VANCOUVER, Wash. - The 2008 sport fishery for Columbia River white sturgeon will open New Year's Day under regulations similar to those in effect this year, but with somewhat tighter catch limits below Bonneville Dam.
To compensate for high harvest levels this year, 2008 catch limits will be 3,500 fish lower in the lower Columbia River and adjoining tributaries than in 2007, under fishing rules adopted this week by fishery managers from Washington and Oregon.
The largest adjustment is in the area from Buoy 10 at the mouth of the Columbia River to the Wauna powerlines 40 miles upstream, where anglers will be limited to 13,143 legal-size sturgeon. This year's catch was estimated at 19,131 fish - 2,857 above the annual harvest guideline for that area.
For waters above the Wauna powerlines to Bonneville Dam, fishery managers set a harvest level for 2008 of 13,900 white sturgeon, compared to this year's catch of 14,750.
Next year's lower harvest guidelines in those areas are designed to bring the catch into line with a three-year harvest agreement between Washington and Oregon that runs through 2008, said Brad James, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
"By keeping this year's fishery below the Wauna powerlines open through the Fourth of July, we knew the catch would likely exceed the quota," James said. "We let anglers know this would require a reduction in the guideline for 2008, and they generally agreed with that approach."
He noted, however, that the 13,900-fish harvest guideline above the Wauna powerlines is still higher than in 2006, when the actual catch fell short of the 12,800-fish guideline. "That shortfall was credited to the guidelines for both this year and next year, and translates into additional days of being allowed to retain a sturgeon," James said.
Catch guidelines for areas above Bonneville Dam to McNary Dam are likely to remain the same as this year, James said. As in previous years, anglers in all areas will be limited to one legal-sized white sturgeon per day and five per year. Anglers must release all green sturgeon, a separate species listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Fishing seasons established for the 2008 white sturgeon sport fishery on the Columbia River and adjacent tributaries are as follows:
- Buoy 10 to the Wauna powerlines: Fishing for retention of white sturgeon is open seven days per week from Jan. 1 to April 30 and from May 10 to June 24. From Jan. 1 to April 30, retained sturgeon must be a minimum of 42 inches and a maximum of 60 inches. From May 10 to June 24, retained sturgeon must be a minimum of 45 inches and a maximum of 60 inches. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed May 1 to May 9 and June 25 to Dec. 31.
- Wauna powerlines to Bonneville Dam: Fishing for retention of white sturgeon is open four days per week (Thursday through Sunday) Jan. 1 through July 31 and Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. Retained sturgeon must be a minimum of 42 inches and a maximum of 60 inches. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed Aug. 1 through Sept. 30 and on days when retention is prohibited. All fishing for sturgeon will be closed from May through July in a sturgeon spawning sanctuary downriver from Bonneville Dam 5.5 miles to Navigation Marker 85.
- Above Bonneville Dam: Fishing for retention of white sturgeon opens seven days per week Jan. 1 until individual catch guidelines are met in the Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day pools. In the Bonneville Pool, retained sturgeon must be a minimum of 42 inches and a maximum of 60 inches. In The Dalles and John Day pools, retained sturgeon must be a minimum of 48 inches and a maximum of 60 inches. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed after the guidelines are met in all three areas above Bonneville Dam. All fishing will be closed from May through July in two spawning sanctuaries located below John Day Dam downstream 2.4 miles and from McNary Dam downstream 1.5 miles.
Those fishing periods will be reassessed in June, based on available catch data, James said. Any changes will be posted on the WDFW website (http://wdfw.wa.gov/) and distributed to the news media.
James noted that tagging data indicates a gradual decline in some segments of the Columbia River sturgeon population in recent years. "Possible explanations include declining natural production and increased predation by sea lions," he said.
Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon will consider those issues next year when they meet to work out the next three-year harvest agreement, James said.