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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

February 23, 2010 at 10:36 AM

Lower Columbia River sturgeon fishery faces big cutback this season

The sport sturgeon fishery in the Lower Columbia River will be dramatically curtailed this season, according to a state Fish and Wildlife news release.

New harvest guidelines will limit this year’s catch below Bonneville Dam to 24,000 fish, a 40 percent reduction from levels last year. Of that total, 19,200 will be available for harvest by the sport fishery and 4,800 by the commercial fishery.

To increase protection for spawning sturgeon, fishery managers also agreed to expand the existing six-mile sanctuary area below Bonneville Dam, where sturgeon fishing is prohibited in late spring and early summer.

The new agreement expands the sanctuary 3.5 miles downstream to Skamania Island and extends the fishing prohibition from May 1 to Aug. 31, adding the month of August.

Oregon will establish a new spawning sanctuary on the Willamette River downstream from Willamette Falls to Interstate 205.

“Both states agreed that immediate action was needed to conserve our white sturgeon population,” Brad James, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist said in a news release. “But this population has been declining for several years, and it will likely take at least that long to reverse the trend.”

James said the estimated number of “legal-size” sturgeon – those that can be retained in fisheries – remained relatively stable through 2007, but dropped 28 percent the following year. Recent analysis also indicates that the number of juvenile sturgeon below Bonneville Dam has been declining since 2005, he said.

Another reason in the decline is predation by sea lions below the dam. According to data, sea lions consumed about 1,700 sturgeon below the dam last year, the highest number on record.

“This trend is especially troubling because sea lions – particularly Steller sea lions – are targeting large breeding females, which produce the eggs for future generations,” James said. “Those fish are off-limits to recreational and commercial fisheries.”

Of the sturgeon allocated to the sport fishery this year, 9,600 will be available for harvest from Buoy 10 near the mouth of the Columbia River to the Wauna powerlines near Cathlamet. The remaining 7,700 fish will be divided between two fisheries: one extending from the Wauna powerlines to Bonneville Dam, the other on the Willamette River.

For the first time, the Willamette River will be managed under a separate harvest guideline that caps the fast-growing fishery at 3,600 fish to ensure that anglers fishing above the Wauna powerlines on the Columbia River receive their share of the catch, James said.

Here are the fishing seasons:

Buoy 10 to the Wauna powerlines: The retention fishery for white sturgeon will be open seven days per week from May 22 to June 26. The fork length of retained sturgeon must be a minimum of 41 inches and a maximum of 54 inches. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed during the rest of the year.

Wauna powerlines to Bonneville Dam: The retention fishery for white sturgeon will be open three days per week (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) from Jan. 1 through July 31, and from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. The fork length of retained sturgeon must be a minimum of 38 inches and a maximum of 54 inches. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed on days when sturgeon retention is prohibited, except in the sanctuary area from May through August.

Both areas below Bonneville Dam are currently open to sturgeon fishing through February under regulations approved last year.

The fishing periods will be reassessed in June based on available catch data, and may be modified to match catch guidelines.

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