States say they are monitoring lower Columbia sturgeon closely

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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At just about every Columbia River fisheries meeting — sport or commercial — Washington and Oregon officials hear pleas to save the dwindling sturgeon population.

Two high-ranking officials with the Washington and Oregon departments of Fish and Wildlife say they are listening.

Guy Norman, regional director for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Tony Nigro, ocean salmon and Columbia River program manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, got hit up again about sturgeon at a Columbia River Compact meeting last week.

"Sturgeon are on our screen,'' Nigro said. "We're paying close attention to them.''

Norman said the overall sturgeon catch allocation in the lower Columbia River was 40,000 in 2009, dropped to 24,000 in 2010 and dropped again to 17,000 this year.

Nigro said the agencies are using gillnets and setlines to sample the populations as part of long-standing population monitoring. Larval samples will be collected this fall as part of a program to measure annual spawning success.

Catches in the sport and commercial fishing seasons also are watched closely, he said.

"We believe we have a responsible management framework in place,'' Nigro said.

"We're pretty confident we'll have a good feel for what the fisheries did and what the populations are doing toward the end of this year.'' Nigro said."We'll talke that information and assess how we want to proceed in 2012.''

Norman echoed Nigro's comments.

"We've got the population assessment program ongoing and we'll look at the performance of the ongoing fisheries in combination with that,'' he said. "The indicators in the fishery success, if indeed that is an indicator of abundance, is not very positive. We're paying attention to that.''

ESTUARY CATCH: Through Sunday, there had been 5,000 fishing trips in the Columbia River estuary with 660 sturgeon kept downstream of the Wauna power lines.

That compares to a kept catch of 1,400 through the same date in 2010 and 4,100 in 2009.

The catch average of a fish per 12 trips is similar to this time in 2010, but angling effort is only about half.

The catch guideline for the estuary this summer is 6,800 sturgeon. The season is scheduled to close June 26, then reopen for July 1-4. A joint state hearing is scheduled for June 23 to review the estuary catch.

SPAWNING: Biologist Brad James of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said the high streamflows in the Columbia River this spring and summer should result in good spawning success for sturgeon.

The fish like high, hard flows and this should really help in the reservoirs of the Columbia River.

"The spring of 1997 was a good, high water year and the age structure just about everywhere was dominated by fish from that age class,'' he said.