Columbia River white sturgeon

Changes to Lake Roosevelt white sturgeon fishing seasons
WDFW will host two public meetings in Spokane and Colville in late March to inform anglers of planned changes to future (including 2023) white sturgeon fishing seasons and regulations on Lake Roosevelt in northeast Washington. Information on dates of future seasons and the reasons for it are in the video below.

The public meetings will include question-and-answer sessions. If, after reviewing the video, you would like to attend one , click the "public meetings" link above for date, time, and location information. For questions, or to provide a comment, please email TeamSpokane@dfw.wa.gov.

photo of stugeon and angler
Eric Braaten

Sturgeon biology and abundance
The remarkable white sturgeon is a popular species for recreational fishing on the Columbia River, with catch-and-release fishing allowed in many parts of the river throughout the year, and retention fishing open in select areas at specific times.

White sturgeon can grow to more than 10 feet in length and weigh hundreds of pounds. They are also long-lived; some animals live to be 100 years or older, and typically don't reach sexual maturity until 15–25 years old. In part because of their exceptional life history, sturgeon are carefully managed and harvests closely monitored in the Columbia River, with an annual limit of two fish when retention fishing is open, and a slot length limit to ensure adequate protection of adult, sexually mature white sturgeon.

Sturgeon abundance in the lower river collapsed at the end of the 19th Century due to overfishing and remained depressed through the first half of the 20th Century. The population began to rebound only after the adoption of management actions aimed at reducing overall harvest and protecting broodstock, particularly a 6-foot maximum size limit regulation enacted in 1950. White sturgeon abundance subsequently increased significantly through the 1990s and supported robust recreational and commercial fisheries. Abundance of sub-adult and adult fish began declining in the mid-2000s, prompting changes in harvest quotas and retention seasons.

Throughout the summer months, anglers may incidentally encounter green sturgeon in Washington's coastal tributaries and estuaries; however, fishing for and retaining green sturgeon is prohibited due to their protected status as a Threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. 

Comparison of white and green sturgeon

Statewide Permanent Regulations

Notice: Anglers may not fish for or retain Green Sturgeon.

Fishing Seasons:

  • Columbia River from Bonneville Dam downstream: Catch-and-release only. Open only during open game fish or salmon seasons unless specifically noted in special rules.
  • Columbia River from Bonneville Dam upstream to McNary Dam including tributaries: Min. size 38" fork length in waters downstream of The Dalles Dam, and min. size 43" fork length in waters upstream of The Dalles Dam. Max. size 54" fork length. Daily limit 1. Possession limit: is 2 daily limits in a fresh, frozen or processed form. Annual limit 2 sturgeon statewide per license year (April 1-March 31). Unless specifically noted in special rules, open only during open game fish or salmon seasons.
  • Columbia River from McNary Dam to Chief Joseph Dam, Snake River, coastal, and Puget Sound waters including their tributaries: Catch-and-release only. Open only during open game fish or salmon seasons unless specifically noted in special rules.
  • Columbia River from Chief Joseph Dam upstream, including Lake Roosevelt: closed. 

Additional Regulations:

  • Annual white sturgeon limit is 2 fish even if the angler holds both a Washington and Oregon license.
  • Anglers may continue to fish catch-and-release after retaining a daily limit.
  • After an annual limit has been retained, catch-and-release fishing is allowed in waters open to catch-and-release fishing.
  • Catch Record Cards are required statewide to fish for sturgeon.
  • Only one single-point barbless hook and bait is allowed when fishing for sturgeon. In the field, eggs must be retained with intact carcass of fish from which they came. Night closure in effect for all sturgeon. Any sturgeon not to be retained must be released immediately. Sturgeon over 55" fork length cannot be removed totally or in part from the water.

Columbia River, below Bonneville Dam

Area Regulations:

WDFW works with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) to set sturgeon harvest limits on the lower Columbia River, and state fishery rules are established via the Columbia River Compact and Joint State process; sign up for Columbia River fishery notices to receive updates on sturgeon and other Columbia River fisheries throughout the year.

Sturgeon fisheries in this portion of the Columbia River are announced through emergency rule. View current emergency rules or the Southwest Washington Hotline to see if fisheries are open. Oregon anglers may also reference ODFW's Fishing Report for recent updates.

Permanent regulations allow for recreational catch-and-release sturgeon angling all year, except angling for sturgeon is prohibited May 1 through August 31 within the sanctuary areas designated below Bonneville Dam and Willamette Falls.

Population Status: 

Due to low survival and recruitment of juvenile white sturgeon over the past decade, the proportion of the population comprised of juvenile fish has continued to decline below the conservation status threshold (60% juveniles) for four consecutive years.  Since 2010, the overall population abundance estimate has decreased, driven by the decline in the juvenile portion of the population. However, the abundance of non-juvenile fish (96 cm and larger) has remained relatively stable, with estimates ranging from around 123,000 fish in 2010 to 108,000 fish in 2022. 

While data supports the conclusion that the population could support limited harvest, it has become difficult to prosecute retention fisheries with meaningful harvest opportunity within the legal-size abundance. Therefore, Oregon and Washington Columbia River fishery staff are not recommending retention of white sturgeon for either commercial or recreational fisheries downstream of Bonneville Dam in 2023.

View 2023 lower Columbia River white sturgeon fishery update and stock status.

Columbia River, Bonneville Dam to McNary Dam

Area Regulations:

WDFW works with state and tribal co-managers to set sturgeon harvest limits on the lower Columbia River, and state fishery rules are established via the Columbia River Compact and Joint State process; sign up for Columbia River fishery notices to receive updates on sturgeon and other fisheries throughout the year.

Permanent regulations open this area to recreational retention on Jan. 1; however, open dates for sturgeon fisheries in this portion of the Columbia River may be adjusted to accommodate a small guideline. Anglers are advised to check for updates to the fishery, which will be announced through emergency rule. View current emergency rules or the Southwest Washington Hotline to see if fisheries are open. Oregon anglers may also reference Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Fishing Report for recent updates.

Recreational Harvest, guidelines and preliminary harvest estimates, last updated on February 21, 2023.

Area 

Open Retention Period

Estimated Harvest 

% of Guideline 

Guideline 

Bonneville 

Sun Jan. 1 and 

Jan. 2–Jan. 11, 2023, Mon/Wed/Sat Only

600

88.9% 675

The Dalles 

Sun Jan. 1 and 

Jan. 2–Jan. 25, 2023, Mon/Wed/Sat Only

188

98.9%

190 

John Day 

Jan. 1–Jan. 29, 2023, 7 days per week and

Sat Feb. 11, Wed Feb. 15, and Sat Feb. 18, 2023

95

90.5%

105 

Columbia River, Lake Roosevelt

Sturgeon fisheries in this portion of the Columbia River are announced through emergency rule. View current emergency rules to see if fisheries are open.