OLYMPIA – One angler earned $39,620 this year fishing for northern pikeminnows with a hook and line. His closest rival reeled in $38,084 during the five-month season.
Both are veterans of Washington state’s Northern Pikeminnow Sport Reward Fishery, a 15-year-old program that pays anglers to catch as many pikeminnows as possible on the Columbia and Snake rivers.
Voracious predators, pikeminnows take a heavy toll on juvenile salmon in the two rivers, eating millions of outmigrating smolts every year, said Eric Winther, who administers the program for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
But by paying anglers to catch pikeminnows, the program has succeeded in removing more than 2.6 million of the long-snouted fish from the Columbia and Snake rivers since 1990, Winther said.
“Our research indicates that the fishery has reduced pikeminnow predation on young salmon by about 25 percent,” he said. “We’re making an impact, but we still have some work to do.”
Funding for the program is provided by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) under the 1980 Pacific Northwest Power Act.
During this year’s season, which ended Sept. 25, anglers earned $4 each for the first 100 northern pikeminnows they caught; $5 each for 101 to 400 pikeminnows; and $8 each for any additional pikeminnows above 400.
Anglers who turn in their catch to special check stations are paid for each fish that measures at least 9 inches long – the size at which pikeminnows become a serious threat to young salmon.
WDFW also pays anglers $500 for each pikeminnow they catch that is tagged for research purposes.
More than 5,000 anglers took part in this year’s fishery, catching a total of 240,955 pikeminnows and earning a total of $1.5 million, Winther said. This year’s total catch was second only to last year’s record harvest of 267,215 fish.
This year’s top money-earner caught 4,740 pikeminnows – including six tagged fish, which helped solidify his position, Winther said. The runner-up actually caught more fish – 4,800 – but fewer were tagged.
“The average angler in this fishery catches six to seven fish per day,” Winther said. “But as with salmon or steelhead anglers, the top 5 percent catches 80 percent of the fish.”
Winther said WDFW is planning additional incentives and ways to encourage angler participation for the 2006 fishery, which gets under way next May.
“We’d like to hold more instructional clinics and have more informational materials available to anglers on how to catch these predators and make money doing it,” he said.
For additional information on the Northern Pikeminnow Sport Reward Fishery Program, call the pikeminnow hotline at 1-800-858-9015 or visit the program’s website at www.pikeminnow.org on the Internet.