Anglers participating in a special reward program this year hauled more than 155,000 northern pikeminnow from the Columbia and Snake rivers, thus saving an estimated 4 million young salmon and steelhead from getting eaten by the hungry predators.
The Northern Pikeminnow Sports Reward Program pays cash for catching and removing the pikeminnow. The top angler in 2011 earned $66,478 during the six-month season. The second place fisherman brought in $60,742. Anglers also caught 156 pikeminnow that were specially tagged and worth up to $500 each.
“This program is not only good for salmon, it provides an opportunity to earn income, which is especially important during these tough economic times,” said Russell Porter, senior program manager for the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. “We appreciate the effort of all those anglers who participated, and we look forward to another successful year in 2012.”
Anglers get paid $4 to $8 for northern pikeminnow 9 inches and larger caught in the lower Columbia (river mouth to Priest Rapids Dam) and Snake (river mouth to Hells Canyon Dam) rivers. The anglers get paid $4 for each of the first 100 pikeminnow they turn in in a season, $5 for each of the next 300 fish and $8 for fish No. 401 and beyond.
The annual program started May 1 and was originally scheduled to close Sept. 30. Program managers extended the season through Oct. 16. The extension resulted in rewards to anglers for catching more than 7,000 additional northern pikeminnow.
The northern pikeminnow is a large member of the minnow family native to the Pacific slope of western North America. Formerly known as "northern squawfish", the name was changed to northern pikeminnow by the American Fisheries Society in 1998. It has a long snout with a large mouth extending back to the eye. The body is dark green or dusky green above and silvery or creamy white below, with clear fins. Northern pikeminnow are similar in shape to the non-native walleye, but lacks the walleye's obvious teeth and spiny fin rays.
The northern pikeminnow of the Columbia River is not the same species as the Colorado pikeminnow, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. They are two distinct species.
Since 1991, more than 3 million pikeminnow have been removed from the Snake and Columbia rivers through the sport reward program. Last year, anglers caught approximately 174,000 pikeminnow. The harvested fish are processed into fertilizer and poultry food.
The goal of the program is not to eliminate northern pikeminnow, but rather to reduce the average size of the population by removing larger, older fish. Reducing the number of these predators can greatly help the salmon and steelhead juveniles making it out to sea.
BPA funds the program to partially mitigate for the impact of the Columbia River hydroelectric system on salmon. Results indicate the program is successful. Predation on juvenile salmonids has been cut by an estimated 40 as a result of the program.
The program is administered by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission and is funded by the Bonneville Power Administration.
Get more information at www.pikeminnow.org