Estuary sturgeon season closed beginning Friday

By Al Thomas, Columbian Outdoors Reporter

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Sturgeon angling in the Columbia River estuary will be closed beginning Friday, 10 days earlier than scheduled.

Catch and fishing effort zoomed in the first half of June and the season guideline of 4,042 almost will be reached by the end of angling on Thursday, said John North of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

If Friday were to stay open, the projected season catch is 4,160 sturgeon, or 103 percent of the guideline.

Washington and Oregon agreed Tuesday to implement the Friday closure.

“It’s amazing what more normal (Columbia River) flows and a bit of smelt and anchovies will do,” said Butch Smith of the Ilwaco Charter Association.

Washington and Oregon have 1,733 sturgeon set aside for a season July 11-13 and July 18-20 in the lower Willamette River. Smith asked that 200 of those fish be given to the estuary to keep fishing open through Friday.

Bob Rees of the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association asked that the estuary legal retention slot — now 41 to 54 inches — be reduced to 51 to 54 inches or 52 to 54 inches to keep fishing open.

“We can easily sell it as a trophy opportunity,” Rees said.

Grant Putnam of Grant’s Outdoor Adventures said he has a group of 24 coming in from the East Coast to fish Thursday through Monday.

“It’s going to be a sad situation for those folks if we don’t have a fishery open,” Putnam said.

Neither Washington nor Oregon officials said they are interested in transferring sturgeon designated for the lower Willamette to the estuary.

“I’m not predisposed to bankroll the estuary on the backs of the Willamette fishery,” said Tony Nigro of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The two state fish and wildlife commissions have determined there will be no sturgeon retention in the lower Columbia in 2014 due to concern about the health of the population.

There was almost no season in 2013 until a compromise was reached.

Guy Norman, regional director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said he hopes the improved catch rate is a positive sign, but the Washington commission made it clear it wants very conservative sturgeon management.

“This is not the year to push the envelope on this particular guideline,” Norman said.

Bonneville pool change — Sturgeon retention in the Bonneville pool of the Columbia Gorge will be open on Friday only. It was scheduled to be open on Friday and Saturday.

There were 765 sturgeon left on the allocation heading into last Friday and Saturday, North said. It is estimated there were 508 harvested in the two days, leaving 257 to catch.

North said 257 sturgeon are enough for one day, but not two.

Lower Columbia — Anglers ended the first portion of the lower Columbia (Wauna power lines to Bonneville Dam) sturgeon fishery on Saturday with a kept catch of 1,981 sturgeon. That leaves only 40 fish for an anticipated reopening in mid-October.

Norman and Nigro said the fall portion of the lower Columbia sturgeon season will be rescinded.