States agree on lower Columbia sturgeon catch cuts

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Washington and Oregon have agreed to cut the lower Columbia River sport-commercial sturgeon catch guideline by 38 percent for 2012.

Last year, the two groups were allowed to harvest 15,640 sturgeon, although the actual catch was only 14,488.

For 2012, the combined harvest will be no more than 9,600 sturgeon, state wildlife directors Phil Anderson of Washington and Roy Elicker of Oregon agreed late this week.

The 38 percent reduction follows a 40 percent cut in 2010 and 30 percent cut in 2011. Under the new agreement, the harvest rate for sturgeon downstream of Bonneville Dam will drop from 22.5 percent to 16 percent.

The abundance of legal-size (38 to 54 inches) sturgeon has declined nearly 50 percent since 2007, according to surveys by both states.

Factors often cited for the decline include increased predation by sea lions and a drop in the abundance of smelt and lamprey, which contribute to sturgeons’ diet

"This was not a difficult decision,'' said Anderson.

Elicker said the discussion was really about how to manage the 2012 fishery under the reduced harvest level.

“For 2012, the plan is to maintain the season and catch-allocation structure that has been in place for several years, but with shorter fishing periods,'' Elicker said.

The lower Columbia is split into three allocation areas. The estuary will get 4,160 sturgeon, between Wauna, Ore., and Bonneville Dam will get 2,080 and the lower Willamette River will get between 1,768 and 2,022.

The flexibility in the Willamette guideline is to meet Oregon's goal of four sturgeon retention days in the Willamette.

State fishery officials will meet Jan. 26 in Portland to adopt this year's sturgeon and spring chinook regulations.

Meetings with fishermen are planned prior to 2013 to review the current sturgeon fishing management strategies.