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To Aid Salmonids, Washington Mulls Lifting Bag Limits On Bass, Walleye In Portions Columbia/ Snake
Posted on Friday, February 01, 2013 (PST)

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will next week ponder nearly 70 proposed sportfishing rule changes, including one that is intended to boost the harvest of walleye, smallmouth bass and channel catfish in the mid and upper Columbia and lower Snake rivers and thus reduce predation on protected salmon and steelhead.

The WFWC will take public comment on proposed changes to the state’s sportfishing rules during a public meeting Feb. 8-9 in Olympia.

The commission, a nine-member citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, will convene at 8:30 a.m. both days in Room 172 of the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E.

A complete agenda for the meeting is available on the commission’s webpage at

WDFW is recommending that nearly 70 proposed sportfishing rules move forward for public comment.

Included is a proposal that includes an Option 1, to remove the daily catch limit for channel catfish and the daily catch and size limits for bass and walleye in portions of the Columbia and Snake rivers and their tributaries to assist recovery efforts for salmon and steelhead.

The rule change would affect the mainstem Columbia from McNary Dam in southeast Washington upstream to central Washington’s Chief Joseph Dam, and tributaries in between. It would also be implemented in the lower Snake from its confluence with the Columbia up to the Oregon-Idaho border and again, tributaries feeding into that section of the Snake.

The goal of the rule changes is to reduce negative interactions between ESA listed anadromous fish and predatory warmwater fish. The proposal is consistent with WDFW‘s conservation mission to support ESA listed salmon and steelhead recovery in the Columbia River Basin. Conserving ESA listed anadromous salmonids through sport fishing regulation is one of many strategies necessary to achieve salmon and steelhead recovery goals, the agency says.

A second option under that proposal would also remove existing daily limits for those fish, but restrict anglers to three bass larger than 15 inches in length and one walleye larger than 24 inches in length. The proposed changes are designed to increase the harvest of abundant bass, walleye and channel catfish, which prey on juvenile salmon and steelhead that are listed for protection under the federal ESA.

The proposal has drawn perhaps the most comment of any of the 70, including 248 from the public through Jan. 28. Additionally, the WDFW has collected input from the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, a joint comment from public utilities in the region, the Klickitat County Natural Resources Department, the Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board, National Marine Fisheries Service, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council and the Yakama Basin Fish and Wildlife Recovery Board.

The public comment is a mixed bag, some supporting the loosening of bass, walleye and channel catfish regulations, and others fearing that popular fisheries for those species might be destroyed by overharvest.

The organizations submitting comment in large part said the proposed regulation change would support extensive and expensive ongoing efforts to recover depleted salmon and steelhead stocks.

NMFS, the federal agency charged with assuring protections for listed salmon and steelhead stocks, said in its letter to the WFWC that Option 2 “would imply a desire by WDFW to maintain healthy populations of large, non-native predators.” Walleye, bass and channel catfish are all non-native to the Columbia/Snake system.

“The NMFS believes Option 1 sends an unambiguous message to fishery managers, anglers, stakeholders, and the general public regarding WDFW’s management objectives where these non-native predators significantly overlap with salmon and steelhead populations.

“The proposed rule change under Option 1 will reaffirm the threat posed by bass, walleye, and channel catfish and strengthen the available regulatory mechanisms to control their abundance and distribution in the Columbia Basin.”

Current daily bag limits include as many as 10 walleye in the McNary to Chief Joe reach, with stricter limits on the larger fish.

“Their metabolism slows down,” the WDFW’s Chris Donley said of the big walleyes and bass. They also target bigger prey so are less of a threat to juvenile salmon and steelhead migrating toward the ocean.

“All of these fish have a place in Washington, just not everywhere,” Donley said.

As an example, a green light has long been on for spawning smallmouth bass, which often hover near the mouth of mainstem tributaries to fill themselves with outmigrating juvenile salmon. Fall chinook are particularly vulnerable, since their sprint downstream coincides in timing with the arrival of bass intending to spawn in the streams.

Donley said the proposal is intended to align regulations with overall objectives of the agency.

“We’re not saying that warmwater fisheries are not important,” he said. The goal is to help protect the level of investment being made in salmon restoration.

Another rule change proposal is aimed at restoring balance in waters where a non-native predator, again walleye, has assumed a dominant position.

That rule change would increase catch limits for walleye on Lake Roosevelt and the Spokane Arm of Lake Roosevelt, where there is an overabundance of the species. Lake Roosevelt is backed up by the mid-Columbia’s Grand Coulee Dam.

The proposed change is designed to allow a variety of other fish species to grow in numbers by reducing the walleye population through an increase in recreational fishing opportunities.

Other proposals include:

-- Allowing the use of two fishing poles, with the purchase of a two-pole endorsement, on 50 additional lakes throughout the state.

-- modifying rules for white sturgeon in Washington’s waters. Possible options include changes in areas and/or seasons; allowing only catch and release fishing; modifying size limits; reducing the annual limit; and restricting terminal gear.

To review the proposed rules, as well as the comments already received, visit WDFW’s website at . Printed copies of the proposals are available by contacting WDFW’s Fish Program at (360) 902-2672.

The website includes information on proposed rules that WDFW fishery managers recommend move forward for further review and public comment, as well as information on proposals not recommended for further consideration.

In other business, the commission will consider for approval the purchase of nearly 25 acres along the Wenatchee River in Chelan County for public fishing and boating access.

The commission also will hold a public hearing on proposed changes to clam and oyster seasons at public beaches in Puget Sound. The proposed changes, based on annual species surveys and expected sportfishing effort, include longer seasons on three public beaches, shorter seasons on eight beaches, closing one beach and opening a portion of another. Details of the proposed modifications are available online at .

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