Limited sturgeon retention sought for lower Columbia

By Al Thomas, Columbian Outdoors Reporter

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CLACKAMAS, Ore. — Washington and Oregon fishery officials have been asked for a limited retention season for sturgeon in the lower Columbia River this summer.

Butch Smith, owner of Coho Charters in Ilwaco and a Port of Ilwaco commissioner, said a legal-size population of almost 144,000 sturgeon is enough for a “conservation-minded fishery,’’ preferably downstream of the Willamette River mouth at Kelley Point.

Smith suggested a 7 percent to 10 percent harvest rate, which would mean a harvest guideline of 10,000 to 14,000 sturgeon.

Robert Moxley, an Oregon member of the bi-state Columbia River Recreational Advisor Group, agreed with Smith.

“I’d like to see an estuary retention sturgeon fishery,’’ Moxley said. “It would give people motivation to get involved.’’

Moxley said sturgeon caught in the estuary largely are coming in from the ocean population.

“They’re not resident fish,’’ he said. “Their scutes are sharp and their bellies are white. If we keep it closed, you’ll never recover the angler effort, the interest, and it will be gone forever.’’

Smith said when he had customers for intermittent catch-and-release sturgeon trips in the estuary the fishing was fantastic in 2015.

“It’s an amazing fishery and we’re not talking about skinny runts, we’re talking healthy, fat fish — beautiful fish,’’ he said.

Smith also called for a ban on catch-and-release sturgeon fishing during August, September and October, when river temperatures are high.

Smith and advisory group member Larry Swanson of Vancouver said if there aren’t enough sturgeon for a modest retention fishery, then it’s time to close all sturgeon angling, including catch and release.

Smith said catch-and-release sturgeon angling has provided a cover for illegal retention.

“The less honest people keep them,’’ he said.

Moxley also said there is a sturgeon poaching issue.

He suggested there might need to be a designated catch-and-release season, rather the current year-round catch-and-release.

Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Commission is scheduled to meet in Vancouver at the Heathman Lodge on Jan. 22 and 23 where it will be briefed on the lower Columbia River sturgeon population.