sport fishing season for the remainder of the year will be considered on Feb. 18.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will hold public hearing Jan. 8-9 in Olympia.

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