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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

January 9, 2012 at 2:06 PM

Lower Columbia River sturgeon catch will see another dramatic reduction this coming season

For the third straight year, the sturgeon total allowable catch in the sport fishery in the Lower Columbia River has been reduced to protect a declining population.

This past Saturday, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission called for reducing this year’s combined sport and commercial harvest levels by as much 38 percent.

A day earlier, Oregon’s commission endorsed a proposal to reduce the catch guideline by more than 25 percent.

The commissions charged fish and wildlife directors of both states with negotiating an agreement by Jan. 26, when a joint hearing is scheduled to announce fishing seasons for sturgeon and salmon below Bonneville Dam.

Last year’s sturgeon guideline for those waters was 15,640 fish, although only 14,488 were actually harvested. Under the current policy, 80 percent of the catch is allocated to the recreational fishery and 20 percent to the commercial fishery.

Any restriction in this year’s sturgeon harvest will follow a 30 percent reduction in 2011 and a 40 percent reduction the year before. Even so, most fishers who spoke before the Washington commission urged its members to take bold action to address the decline in sturgeon abundance in the Lower Columbia River.

“Fishers are very concerned, and so is this commission,” Miranda Wecker, who chairs Washington’s nine-member citizen commission said in a news release. “This may be our last attempt to reduce the downward trend before we have to consider a complete moratorium on the fishery.”

Fish biologists for both states estimate that the abundance of “legal-size” sturgeon measuring 38-54 inches in length has declined nearly 50 percent in the past four years. Projections indicate that 65,000 white sturgeon will be present below Bonneville Dam this year.

Factors often cited for the decline include increased predation by sea lions and a drop in the abundance of smelt and lamprey, which contribute to sturgeons’ diet.

Pat Frazier, a regional fish manager at state Fish and Wildlife, said sea lion predation in the lower Columbia River increased in each of the past six years, claiming more than 8,300 sturgeon in 2011.

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