OLYMPIA – Anglers must release any sturgeon they catch in the Columbia River estuary starting Thursday (July 5) under an agreement reached yesterday by fishery managers from Washington and Oregon.

The agreement, which closes the retention fishery for white sturgeon four days ahead of schedule, is necessary to keep the catch within approved levels, according to fishery managers from both states. Through the Fourth of July, the catch in the lower river is expected to reach 4,400 fish.

“Catch rates improved significantly in recent weeks, which cut the fishery short by a few days, said Cindy Le Fleur, WDFW’s Columbia River policy manager. “One of our goals was to keep the estuary fishery open to anglers through the Fourth of July, and we hit that mark.”

She noted that the states have reduced sturgeon catch guidelines by 30 to 40 percent in each of the past three years to address a significant decline in the species’ abundance in the lower river since 2003.

“This year’s catch rates showed real improvement from previous years, which is a good sign,” Le Fleur said.

The early closure applies only to waters stretching from Buoy 10 near the mouth of the Columbia River 40 miles upstream to the Wauna power lines near Cathlamet. Anglers may continue to harvest legal-size sturgeon from the power lines to Marker 82, nine miles below Bonneville Dam, on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

In other business, fishery managers agreed that Columbia River salmon fisheries below Bonneville Dam will close July 1 at the end of the day, as scheduled. This year’s run of 54,000 summer chinook salmon is smaller than expected, but the projected return of 540,000 sockeye salmon would be the highest since 1923.

The recreational catch below Bonneville Dam is expected to include 2,850 hatchery summer chinook and 4,000 sockeye by the time the salmon fishery closes July 1. The sockeye catch was three times greater than the previous record set just last year.

“As with sturgeon, we would like to have kept the salmon fishery open longer, but we were bumping up against the management guidelines,” Le Fleur said.

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