State asked to relent on sturgeon retention ban

By Al Thomas, Columbian Outdoors Reporter



OLYMPIA — The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is being asked to allow a “miniscule small” sturgeon retention season in the lower Columbia River in 2014.

Washington and Oregon plan to permit no keeping of sturgeon next year in sport or commercial fisheries downstream of Bonneville Dam, in the lower Willamette River, Willapa Bay, Grays Harbor and Puget Sound.

The retention ban is to allow the population to rebound from the lows of the past few years.

Butch Smith, president of the Ilwaco Charter Association, asked for a season similar to 2013’s in view of an improvement in estimates of the legal-size population in the lower Columbia.

In 2013, the estuary season opened on May 11 and closed June 20 when the catch allocation was filled 10 days before the scheduled shut down.

Upstream of the Wauna power lines to Bonneville Dam, retention was allowed three days a week from Jan. 1 to June 15. A fall season scheduled to open Oct. 19 was rescinded because the catch allocation was taken in the earlier months.

The lower Willamette River was open for a couple of weekends in July plus a day in October.

“We’re showing an uptick and a pretty good uptick,” Smith told the commission here on Saturday.

Given the more legal-size sturgeon in the river, the harvest rate would be only 7 percent, he said.

“At 7 percent, you add another layer of conservation,” Smith said.

Eliminating the May-June sturgeon season in the Columbia River estuary hurts the coastal economy,” said Smith, a Port of Ilwaco commissioner-elect and operator of Coho Charters.

Flooding in 2009 chased many sturgeon out of the Columbia River, he said. Several years of no smelt runs and reduced shad returns added to the problem, according to Smith.

But with normal streamflows and a big smelt run in 2013, the outlook for sturgeon is improving, he said.

“We have no other fisheries going on,” Smith said. “When you close something, you close it. When you close something in the Portland area, the Gorge area, you have steelhead, spring chinook, summer chinook, you have walleye.

“When you close a fishery in the spring in the estuary, you close the fisheries. Nothing can compare to the May and June sturgeon fishery to our local economy.”

Commission members made no comments on Smith’s request.