Wildlife Commission supports sturgeon harvest reduction

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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To no one's surprise, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission agreed Friday it wants to see an additional reduction in the catch of sturgeon from the lower Columbia River.

The commission adopted a sturgeon policy for 2011-13 and told state fish and wildlife director Phil Anderson to negotiate a deal with Oregon that caps the annual sport and commercial harvest at no more than 17,000 fish from waters downstream of Bonneville Dam.

That is unlikely to be a problem, as Washington and Oregon biologists recommended the 17,000 catch ceiling.

In 2010, the catch guideline was 24,000 sturgeon, but the actual harvest was 18,506. Only 68 percent of the sport catch guideline was taken in the summer fishery in the Columbia River estuary, plus the commercial fleet left 9 percent of its allocation in the river.

A 40 percent cut was implemented in 2010. The 2011-13 reduction will be the fourth since 1997, when the catch guideline was 67,300.

Research by the two states indicates the population of legal-size (38 to 54 inches fork length) sturgeon will decline slightly in 2011, increase some in 2012 through 2014, then drop again beginning about 2015.

The population of legal-size sturgeon was estimated to be 87,000 in 2009, 85,000 this year and to drop to 77,000 in 2011. The catch of sublegal sturgeon has been on the decline since 2005 and sea lion predation has increased annually since 2006.

A 17,000 harvest for 2011 would allocate 3,400 sturgeon to the commercial fishery and 13,600 to the sport fishery.

The sport share would be additionally divided with 6,800 going to the estuary, 3,425 to the Columbia between Wauna and Bonneville Dam and 2,550 in the lower Willamette River.

Decisions on the specifics of the 2011 sturgeon seasons will be made when Washington and Oregon officials meet Feb. 8 in Oregon City.

Net landings — Commercial fishermen caught very few sturgeon Tuesday night and Wednesday during their first winter-season period.

Doug Case of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said the Columbia River was high and full of debris. Fewer than 20 sturgeon were sold to Oregon buyers. Washington landings were not available on Friday.

The netters will fish again on Jan. 25-26, Feb. 1-2 and Feb. 8-9.