WAUNA — Some Columbia estuary fishermen may find it a little too far to travel, but the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on Thursday announced two one-day reopenings of the popular sport fishery for white sturgeon.
The fishing dates are Oct. 21 and Oct. 26. Retention will be allowed on the mainstem Columbia River from the Wauna power lines (40 miles from the mouth of the Columbia near Clatsop County’s eastern boundary) upstream to Bonneville Dam.
Fisheries managers decided there are enough sturgeon remaining under the previously established harvest guideline to allow for this additional fishing opportunity. This year marked the resumption of a retention fishery for sturgeon after a moratorium.
Anglers will have a daily retention limit of one fish measuring 44 to 50 inches from its snout to the fork in its tail. An annual limit of two white sturgeon, regardless of where they are caught, will also be in effect.
The entire mainstem Columbia River remains open for catch-and-release sturgeon fishing.
The two-state Columbia River Compact had discussed the potential of opening sturgeon fishing to anglers in this area at a meeting in September and followed at its hearing Wednesday, Oct. 11, by approving two one-day openings, Columbia Basin Bulletin reported. The Compact is allowing anglers to catch up to 1,245 legal-sized white sturgeon. The 44 to 50 inches length limit is a narrower legal slot than in previous years.
Sturgeon fishing downstream of the dam had been closed to retention of white sturgeon from 2014 through 2016 due to concerns about legal-size sturgeon abundance, although catch and release was allowed. Angler effort for the fishery declined by 90 percent during this period.
It last opened for retention for Oregon and Washington anglers in June after considerable debate by the Compact and its staff. However, the five-day June 5 to 14 opening was only in the Columbia River estuary downstream of Wauna and was shortened by one day due to heavy angler pressure and overharvest.
This is the first sturgeon retention season between Wauna and Bonneville since 2013, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in an Oct. 12 news release. The number of legal-sized sturgeon has improved and, based on this improvement, anglers asked the fish and wildlife commissions from both states to look into the possibility of reopening a limited white sturgeon fishery, ODFW said.
As it prepared its recommendation for the Wauna to Bonneville sturgeon fishery, the Compact staff used a cautious approach and assumed the most conservative 2017 legal size abundance estimates, according to Columbia Basin Bulletin. That estimate is based on “the relationship between year-specific research setline catch rates of legal-size white sturgeon and mark-recapture abundance estimates using data from years 2010-2015 estimated an abundance of 155,900 fish for 2016 and a projected abundance in 2017 of 165,600 legal size fish. Based on that projected abundance, 6,235 legal sized white sturgeon would be available for harvest downstream of Bonneville Dam. Some 3,285 fish were caught in the early June estuary season and 1,245 are allowed for this current 2-day fishing period, totaling 4,530 fish. Other sturgeon were caught by commercial gillnetters earlier this summer in off-channel areas.
Abundance for other size categories of white sturgeon in the Lower Columbia River are mixed, a Compact fact sheet says. The abundance of adult-sized fish, which are fish greater than 66 inches in fork length or 72 inches overall, appears to be increasing, with the 2014-16 average abundance at 4,230 fish, which exceeds the Oregon White Sturgeon Conservation Plan conservation status threshold (a running 3-year average of 3,900 adults). However, LCR sub-yearling production has remained low for the seventh consecutive year.
The Compact staff also standardized the legal size of sturgeon for all Lower Columbia River fisheries to 44-50 inches to facilitate management and provide immediate escapement of larger-size white sturgeon by excluding them from harvest.