The 2009 sport fishery for Columbia River white sturgeon opened New Year's Day under rules similar to those in effect in 2008, but with somewhat tighter catch limits below Bonneville Dam.
To compensate for high harvest levels during last year's fishery, catch limits will be 2,000 fish lower in the lower Columbia River and adjoining tributaries in 2009 under fishing rules adopted last week by fishery managers from Washington and Oregon.
The largest adjustment is in the area from the Wauna powerlines near Cathlamet upstream to Bonneville Dam, where anglers will be limited to 11,268 legal-size white sturgeon. The 2008 catch was estimated at 13,919 fish--1,532 fish above the number allotted for that area.
To meet this year's lower guideline, anglers fishing that stretch of the Columbia River in 2009 will be allowed to retain white sturgeon only three days a week, rather than four.
"Three days of retention fishing was the norm for those waters until two years ago," said Brad James, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). "Also, while the new harvest guideline above the Wauna powerlines will be lower next year, it will still be higher than the number of sturgeon caught by anglers in 2006."
Farther downstream, fishery managers set a harvest level for 2009 of 15,529 white sturgeon for waters extending 40 miles from the Wauna powerlines to Buoy 10 at the mouth of the Columbia River. That allocation is up from last year, but slightly below the three-year average guideline of 16,000 fish.
The new harvest guidelines for both areas of the lower Columbia River are designed to bring the catch into line during the fourth year of a sturgeon-management agreement between Washington and Oregon, James said. The new catch limits were adopted following a decision by the fish and wildlife commissions of both states to extend the management agreement for 2006-08 through 2009.
James said anglers who fish for sturgeon in the new year should be aware of a new rule adopted by the two state commissions that will base official size limits for white sturgeon on "fork length" measurements, rather than the total length of the fish.
The new size limits, which take effect today, Jan. 1, are based on the distance from the tip of a sturgeon's nose to the fork in its tail, making it easier to measure thrashing fish.
As in previous years, anglers in all areas will be limited to one legal-sized white sturgeon per day and five per year. Anglers must release all green sturgeon, a separate species listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Fishing seasons established for the 2009 white sturgeon sport fishery on the Columbia River and adjacent tributaries are as follows:
Buoy 10 to the Wauna powerlines:
Fishing for retention of white sturgeon is open seven days per week from Jan. 1 to April 30, from May 9 to June 28, and from July 2-5 or until the harvest guideline is reached. From Jan. 1 to April 30, the fork length of retained sturgeon must be a minimum of 38 inches and a maximum of 54 inches. From May 9 to June 28 and from July 2-5, the fork length of retained sturgeon must be a minimum of 41 inches and a maximum of 54 inches. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed May 1-8, June 29 to July 1, and July 6 to Dec. 31.
Wauna powerlines to Bonneville Dam:
Fishing for retention of white sturgeon is open three days per week (Thursday through Saturday) Jan. 1 through July 31 and Oct. 1 through Dec. 31.
The fork length of retained sturgeon must be a minimum of 38 inches and a maximum of 54 inches. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed Aug. 1 through Sept. 30 and on days when retention is prohibited.
All fishing for sturgeon will be closed from May through July in the sturgeon spawning sanctuary downriver from Bonneville Dam 5.5 miles to Navigation Marker 85.
Above Bonneville Dam:
Fishing for retention of white sturgeon opens seven days per week Jan. 1 until individual catch guidelines are met in the Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day pools.
In the Bonneville Pool, the fork length of retained sturgeon must be a minimum of 38 inches and a maximum of 54 inches. In The Dalles and John Day pools, the fork length of retained sturgeon must be a minimum of 43 inches and a maximum of 54 inches. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed after the guidelines are met in all three areas above Bonneville Dam.
All fishing will be closed from May through July in two spawning sanctuaries located below John Day Dam downstream 2.4 miles and from McNary Dam downstream 1.5 miles.
Catch guidelines for areas above Bonneville Dam to McNary Dam will be evaluated in January, but are likely to remain the same as 2008 for Bonneville Pool and for John Day Pool. The population in The Dalles Pool appears to be on the rebound and the population may be healthy enough to allow managers to relax the guideline for 2009, James said.
The fishing periods will be reassessed in June based on available catch data, and may be modified as needed, James said. Any changes will be posted on the WDFW Web site.