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Gorge sturgeon sanctuary could grow

One suggestion extends area west to Rooster Rock

By , Columbian Outdoors Reporter
Published: January 11, 2010, 12:00am

OLYMPIA — Washington fisheries officials have floated a proposal to extend the sturgeon spawning sanctuary below Bonneville Dam as far down the Columbia River as Rooster Rock.

Patrick Frazier of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife presented the idea Saturday, among several, to the Fish and Wildlife Commission during a briefing on sturgeon management for 2010 and beyond.

The population of legal-size sturgeon in the lower Columbia River is down.

The 2008 population is estimated at 97,000, which is down 28 percent from the 2007 estimate. Add to that, the catch of sublegal sturgeon has dropped annually since 2004.

The 2006-2009 sturgeon management agreement between Washington and Oregon has expired, and the agencies are working to have a plan for at least 2010 by mid-February. That plan will include new sport and commercial harvest reductions, likely ranging from 20 percent to 50 percent.

Currently, the Columbia is closed to sturgeon angling from Bonneville downstream to Marker 85 on the Washington shore, a distance of 5.6 miles, in May, June and July.

The closure is to eliminate the handle of large sturgeon in the area to spawn. There are concerns about the sturgeon spawning population, particularly in light of ever-increasing predation by sea lions.

Frazier showed the commission several options for additional broodstock protection including:

• Adding 3.5 miles to the sanctuary by extending it downstream to the upper end of Skamania Island.

• Adding 12 miles to the sanctuary by extending it west to Rooster Rock. The basalt column is on the Oregon side of the Columbia, east of Corbett. It is opposite Mount Pleasant on the Washington side.

• Adding August and possibly September to the period closed for sturgeon fishing in the sanctuary.

Frazier said the current May-July closure to Marker 85 eliminates fishing in the area and time period where spawning actually occurs. Extending the sanctuary west covers water where the big fish go to recuperate after the stress of spawning.

August and September are warm-water months when sturgeon are more vulnerable to handle, he added.

Commission member George Orr of Spokane said fishing in a spawning area ought to be the “No. 1 thing to stop.’’

“We closed Spokane River to walleye fishing, and you can’t have a bird dog in the field in April, May and June,’’ Orr said. “It kind of goes without discussion that you close it.’’

The commission also took comments from the public on lower Columbia sturgeon management.

Hans Mak of Shelton suggested ending commercial fishing for sturgeon and making sport fishing totally catch and release.

Kent Martin of Skamokawa said anglers handle 150,000 to 200,000 sublegal sturgeon a year, some of which don’t survive. Sport fishing, which gets 80 percent of the annual sturgeon allocation, needs much closer monitoring, he added.

John McKinley of Skamokawa noted that the lower Cowlitz River is open daily for sturgeon fishing, with the catch there not counted against the sport allocation.

The Washington commission is scheduled to decide Feb. 6 on how deep a cut is needed in the sturgeon harvest. Oregon’s commission will give direction to its staff on Feb. 5.

Sturgeon seasons for 2010 will be set when the Columbia River Compact meets at 10 a.m. Feb. 18 at the Clackamas County Historical Society, 211 Tumwater Drive, Oregon City.