Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon on Tuesday agreed on new sport and commercial fishing seasons for Columbia River white sturgeon that reflect mutual concerns about the declining abundance of legal-size sturgeon below Bonneville Dam.
During Columbia River Compact and joint state sport meetings representatives of the Oregon and Washington department of fish and wildlife directors established guidelines and strategies for 2011 sturgeon and spring chinook salmon fishing seasons. The Compact sets commercial seasons.
New harvest guidelines approved this week will limit this year’s catch in those waters to 17,000 fish, a 30 percent reduction from last year’s 24,000-fish allocation for the lower Columbia from Bonneville Dam down to the river mouth. A 40 percent reduction was imposed – 40,000 to 24,000 – before the 2010 fishing season.
In setting the lower guidelines fishery managers are responding to data that says the abundance of legal-size fish (38-54-inch fork length) has declined from averages of 131,400 during 1998-2007 and 91,100 during 2008-2010 to a projection of 77,000 this year. Abundance estimates are derived mainly from annual mark/recapture studies.
"In practical terms, this year’s action is expected to reduce the amount of time sturgeon fisheries in the lower Columbia River will be open at the end of the season," said Brad James, WDFW fish biologist.
As in years past, 80 percent of the allowable catch will be allocated to the sport fishery and 20 percent to the commercial fishery. In addition, 60 percent of the sport catch will continue to be reserved for the estuary fishery below the Wauna powerlines and 40 percent for the fishery upriver from the powerlines to Bonneville Dam.
Fishing seasons approved for 2011 in the lower Columbia River are as follows:
-- Buoy 10 to Wauna power lines (river mile 40) -- Retention of white sturgeon is allowed seven days a week Jan. 1–April 30, with a daily bag limit of one fish with a fork length of between 38 and 54 inches. This area is closed to retention of white sturgeon May 1-May 13. The season reopens seven days a week from May 14 through June 26 and July 1-4, with a daily bag limit of one fish with a fork length of 41 to 54 inches.
This fishery will be managed to the available guideline of 6,800 fish and may be shortened or extended, depending on results.
-- Columbia River from Wauna power lines upstream to Bonneville Dam (including all adjacent Washington tributaries) -- Retention of white sturgeon is allowed three days a week on Thursday, Friday and Saturday Jan. 1-July 31 and Oct. 8-Dec. 31. This fishery will be managed to a harvest guideline of 3,410 fish and may be shortened or extended, depending on results. Angling for sturgeon is prohibited from the upstream end of Skamania Island at River Marker #82 upstream to Bonneville Dam May 1-Aug. 31.
The white sturgeon production news is considerably brighter in the Bonneville Pool where the sport catch allocation was raised from 1,400 last year to 2,000 in 2011. It was the second consecutive year that the quota was raised, largely because of a growing population of sturgeon in the reservoir.
“Despite a second consecutive increase in the annual quota for the Bonneville Pool fishery, relatively high angler effort combined with high catch rates are quickly consuming the harvest quota,” according to the Feb. 8 Joint Staff Report-Winter Fact Sheet No. 2.
The staffs estimated that the quota would likely be reached by about Feb. 18, which the Compact decided would be when the fishery will close.
“They’ve found the population in Bonneville and they’re hitting it hard,” James said of the early-season sturgeon anglers. Through Jan. 31 a total of 1,040 had been caught.
A 2009 population estimate indicated that there were 29,600 legal-size white sturgeon, and 334,000 sturgeon two feet long or longer. That means quite a few 24- to 41-inch fish are ready to grow into legal size (42-inch minimum).
The 2009 legal-size estimate for Bonneville Pool was up from a 2006 estimate of 6,200.
The estimates of white sturgeon 24 inches long or longer has risen from 120,000 in 2003 to 205,000 in 2006 to the 2009 estimate.
“We’ve got a pretty good story going on in the Bonneville pool,” ODFW’s Steve Williams said.
The Dalles and John Day pool have recreational guidelines of 300 and 500 fish respectively for the year. The Dalles allocation is up from 165 fish last year. The reservoir seasons opened Jan. 1.
Retention sturgeon fishing is currently open in the Columbia River but was closed on the Willamette in an emergency action adopted earlier this year.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Williams announced that ODFW will reopen retention sturgeon fishing on the Willamette three days a week beginning Thursday, Feb. 17 and continuing until a harvest guideline of 2,550 fish is achieved.
“There has been a great deal of interest on Willamette sturgeon,” said Williams, who announced the Oregon action after the joint state hearing. “We saw a great deal of effort last fall on the Willamette that amounted to over 500 fish caught in three days. We expect the fishery to be good when it reopens on the 17th.”
About 60 people including sport and commercial fishers showed up to listen and present testimony at the hearing, conducted at the Museum of the Oregon Territory in Oregon City.