Washington and Oregon unveiled on Friday a controversial proposal to resume limited sturgeon retention in the lower Columbia River beginning with an eight-day estuary fishery in June.
A public meeting on lower Columbia sturgeon fishing will begin at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Heathman Lodge, 7801 N.E. Greenwood Drive. A joint state hearing is scheduled Wednesday to discuss adoption of a fishery.
No specifics for retention fisheries upstream of the estuary are proposed, but allocations for fall seasons between the Wauna power lines and Bonneville Dam, plus in the lower Willamette River, are mentioned.
Sturgeon retention in the lower Columbia has been closed since 2013 due to concerns about population size. Research indicates the juvenile population is in trouble, but tagging studies show a steady rise in the number of legal-size fish.
The estimate for legal-size (38 to 54 inches fork length) sturgeon in the lower Columbia dropped to 72,700 in 2012, leading to the retention closure in 2014.
State biologists estimate the population in 2017 is 237,900 legal-size fish. A more conservative methodology places the population at 165,600 sturgeon.
The number of spawning-size fish appears increasing, with the 2014-16 average of 4,230 exceeding the Oregon Conservation Plan threshold status of 3,900.
However, the production of young sturgeon in the lower Columbia remained down for the seventh straight year. Production of young has improved in the lower Willamette.
State officials have been working for the past couple of weeks on potential retention seasons. A hearing was scheduled last week to consider a sturgeon season, but was cancelled 17 minutes before it was to start in order to allow more public comment.
A wide schism exists among sportsmen on resuming sturgeon retention after the three-year conservation closure. Sturgeon once generated more than 100,000 angler trips a year on the lower Columbia with annual sport catches as high as 40,000 in 2000.
Butch Smith of the Ilwaco Charter Association predicts good catches if a season is adopted.
“Last year, we were catching and releasing 70 to 80 fish between 7 a.m. and 10:30,’’ Smith said. “It might be a little slower this year due to the high water and the anchovies arriving later.’’
Using the conservative population estimate of 165,600, the states are proposing an annual harvest of 6,235 sturgeon. The commercials would get 1,245, the estuary sport fishery 3,000 sturgeon, upstream of Wauna sport fishery 1,245 and 745 in the lower Willamette sport fishery.
The draft fishery proposal released by the two states on late Friday includes the following details:
Estuary — Allowing angling downstream of the Wauna power lines from Friday through June 15 on Wednesdays through Saturdays. Only fish between 44 and 50 inches fork length could be kept. On days open for retention, fishing for sturgeon would close at 2 p.m.
It is estimated the estuary harvest in the eight days would be 2,780 sturgeon, but that is based on many assumptions. The season likely would be adjusted if catch rates or effort are different than projected.
Lower Columbia — No specifics for a fishery between the Wauna power lines and Bonneville Dam are included in the proposal.
Catch rates generally are better in this stretch of the river in spring and late fall, so a fall opportunity in 2017 is possible.
Lower Willamette — Oregon is not prepared to recommend specifics for a retention season, but a fall season would likely be considered.
Bonneville Pool — Two-hundred-twenty nine sturgeon remain on the sturgeon allocation for the Columbia River between Bonneville and The Dalles dams.
The states are proposing to allow retention on June 10. Additional retention will be considered if sufficient fish remain on the guideline.