Sturgeon annual limit to drop to one — probably

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

Published:

 

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission has voted to limit anglers to one sturgeon for 2013 beginning May 1, with no retention in 2014.

The nine-member panel adopted the one-fish annual limit on Friday in Moses Lake while approving the 2013-14 sport-fishing rules.

However, the decision will be "discussed again,'' when the commission has a conference call on March 15.

Guy Norman, regional director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said Tuesday he does not know if the commission is going to reconsider the one-sturgeon annual limit, only that it is on the March 15 agenda.

The new regulations would apply to the Columbia River downstream of Bonneville Dam, the coastal estuaries and Puget Sound, plus tributaries.

Oregon's Fish and Wildlife Commission in early December adopted a one-sturgeon annual bag limit for 2013 and no sturgeon retention starting in 2014.

Sturgeon harvests have been cut each of the past several years, but the population of legal-size fish in the lower Columbia continues to dwindle.

The number of legal sturgeon went from 100,200 in 2010 to 80,500 in 2011 to 72,700 in 2012, according to estimates by Washington and Oregon biologists.

The Washington and Oregon commissions were on track to ban sturgeon retention in the lower Columbia beginning in 2013. Then, in early December, several guides told the Oregon commission they already had sturgeon trips booked for 2013, and the estuary sturgeon trips provided 30 percent to 60 percent of their annual income.

The Oregon commission adopted the one-sturgeon annual limit as a measure to help the guides transition to no retention in 2014.

But Washington has a five-sturgeon annual limit. So, since Jan. 1, the states have not had concurrent regulations.

Steve Watrous of Vancouver, a member of the bi-state Columbia River Recreational Advisory Group, said the one-sturgeon annual limit does nothing for conservation and shifts fish from individual anglers to Oregon-based guides.

"It's a quota fishery,'' Watrous said. "When the quotas are filled, fishing stops. It's a question of who catches them.''

Oregon allows a large guide fleet to fish for sturgeon in the estuary, while Washington has limited entry for years downstream of the Longview Bridge.

"Oregon guides can take a new load of customers out daily, while the small-boat guys on the Washington side get one fish for the season,'' Watrous said. "It shifts the catch to Oregon and to the guide fleet.''

The main summer sport season downstream of the Wauna power lines near Cathlamet will start May 11 and is scheduled open through June 30. The estuary has a catch allocation of 4,042 sturgeon.

The estuary also is open daily from now through April 30, but few, if any, sturgeon are caught in the early season.