A flotilla of fishing boats has arrived in the Bonneville Pool.
With the start of the new year come new fishing regulations for the Columbia River, and between now and Jan. 19, the stretch between Cascade Locks and The Dalles is going to be a center of activity for the dramatically changing white sturgeon fishery.
In late 2013, the Oregon Health Authority and the Washington Department of Health jointly issued advisories urging the public to limit consumption of certain “resident” fish in the 150-mile stretch of the Columbia from Bonneville to McNary Dam. The advisory notes that fish that live in that area for their entire lifespans, such as sturgeon, bass, bluegill, catfish, carp, crappie and walleye, are found to have unsafe levels of mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in their fat tissue. Migrating fish like salmon and steelhead are not part of the advisory.
The advisory recommended no consumption of any resident fish in the immediate area upstream of Bonneville Dam (to Ruckel Creek one mile upstream) and limited consumption (no more than one meal per week or four meals per month) of resident fish taken from Ruckel Creek to McNary Dam.
As of Jan. 1, regulations for sturgeon retention in the lower Columbia undergo big revisions. Downstream of Bonneville Dam, there will be no sturgeon retention — a big change from the last two years, which allowed a quota of about 10,000 annually (between commercial and recreational) during specific date ranges.
Between Bonneville and the Dalles Dams, regulations have been set at a 1,100 fish annual quota, with the winter season restricted to Jan. 1-19. A second season in June will be opened, provided enough of the annual quota remains.
In addition to the impact the closure of the lower river will have on anglers and guide services from Astoria to Portland, the changes mean more traffic for the Bonneville pool and its limited harvest quota.
“It’s a shame,” said the owner of one Hood River-based guide service. “Quotas and fishing windows have gotten smaller and smaller; it’s pretty sad that this is what it has come to. If the numbers they give us are true, it’s a dying sport. With the limited area and the small window, people will be coming from all over to fish the Bonneville pool. That puts a lot of pressure on the fish here.”
According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, managers estimated anglers will harvest approximately 450-500 white sturgeon during the January fishing period. The number could be higher, they noted, depending on the number of anglers who would normally fish downstream of Bonneville come to the Bonneville pool to try their luck.
Retention season for The Dalles Reservoir and the John Day Reservoir run from Jan. 1 until quotas of 300 and 500 fish, respectively, have been met for each pool. From McNary Dam upstream to the Oregon/Washington border, retention season is daily Feb. 1 to July 31. The bag limit for all three pools is one per day and two per year.
General sturgeon angling is open all year in the Columbia (unless otherwise noted), but retention of the slow-aging fish is under narrow restrictions. Additionally, retention size is set to specific lengths to further help protect the species. Keeper-sized sturgeons measure 38 to 54 inches (fork length) in the Bonneville Pool and 43-54 inches upstream of The Dalles Dam.
ODFW says fishery managers will review harvest data on Jan. 14 to determine if the adopted winter season should be modified to balance the overall guideline between the winter and summer seasons.
Quotas for 2014, from the mouth of the Columbia to McNary Dam, total 1,900 fish. To put the change of numbers in perspective, 2012 data from ODFW shows a total of 6,245 sturgeon reported harvested in the same area (4,283 below Bonneville Dam, 1,024 Bonneville Pool, 376 The Dalles to John Day and 571 John Day to McNary).