OREGON CITY – Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon today adopted fishing seasons for Columbia River white sturgeon that provide greater protection for sturgeon below Bonneville Dam.
New harvest guidelines approved by both states will limit this year’s catch below the dam to 24,000 fish, a 40 percent reduction from levels approved in 2009. Of that total, 19,200 will be available for harvest by the sport fishery and 4,800 by the commercial fishery.
To increase protection for spawning sturgeon, fishery managers also agreed to expand the existing six-mile sanctuary area below Bonneville Dam, where sturgeon fishing is prohibited in late spring and early summer. The new agreement expands the sanctuary 3.5 miles downstream to Skamania Island and extends the fishing prohibition from May 1 to Aug. 31, adding the month of August.
Oregon will establish a new spawning sanctuary on the Willamette River downstream from Willamette Falls to Interstate 205.
Brad James, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), called the one-year accord an important step toward reversing the recent decline of sturgeon numbers in the lower Columbia River.
“Both states agreed that immediate action was needed to conserve our white sturgeon population,” James said. “But this population has been declining for several years, and it will likely take at least that long to reverse the trend.”
James said the estimated number of “legal-size” sturgeon – those that can be retained in fisheries – remained relatively stable through 2007, but dropped 28 percent the following year. Recent analysis also indicates that the number of juvenile sturgeon below Bonneville Dam has been declining since 2005, he said.
Fishery managers at the meeting cited several possible reasons for the decline, including increasing predation by sea lions below Bonneville Dam. According to data compiled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, sea lions consumed at least 1,700 sturgeon immediately below the dam in 2009, the highest number on record.
“This trend is especially troubling because sea lions – particularly Steller sea lions – are targeting large breeding females, which produce the eggs for future generations,” James said. “Those fish are off-limits to recreational and commercial fisheries.”
Of the sturgeon allocated to the sport fishery this year, 9,600 will be available for harvest from Buoy 10 near the mouth of the Columbia River to the Wauna powerlines near Cathlamet. The remaining 7,700 fish will be divided between two fisheries: one extending from the Wauna powerlines to Bonneville Dam, the other on the Willamette River.
For the first time, the Willamette River will be managed under a separate harvest guideline that caps the fast-growing fishery at 3,600 fish to ensure that anglers fishing above the Wauna powerlines on the Columbia River receive their share of the catch, James said.
Fishing seasons for retention of white sturgeon approved for the 2010 sport fishery in the Columbia River and adjacent tributaries are as follows:
- Buoy 10 to the Wauna powerlines: The retention fishery for white sturgeon will be open seven days per week from May 22 to June 26. The fork length of retained sturgeon must be a minimum of 41 inches and a maximum of 54 inches. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed during the rest of the year.
- Wauna powerlines to Bonneville Dam: The retention fishery for white sturgeon will be open three days per week (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) from Jan. 1 through July 31, and from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. The fork length of retained sturgeon must be a minimum of 38 inches and a maximum of 54 inches. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed on days when sturgeon retention is prohibited, except in the sanctuary area from May through August.
Both areas below Bonneville Dam are currently open to sturgeon fishing through February under regulations approved last year.
The fishing periods will be reassessed in June based on available catch data, and may be modified to match catch guidelines. Any changes will be posted on the WDFW website (http://wdfw.wa.gov/) and distributed to the news media.