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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

January 13, 2012 at 5:01 PM

Lower Columbia River sturgeon catch will be cutback this coming season

For a third year in a row, the Lower Columbia River sport sturgeon catch will be cut to protect a withering population as agreed today by the Washington and Oregon state Fish and Wildlife directors.

Under the new agreement, the total allowable catch of white sturgeon below Bonneville Dam will be reduced from 22.5 percent of the “legal-size” fish to 16 percent this season.

That means the sport and commercial fisheries catch will be limited to 9,600 sturgeon measuring 38 to 54 inches long.

The sport anglers will get 4,160 fish in the estuary; 2,080 above Wauna; and between 1,768 and 2,022 in the Willamette River in Oregon.

Last year’s lower river guideline was 15,640 fish, although only 14,488 were actually caught. Under current policy, 80 percent of the catch is given to the sport fishery, and 20 percent to the commercial fishery.

This year’s proposal follows a 30 percent reduction in 2011, and a 40 percent reduction in 2010.

The abundance of “legal-size” fish 38 to 54 inches has dropped nearly 50 percent in past four years.

Projections indicate only 65,000 white sturgeon are lurking below Bonneville Dam.

The decline has been blamed on increased predation by sea lions, and a drop in the abundance of smelt and lamprey, which the sturgeon feed on.

Sea lion predation increased in each of the past six years, claiming more than 8,300 sturgeon last year.

A final decision on sturgeon and salmon seasons below Bonneville Dam will be made at a meeting on Jan. 26 in Portland.

Later in the year, the state’s plan to begin a public process involving fishermen to fully review current sturgeon management strategies on the Columbia and Willamette rivers prior to the 2013 fishing season.

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