Oregon and Washington fishery managers will seek public comments on issues affecting Columbia River white sturgeon management and fisheries at three meetings scheduled next week.
The meetings, sponsored by the Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife departments, are designed to share information on developments that will shape sturgeon management starting next year.
Agency officials say new catch guidelines for sturgeon will likely reflect recent declines in the lower Columbia River sturgeon population that forced sharp cuts in the allowable catch of sturgeon this year in the Columbia from Bonneville Dam 146 miles down to the river mouth. Harvest guidelines approved by the states limited this year’s catch below the dam to 24,000 fish, a 40 percent reduction from levels approved in 2009. Of that total, 19,200 were available for harvest by the sport fishery and 4,800 by the commercial fishery.
The meetings are scheduled at the following times and locations:
-- Longview: Dec. 6, 6 - 8:30 p.m. Cowlitz County Public Utility District, 961 12th Ave.
-- Clackamas: Dec. 7, 6 - 8:30 p.m. ODFW Northwest Region Headquarters, 17330 S.E. Evelyn St.
-- Astoria: Dec. 9, 6 - 8:30 p.m. Holiday Inn Express, 204 West Marine Drive.
Additionally, ODFW will host a fourth meeting to present the latest information on population status and fishery options for the Willamette River in 2011. The location and meeting time for the Willamette sturgeon meeting is:
-- Clackamas: Dec. 8, 7-8:30 p.m. ODFW Northwest Region Headquarters, 17330 SE Evelyn St.
Fishery managers scheduled the public meetings as part of joint efforts by Oregon and Washington to develop plans for future white sturgeon management and fisheries. Final decisions -- including catch guidelines for sport and commercial fisheries -- are expected early next year.
Joint monitoring by both states indicates a decline in the abundance of Columbia River white sturgeon in recent years, said Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The joint staff monitoring data has indicatesthat the abundance of the “legal size” segment of the population, and recruitment to the spawning population, grew considerably during 1991 through 1995 and remained relatively stable from 1998 through 2007. But the estimates for 2008 and 2009 represent a decline.
The sublegal size segment of the population had been steadily increasing in the early 2000s, and peaked in abundance in 2004. Since that time, the catch per unit effort data in the sport fishery indicates the sublegal size segment has also declined.
"Given the current trend, we may have to consider more conservative fishing seasons," LeFleur said. "But we want to make sure the public has a chance to comment on the issues involved before we develop harvest guidelines for the next two years."
Members of the public attending the meetings will get their first look at a new sturgeon conservation plan and be asked to weigh in on management of sturgeon in the lower Columbia and lower Willamette rivers.
Agency officials will give the public a preview of the draft Lower Columbia River White Sturgeon Conservation Plan. ODFW staff has been working for more than a year with fishery co-managers and biologists to craft a plan that will provide for the long-term health of the white sturgeon population below Bonneville dam. The plan is scheduled for review and possible adoption by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission next April.
“White sturgeon are a unique species and a tremendous resource for the region. We want to ensure that the population remains viable and productive into the future,” said Steve Williams, deputy administrator of ODFW’s Fish Division. “Before we take this plan to our commission next spring, we want to hear from the public what kinds of conservation actions they want to see for white sturgeon.”
The proposed conservation plan describes current and desired status of the white sturgeon, proposes conservation thresholds, and lays out strategies for protecting and rebuilding the white sturgeon population. The plan addresses how sport and commercial fishing, predation, habitat changes, and operation of the Columbia River hydro system affect white sturgeon populations.
In addition to unveiling Oregon’s proposed sturgeon conservation plan, fishery managers from both states will present the latest information about sturgeon population trends, fishery performance, and other factors they will consider when setting sport and commercial fishing seasons and harvest guidelines for the Columbia River in 2011-2013.
Increased predation by sea lions is one significant factor affecting all segments of the sturgeon population, agency officials say.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers researchers say that in the spring of 2010 the expanded consumption estimate for white sturgeon by sea lions just in the area immediately below Bonneville Dam was 1,879. That’s by far the highest number of white sturgeon taken there since the Corps began monitoring the situation in 2006, when 315 were taken. The expanded estimate was 467 in 2007, 792 in 2008 and 1,241 in 2009.
The number of Steller sea lions camped out below the dam each spring has also steadily grown. The minimum estimated total number of Stellers identified at the dam has risen from zero in 2002 to 75. The Steller sea lions were the predators in the vast majority of the sturgeon takings.
The Stellers were known to be catching and consuming sturgeon in the vicinity of Bonneville Dam as early as October 2009, so observed and expanded catches represent minimum catch and do not include the predation outside the normal observation period,” according to the Corps annual report on sea lion predation below the dam.
When possible, observers estimated the total lengths of sturgeon caught by pinnipeds. The estimated total lengths of sturgeon caught between 2006 and 2010 ranged from less than 2 feet long to more than 7 feet long, but 79.9 percent of sturgeon observed take were 4 feet long or shorter. Female sturgeon must grow to a length of about 6 feet before they sexually mature.