Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon last week approved an opportunity to catch and retain legal-size white sturgeon in the lower 40 miles of the Columbia River beginning May 11.
Staff with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife agreed to open the sturgeon fishery on Wednesdays and Saturdays from May 11 through June 4, from Buoy 10 at the mouth of the Columbia River upstream to the Wauna powerlines, which cross Puget Island near Cathlamet. Adjacent Washington tributaries will also be open for sturgeon fishing those days.
Anglers will also have an opportunity to catch and keep sturgeon on Memorial Day, Monday, May 30.
All sturgeon fishing — including catch-and-release fishing — closes at 2 p.m. on those days.
Anglers may retain only white sturgeon measuring 44 to 50 inches from the tip of their nose to the fork in their tail (“fork length”). Catch limits during the season are one legal-size white sturgeon per day and two legal-size fish per year. Only one single-point, barbless hook is allowed when fishing for sturgeon. Anglers may not fish for or retain green sturgeon, which is a federally protected species.
Estuary anglers will be allowed to harvest up to 1,920 of the estimated 100,014 legal-size sturgeon below Bonneville Dam.
“There are fewer legal-size fish to retain in this year’s fishery, but we worked hard to develop a season that offers meaningful opportunity for anglers to catch some of these remarkable fish while still keeping us within our conservation guidelines,” said Laura Heironimus, sturgeon manager with WDFW. “We continue to focus efforts on conserving mature spawning adults to help rebuild the sturgeon population in the Columbia River.”
Catch-and-release fishing for sturgeon is also open year-round on many stretches of the Columbia River, including the lower Columbia River on days closed to retention. Be sure to check permanent rules in the Sport Fishing Regulations pamphlet at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations
Last month, fisheries managers noted a recent stock status report that said the number of legal-sized white sturgeon – 38 to 54 inches in fork length – in the lower Columbia River is trending downward, while the number of larger adult sized fish is trending upward.
Most concerning, however, is that the percentage of juvenile fish (under 38 inches) to the percentage of legal and adult fish in the lower river is lower than 60 percent, the conservation status threshold for juveniles, and far below the desired status of 95 percent of the total population.
Still, fisheries managers at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which completed the 2021 stock status report, have determined that sturgeon abundance in the lower river is sufficient to allow for harvest this year as long as the harvest is set at a conservative level of catch.
The population status of white sturgeon in the lower river – Bonneville Dam to the river’s mouth – is far from what fisheries managers would like to see, but the population is still robust and not in danger of a population collapse.
The stock status report described white sturgeon status indicators as “mixed,” with about 312,144 fish that are larger in size than 21-inches fork length in the lower river.
The report – an annual joint effort by ODFW and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife – estimates the abundance of legal-sized white sturgeon (38 to 54 inches) in the lower river at 122,395 fish. While that’s a decline from previous years (last year’s abundance was estimated to be over 160,000 fish), it is still above the conservation status threshold. Estimates for legal sized fish had previously declined to a low of 72,700 fish in 2012, but increased steadily through 2016, reaching a peak of 224,000 fish. However, abundance began to decline again to 162,200 in 2018 and 168,200 in 2019. The 2020 estimate was 199,500 fish, 19 percent higher than in 2019.