Light effort and catch so far allowed Oregon and Washington managers Thursday to extend the white sturgeon season “below Wauna” on the lower Columbia River despite concerns about the population status of the big fish.
The fishery had been scheduled to be open from Jan. 1-April 30, from May 14-June 26 and from July 1-4. But fishery managers on Thursday decided to let fishery continue until July 31 unless catch rates skyrocket and threaten what is a relatively depleted stock.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Steve Williams and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Guy Norman scheduled a “check-in” meeting for July 13 to review catch data and decide whether the fishery should continue until that July 31 end date. Oregon and Washington co-manage fisheries on the Columbia mainstem where it represents the states’ border.
The white sturgeon fishery from the Wauna powerlines at river mile 40 down to the river mouth has resulted in a catch through June 19 of this year of an estimated 1,230 fish from 9,000 angler trips (0.137 kept/angler) compared to 2,200 kept from 17,500 angler trips (0.125 kept/angler) in 2010. Effort to date is tracking at 51 percent of 2010 and about 40 percent of the 2009-2010 average, according to a June 23 Joint Staff Report: Fact Sheet compiled by the staffs of the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife.
The below Wauna sport allocation for 2011 is 6,800 sturgeon.
New harvest guidelines approved in February for 2011 for the lower river (from Bonneville Dam 146 miles down to the mouth) limit the overall sport and commercial catch in those waters to 17,000 fish, which is a 30 percent reduction from 2010’s 24,000-fish allocation. A 40 percent reduction was imposed – 40,000 to 24,000 – before the 2010 fishing season.
In setting the lower guidelines fishery managers were 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.
Fisherman Harry Barber said Thursday he agreed with the staff recommendation that the fishery be extended, but cautioned that the poor catch rate so far “comes across to me as a red flag. I’m concerned from a conservation standpoint. The fish just might not be there.”
Staff noted that catch rates had improved throughout the month of June. They started out June 1-12 with a kept catch of 40 per day, then increases to 79 per day June 13-19.
Oregon creel data jumped to 132 per day June 20-23. The ODFW’s John North said that Oregon data most often is higher than combined state figures, largely because more outfitters operate out of Oregon. They typically report better catch rates than non-guided anglers.
The high recent data could also be an anomaly. Regardless, ODFW and WDFW staff estimated that a catch as high as 132 fish per day through the end of July would still result in a harvest within the 6,800-fish guideline.
The check-in meeting was set in case the catch rate jumps higher than 132 fish per day.
“If these catch rates continue to increase we should see it in the next few weeks,” Norman said.
The fishery managers noted that the waters above Wauna to Bonneville Dam had yielded only 402 fish through May during 9,678 angler trips. Effort there is down too. Anglers made 19,955 trips last year during the same time frame. That season is open from Jan. 1 through July 31 and from Oct. 8 through Dec. 31 with a guideline of 3,410 fish.
Oregon’s lower Willamette River was closed earlier than anticipated. Angler s had hauled in 2,688 white sturgeon from Feb. 17 through March 12 to shoot past their 2,550-fish guideline.
The John Day dam pool white sturgeon fishery was closed April 10. Anglers there caught 532 fish compared to a 500-fish guideline. The Bonneville pool was closed Feb. 19 with 1,627 fish in hand compared to a 2,000-fish guideline.
The Dalles Dam pool remains open with 141 white sturgeon caught and kept by anglers so far. The guideline is 300 fish.