Tighter catch “guidelines” or allocations were confirmed Thursday for sport and commercial fisheries for white sturgeon on the lower river in actions taken by the Columbia River Compact and a joint Oregon/Washington sport fishing panel.
Representatives of the directors of the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife make up the Compact, which sets mainstem fishing seasons where the Columbia represents their state border.
Additionally the ODFW and WDFW officials, meeting in Portland, noted that there will be no commercial or sport fishing for eulachon, called smelt, in the Columbia River or its tributaries for the second year in a row. NOAA Fisheries Service in March 2010 list Pacific eulachon as protected under the Endangered Species Act due to depleted population.
The cutback will reduce fishing opportunities for white sturgeon for the third straight year. Responding to the continued decline in the number of harvestable size sturgeon in the waters from Bonneville Dam, located at river mile 146, down to the river mouth in recent years, the two states adopted fishing regulations designed to reduce the catch by another 38 percent this year.
"This year’s sturgeon fishery will be opening later or closing earlier on various sections of the river," Cindy LeFleur, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Columbia River policy manager said. "Anglers should check this year’s fishing rules carefully before they head out."
New harvest guidelines approved for sturgeon fisheries in the lower Columbia River will limit this year’s catch to 9,600. That action follows a 30 percent catch reduction in 2011 and a 40 percent reduction in 2010.
Monitoring data jointly collected by Washington and Oregon indicate that the abundance of legal-size white sturgeon has declined by nearly 50 percent since 2003. Factors often cited for the decline include increased predation by sea lions and a drop in the abundance of smelt and lamprey, which contribute to sturgeons’ diet.
To keep this year’s catch within the new harvest guideline, the sturgeon fishery will end 23 days earlier than last year in the estuary below the Wauna powerlines (about river mile 42) and start eight days later in the fall from the powerlines upriver to Bonneville Dam. Fishing seasons approved for 2012 in the lower Columbia River are as follows:
-- Buoy 10 to the Wauna powerlines: Retention of white sturgeon is allowed daily from Jan. 1 through April 30 and from May 12 through July 8. From Jan. 1 through April 30, sturgeon must measure between 38 inches and 54 inches (fork length) to be retained. From May 12 through the end of the season they must measure 41 inches to 54 inches (fork length) to be retained. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed on days when retention is prohibited.
-- Wauna powerlines to Bonneville Dam: Retention of white sturgeon is allowed three days per week (Thursday through Saturday) from Jan. 1 through July 31 and from Oct. 20 through Dec. 31. Sturgeon must measure between 38 inches and 54 inches (fork length) to be retained. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed on days when retention is prohibited.
All fishing for sturgeon will be closed from May 1 through Aug. 31 in the sturgeon sanctuary downriver from Bonneville Dam described in the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet. Sand Island Slough near Rooster Rock also will be closed to fishing at least through April 30.
As in years past, 80 percent of the allowable catch will be allocated to the sport fishery and 20 percent to the commercial fishery. Under the new harvest rate, the portion of the catch available to recreational fisheries will be allocated as follows: up to 4,160 fish in the estuary, up to 2,080 above Wauna and between 1,768 and 2,022 in the Willamette River.
The harvest share between recreational fisheries upstream and downstream from the Wauna power lines will be flexible and may be adjusted in-season to meet the states’ expectations for fishing seasons and ensure the harvest rate does not exceed area catch guidelines.
Unlike the lower river, legal-size sturgeon populations appear to be growing above Bonneville Dam, said Brad James, a WDFW fish biologist. This year’s harvest guidelines for sturgeon fisheries above the dam have not yet been determined.
The Compact on Thursday approved three 24-hour non-Indian commercial white sturgeon fisheries in the five fishing zones downstream of Bonneville. They are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Jan. 30, Feb. 1 and Feb. 6. The allocation for the winter period is 280 sturgeon.
Under permanent regulations, a tribal winter set line fishery is open in the Zone 6 reservoirs above Bonneville during Jan. 1-31. Under permanent regulations, a winter gillnet fishery is open in Zone 6 from noon Feb. 1 to 6 p.m. March 31. Allowable sales include fish caught on platform/hook and line gear within the Zone 6 area.
Eulachon return annually to the Columbia River to spawn in the mainstem and several of its tributaries downstream of Bonneville Dam. They typically enter the Columbia in early to mid-January, though a small ‘pilot’ run often occurs in December. Eulachon return to fresh water at age three, four, and five, according to an annual joint state staff report released earlier this month. Peak tributary abundance is usually in February, with variable abundance through March, and an occasional late showing during April.
Commercial landings from 1938-1992 were in the millions of pounds annually. There have been ups, but mostly downs since.
The states are working with NOAA Fisheries to develop and expand research activities which would provide information on adult and juvenile eulachon abundances and distribution. That includes discussions on using catch-per-unit-effort data, produced through test fishing in the mainstem Columbia River, to help evaluate run strength
The 2012 run is forecasted to be improved over 2011, but is still expected to be at a low level, according to the staff report. In 2011, research activities included sampling the spatial and temporal distribution of eulachon larvae in coastal stream and Columbia River tributaries, and improving the monitoring of eulachon larvae densities.