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 2006-09 bi-state agreement allowed an annual harvest guideline of 40,000 legal-size sturgeon, a number obviously too high given the population trend. In 2009, the catch was only 36,800 as sportsmen could not harvest their full share due to sub-par fishing.
Steve Williams, a top fisheries administrator for Oregon, said harvest cutbacks are coming for certain in 2010, but the sturgeon population is not in crisis.
“The population is still healthy,’’ Williams said at last week’s Columbia River Compact meeting. “It is having a lot of pressure put on it by fishing, by sea lions in particular, and maybe other things we don’t fully realize. ... It could become a conservation crisis, but I don’t think we’re there today.’’
Fortunately for sports anglers, the Compact dramatically cut down commercial fishing. Gillnetters will have only five 24-hour fishing periods in January and early February. They are limited to 15 sturgeon per vessel per week and a 600-fish overall guideline. That is down from last years eight period and 1700 total combined catch. The CCA is still pushing the Columbia River Compact to cease all commercial winter fishing.
Its still hard to say how badly sport anglers will be cut back.
But there is good news, at least, there’s good news if you fish beyond the Bonneville Dam.
The Upper Columbia is showing some great sturgeon numbers. The Bonneville pool is showing an increase of about 8000 fish in the last few years, and the Dalles pool show a huge jump of 65,000 legal sized sturgeon! Cold winter runoff has been up in recent years, and Brad James, a Washington biologist, says these deep cold waters are just was sturgeon need to reproduce.