Columbia sturgeon fishing rules

Decisions due on Columbia sturgeon fishing rules – The future of Columbia River sturgeon fishing through 2010 will be determined in the next two days by the Washington and Oregon fish and wildlife commissions.

Meeting separately, the commissions will adopt the annual sturgeon catch level between Bonneville Dam and the ocean, the catch split between sportsmen and commercial fishermen, the split between sportsmen in the estuary and those upriver, plus other regulations.

Oregon’s commission meets beginning at 8 a.m. Friday at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife office, 3406 Cherry Ave. N.E., in Salem.

Washington’s commission meets at 8:30 a.m. Saturday in room No. 172 of the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E., in Olympia. Sturgeon issues are scheduled to be considered at 9 a.m.

This year marks the end of a three-year agreement between the states. A five-year agreement is proposed, but with provisions to renegotiate if there is a substantial change in the sturgeon population or important new biological information.

A new population estimate is anticipated in fall of 2006.

State biologists are recommending the 2006-10 agreement be a near rollover of the expiring pact. Specifically, the recommendations include:

 Maintaining the total allowed catch at 40,000 sturgeon annually.

 Maintaining the catch shares of 80 percent (32,000 fish) for sportsmen and 20 percent (8,000 fish) for the gillnetters.

 Maintaining the split within the sport fishery of 60 percent for the Columbia River estuary downstream of the Wauna powerlines near Cathlamet, and 40 percent for the stretch between Wauna and Bonneville Dam.

A change from the existing agreement is proposed for the stretch of the Columbia immediately downstream of Bonneville Dam.

Currently, the Columbia is closed for sturgeon fishing in May, June and July from Bonneville Dam to Beacon Rock. That’s to provide a spawning sanctuary.

The new agreement proposes extending the May-through-July closure downstream an additional two miles to Marker 85, a large navigation marker on the Washington shore.

In 2004, Washington adopted regulations extending the spawning sanctuary to Marker 85, but Oregon’s commission failed to concur. Washington then backed off on its regulation, leaving the downstream boundary at Beacon Rock.

A proposal by Washington to switch the measurement system for keeping legal-size sturgeon from total length of the fish to fork length (tip of the snout to the fork in the tail) also is being dropped.

Brad James, sturgeon biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the staffs suport the change to a fork length measurement, but more time is needed for public education.

A spawning sanctuary from May through July is proposed at the upper end of the John Day pool in the eastern end of the Columbia Gorge.

The closure would be from McNary Dam downstream to Highway 395.

John Day is severely underpopulated with sturgeon.

Sampling shows spawning occurs infrequently at the base of McNary Dam, likely due to changes in the river caused by the hydroelectric system.

Public testimony is anticipated at the commission meetings, particulary regarding the extension of the sturgeon spawning sanctuary at Bonneville Dam.

A popular catch-and-release sport fishery on oversize sturgeon occurs in the late spring.

Update

Previously: The 2003-2005 lower Columbia sturgeon plan between Washington and Oregon is about to expire.

What’s new: Oregon will vote on a new agreement Friday, and Washington officials on Saturday.

What’s next: The new agreement likely will be similar to the old, but may include a larger sanctuary downstream of Bonneville Dam.

By ALLEN THOMAS Columbian staff writer

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