In 2021, an angler brought in a cool $61,409 for hooking 7,185 salmon-eating northern pikeminnows from the Columbia River. That guy or gal could make even more this year.
Substantial reward increases for the Northern Pikeminnow Sport Reward Fishery make it potentially more profitable for anglers participating in the 2022 season.
Opening day for the northern pikeminnow sport reward season is May 1 and this year anglers will earn $6, $8 or $10 – up from $5, $6 and $8 – for each pikeminnow that is at least nine inches long. It’s the first reward increase since 2015. The more fish caught, the more each pikeminnow is worth. Specially tagged northern pikeminnow released by state fish and wildlife biologists into the Columbia and Snake rivers are each worth $200 to $500.
In addition to increasing reward amounts, program managers are making it easier to participate. Online registration and an app are expected to debut early in the 2022 season.
“These tools will make it more convenient for people to participate, particularly those who don’t live near a pikeminnow registration station,” said Eric Winther, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Columbia River Predator Control Program project leader. “Currently, people have to drive to a station and fill out paperwork before heading out to fish. Registering online or through the app means they can go directly to the river, spend more time fishing and make one trip to the station to turn in their catch.”
Eighteen full-time stations will operate during the five-month season, with two to four additional satellite stations available later in the season. These satellite stations offer anglers additional pikeminnow harvest opportunities in areas with good fishing during short windows of time. Interested anglers are encouraged to get the most up-to-date information on the program website, www.pikeminnow.org, before heading out.
Details on how to register for the program and applicable state fishing regulations are also available on the website. Anglers will find resources on the site, including maps, how-to videos and free fishing clinics, to help boost their fishing game.
Northern pikeminnow consume millions of young salmon and steelhead each year. Since 1990, anglers paid through the program have removed nearly 5 million pikeminnow from the Columbia and Snake rivers.
The program is funded by the Bonneville Power Administration and administered by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission in cooperation with the Washington and Oregon departments of fish and wildlife.
BPA says the program has reduced predation from pikeminnow on young salmon and steelhead by approximately 40% since it began.
In 2021, BPA paid out $699,867 for 89,612 caught fish. The top angler received $61,409 for 7,185 fish while 74 tagged fish ($500 each) had a payout of $37,000.
In 2020, for the 23rd consecutive season, the program, said BPA, met its annual goal to remove 10% to 20% of pikeminnow, 9 inches or longer, in the Columbia and Snake rivers that prey on juvenile salmon and steelhead. Due to Covid-19, however, catch numbers were far below average.
The agency says 103,114 were removed by 2,450 anglers. Average angler catch was 6.5 fish a day.
Total paid to anglers: $839,461.
The top angler earned $48,501 with 5,579 fish removed.
Average harvest for the past 29 years is approximately 174,000 fish.
In 2019, anglers removed approximately 146,000 northern pikeminnow from the Columbia and Snake rivers.
In May, 2019, the region’s Independent Science Advisory Board said the pikeminnow program that pays anglers a bounty to remove up the 30 percent of these native fish per year throughout the Columbia River basin should focus on areas where predation is the heaviest, which is in dam tailraces.
In addition, the ISAB said, studies that link removal with a change in predation are over 30 years old and need to be updated. The “evaluation of the program must do more than count pikeminnow removed; an ecosystem approach is needed.”
“There has been over 28 years of suppression with the sport reward program and about an average of 32 percent reduction in the potential predation, but we have never measured its effectiveness on salmonids,” the ISAB’s Dr. Stan Gregory told the Northwest Power and Conservation Council in May, 2019. “We’ve only measured the reduction in pikeminnow.”
A recent study of predatory fish in the Willamette River found that walleye, by far, were most likely to have juvenile salmon in their stomachs. In the early time period, 18.5% of walleye had salmon in their stomach contents. In the later period, 15.8% did. They were the only fish species in the later period that had salmon in their stomach.
Other predators in the early period with salmon in their stomachs were largemouth bass (5.7%), white crappie (3.1%) and then native northern pikeminnow (0.6%). The black crappie, cutthroat trout, rainbow trout and yellow bullhead studied during both time periods had no salmon in their stomachs.