New rules mean more walleye, fewer sturgeon for Washington anglers

Eric Barker / The Lewiston Tribune /

Washington anglers will be able to keep more bass and walleye but fewer sturgeon following decisions made by the state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The nine-member board that sets policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife removed the bag limit for catfish and the bag and size limit for smallmouth bass and walleye on the Snake and Columbia rivers and their tributaries, such as the Grande Ronde River. At the same time, the commission is reducing the bag limit for sturgeon from five per year to one per year on the Snake River between its mouth and Lower Granite Dam. The sturgeon harvest reduction also applies to the Columbia River and takes effect May 1.

Starting in 2014, anglers won’t be able to keep any sturgeon from the lower Columbia River and its tributaries, the Washington coast or Puget Sound.

Under current rules, anglers can keep five sturgeon per year on the Snake River below Lower Granite Dam if they are between 43 and 54 inches in length. Glen Mendel, district fisheries biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at Dayton, said the sturgeon retention rule has its impetus in discussions between Oregon and Washington as part of an effort to stop a dramatic decline in sturgeon numbers below Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. But he said the agency has also been concerned about the population in the lower Snake River.

“We have been taking a look at potentially restricting harvest from Lower Granite to the mouth of the Snake because of isolation of sturgeon from one pool to the next.”

He said about 200 sturgeon are harvested from the lower Snake River each year. Catch-and-release regulations have been in place for years between Lower Granite Dam and Hells Canyon Dam on the Snake River, where populations are healthier.

The commission increased bag limits on catfish, walleye and bass in a philosophical move that is designed to align fishing regulations with region-wide efforts to recover salmon and steelhead. Bass, walleye and catfish prey on salmon and steelhead smolts at least part of the year. The new bag limits take effect May 1.

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