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With Declining Columbia River Sturgeon Numbers, Structuring Suitable Fisheries Proves Challenging
Posted on Friday, February 24, 2012 (PST)

Oregon fishery managers announced Thursday that the Willamette River downstream from Willamette Falls, including Multnomah Channel and the Gilbert River just north of Portland, will not be open to sturgeon retention on Feb. 24-25 as had been planned.


In January, fishery managers had announced a possible four-day retention season to include Feb. 17-18 and Feb 24-25.


But, in just two days, anglers caught 1,535 sturgeon, almost 90 percent of the 1,768 allowed for the Willamette -- in large part due to the number of anglers.


According to Steve Williams, deputy administrator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fish Division, the catch rate (number of fish harvested per angler) was about equal to last year, but daily angling effort was over twice that observed in 2011. Managers estimated over 2,400 boats participated in the two-day fishery.


“Based on the number of anglers and catch last year, we hoped there would be enough fish for four days of fishing,” Williams said. “Obviously we did not count on such a huge increase in effort.”


Staff predict an additional 700-800 fish could be caught with an additional day of fishing, which would exceed the harvest guideline.


This year’s harvest allocation for the Willamette was down 30 percent from last year, due to continued declines in the abundance of legal-sized sturgeon.


“Reduced quotas combined with high effort make it challenging to structure suitable fisheries,” Williams said, “If this trend continues, ODFW will have to reconsider how it structures future sturgeon retention seasons on the Willamette.”


ODFW intends to host a series of public meetings this fall to present new population information and let members of the public weigh in with their ideas.


Catch-and-release sturgeon fishing is still allowed on the lower Willamette River, and retention of white sturgeon is permitted on the Columbia from the mouth upstream to Bonneville Dam and in The Dalles, John Day and McNary reservoirs. The Bonneville pool is closed to retention.


Columbia River from Buoy 10 near the river mouth at the Pacific Ocean up to Wauna power lines (river mile 40) is open to retention of white sturgeon 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 11. The season reopens seven days a week from May 12 through July 8, 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 4,160 fish.


In the Columbia River mainstem 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. 20-Dec. 31. This fishery will be managed to a harvest guideline of 2,080 fish.


Fishing for sturgeon is prohibited from the upstream end of Skamania Island at River Marker #82 upstream to Bonneville Dam May 1-Aug. 31. In addition, the Sand Island Slough near Rooster Rock is closed to angling Feb. 1 through Apr. 30.


Anglers are reminded that all sturgeon fishing in the lower Willamette River, including catch-and-release, is prohibited between the Interstate 205 Bridge and Willamette Falls from May 1 through Aug. 31 because that section of the river has been designated as a sturgeon spawning sanctuary.


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