States adopt Bonneville pool sturgeon season

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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The winter portion of sturgeon season in Bonneville pool of the mid-Columbia River will open Jan. 1 and continue through Feb. 10 or until 1,150 fish are retained by anglers.

A summer portion of the retention season is anticipated in mid-June, similar to 2012.

Washington and Oregon officials approved the Bonneville pool sturgeon sport-fishing rules on Tuesday.

Sturgeon retention in the Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day pools of the Columbia River is closed currently. Each pool has reached its catch allocation, but all three reopen on Jan. 1.

John North of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said the interim 2013 harvest guideline for Bonneville pool is 2,000 sturgeon.

But the number might increase.

An assessment of the sturgeon population is done every three years, with data collected in 2012 for Bonneville pool.

Brad James of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said the analysis three years ago showed a substantial increase in the number of sturgeon growing into the legal-size slot of 38 to 54 inches fork length in 2013.

The data collected in 2012 will confirm if that is the case, James said.

A state-federal-tribal sturgeon management team will review the 2012 data on Jan. 22 and might increase the harvest guideline. The harvest level is not expected to drop, North added.

This will be the third year of the split winter-summer season in Bonneville pool. In 2012, retention was allowed Jan. 1-Feb. 18 and June 15-16 and June 22-23.

Sturgeon catches are best in the lower end of Bonneville pool in winter and improve closer to The Dalles in summer. Anglers at the east end of the pool want their harvest opportunity about the time school is out.

Anglers average a catch of about 30 sturgeon per day in Bonneville pool in January. But in February, the average was about 35 per day in 2011 and ranged from three to 12 per day in 2012.

North said state biologists have no good explanation for the variable catch in February 2012.

Stuart Ellis of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission said the tribes support spreading the sport season between winter and summer.

A wild card in the Bonneville pool sturgeon season is what happens downstream of Bonneville Dam.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission has called for a one-sturgeon annual bag limit in the lower Columbia. Members of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission have said on several occasions it appears to be time to close sturgeon retention in the lower Columbia due to a declining population.

State wildlife directors Phil Anderson of Washington and Roy Elicker of Oregon will negotiate over regulations downstream of Bonneville. Those regulations will be set at a joint state hearing beginning at 10 a.m. Jan. 30 at the Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel, 8235 N.E. Airport Way, Portland.

North said an update on the Bonneville pool catch will be available at the Jan. 30 and the winter portion of the season could be adjusted if needed.