The sturgeon season, which is continually being reduced, will reopen Nov. 23 for catch and retain.
Prospects for areas including Baker Bay, the Chinook area and Rocky Point are unclear at this time, but gillnetters reported doing fairly well a couple of weeks ago in the Deep River area. We will share any reports that we hear from local fishermen.
The WDFW and ODFW commissions will decide on Dec. 13 how much to reduce sport and commercial catches on the lower Columbia River.
According to biologists, about one million sturgeon ranging from small fry to 12-footers live in the Columbia and may come and go to coastal estuaries between Puget Sound and the Rouge River. They also contend that the number of legal sized sturgeon between 42 and 60 inches is declining, not increasing as biologists hoped in 1997, the last time major adjustments in size and catch limits were made.
Curt Melcher, a biologist for the ODFW said, "Catching and releasing up to 100-year-old fish that are 10-feet and larger doesn't appear to affect their ability to spawn and produce new fish." This is the most incredible statement, showing a lack of sense or intelligence that I have heard from a biologist. A highly regarded sturgeon study, "Sturgeon of the Columbia" can be found at www.worldstar.com/ ~dlarson/sturgeonofthecolumbia2.htm.
This study states that under reproduction, "Although female sturgeon produce approximately 300,000 to more than four million eggs, depending on their age and physical condition, they may spawn only once every two to eight years. Researchers have also found that if ripe females are subjected to a great deal of stress, they may reabsorb their eggs and lose a spawning cycle."
The commissions still fail to heavily regulate the catching of the big breeders upriver, which is likened to putting a pregnant woman in a bull-riding event. Biologists haven't decided how to address the popular spring fishery for large spawning sturgeon between Troutdale and the Bonneville Dam, the primary breeding ground for these fish. Melcher said that biologists would study that sport fishery separately. The biologists and regulators have been dancing around the real reason for the sturgeon decline for years, while succumbing to upriver lobbyists, namely Eliz Hamilton of the NISA.
The NISA represents the primary players in the fishing industry tackle and rod manufactures, big sporting goods stores and bait shops whose primary objective is to sell sporting goods at the future of the recreational fishery. Allowing "upriver guides" to target these fish is criminal; when the quota has been reached, the river should shut down to everyone as targeting these big fish can only lead to a further decline in the population and more restrictive size and season limits.
In 1997 recreational and commercial fishermen were allowed 58,000 (80/20 split between recreational and commercial fishermen) fish and the maximum limit reduced from 66 inches to 60.
The quotas for recreational fishermen have been as follows:
1997 was 46,400 fish;
2002 was 38,000 fish;
2003 is expected to be 32,000 fish.
Sport anglers can expect further changes for 2003, among the options:
A mix of catch-and-keep or release fishing done by months or days of the week;
Different quota for the most popular fishing zone, in the estuary, and rest of the river;
Reducing by as much as half, the current 10-fish limit;
Changing the 42-60-inch slot for keeping fish.
The WDFW will discuss the options during its monthly meeting in Mt. Vernon, and Oregon will consider them Dec. 13 in Eugene. Decisions will be made Jan. 30 after a joint meeting of the Columbia River Compact. The compact manages commercial fishing decisions on the river's boundary waters. Both states cooperate on sport fishing regulations.
We will be delivering a copy of the report "Sturgeon of the Columbia River," highlighting the area covering "reproduction" to Butch Smith, president of the Ilwaco Charter Boat Association in the hopes that he can make a dent in some of these biologists. Butch plays an influential part in the decision making process of the compact and will also become a member of the Pacific Fishery Management Council in February 2003.