Lower Willamette sturgeon retention closed

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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PORTLAND — Sturgeon retention in Oregon's lower Willamette River is closed for the year after anglers caught most of the annual catch allocation in two days last weekend.

Biologist John North of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said Tuesday that sportsmen kept 1,055 sturgeon when the season opened on Friday and 480 fish on Saturday.

The combined two-day catch of 1,535 is 87 percent of the guideline of 1,768, leaving too few fish to allow for a third day.

Oregon hoped to squeeze out a four-day fishery in the lower Willamette, with two more days of retention on this coming Friday and Saturday. An agreement with Washington allowed the catch to go as high as 2,022 if needed to get four days of fishing.

North said there were 1,160 boats with 3,354 anglers on Friday and an average of .91 keeper sturgeon per boat. The numbers for Saturday were 1,253 boats with 3,848 anglers, but the average kept catch per boat dropped to .38 sturgeon.

Sturgeon in the Willamette River downstream of Willamette Falls, plus Multnomah Channel on the west side of Sauvie Island, are part of the dwindling lower Columbia population.

This year's harvest guideline for the Willamette was down 30 percent from 2011.

Steve Williams, an ODFW assistant administrator, said the angling effort on Friday and Saturday was more than twice that observed in 2011.

“Based on the number of anglers and catch last year, we hoped there would be enough fish for four days of fishing,” Williams said. “Obviously we did not count on such a huge increase in effort.”

North said 700 to 800 fish could be caught with an additional day of angling.

Williams said high angling effort and reduced quotas make it challenging to structure fishing seasons.

"If this trend continues, ODFW will have to reconsider how it structures future sturgeon retention seasons on the Willamette,'' he said.

Oregon plans public meetings this fall to present new sturgeon population information and let the public discuss ideas for restructuring the season.

Catch-and-release fishing is allowed in the lower Willamette. Sturgeon retention is permitted in the lower Columbia on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, although fishing has been very slow.