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Pikeminnow: 197,977 Fish Caught
for a $1 Million Bounty

by Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - October 24, 2003

Columbia/Snake river mainstem sport reward fishing season for northern pikeminnow ended Oct. 12 with anglers cashing in $1 million worth of vouchers for doing what researchers say is a job well done.

The catch this year, as reported through the Northern Pikeminnow Management Program, was 197,977. That's about on par with recent years when the catches have ranged form 189,710 in 2000 to 239,964 in 2001.

The program has become more than a sport for the few that have mastered the skill of catching Columbia/Snake pikeminnow. Slightly less than 8 percent of the anglers produced 25 percent (48,000 fish) of the total catch.

The program has a tiered reward system. Anglers are paid $4 for each pikeminnow for the first 100 fish they catch. They are given $5 for fish 101-400, and they get $6 for each fish after their catch total exceeds 400.

This year there were 126 people in that top tier who harvested more than 400 pikeminnow, according to Russell Porter, field program administrator for the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. Additionally, 194 people caught between 101 and 400 fish and 1,340 caught fewer than 100 pikeminnow.

To be reward-worthy, the pikeminnow must be at least 9 inches long -- a size at which their diet is about to switch from insects to other fish such as the juvenile salmon. Generally, the larger the pikeminnow, the more salmon they eat.

Jane Essex, who lives in southeast Washington, registered the biggest harvest. She caught 3,905 pikeminnow, collecting nearly $24,000 in bounty. Seven of the fish were tagged -- each earning Essex a $100 reward. The tagged fish provide input for related population studies.

Researchers estimate that, as a result of the harvest "exploitation," about 2.4 million fewer young salmon and steelhead are consumed by pikeminnow each year in the Columbia/Snake mainstem, Porter said. That 2.4 million fish represents more than 1 percent of the 200 million wild and hatchery outmigration for the entire Columbia River basin and a reduction of mainstem consumption by pikeminnow by about 27 percent.

The PSMFC administers the program, as well as provides technical oversight. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife operates the public sport-reward fishery, and an evaluation of program effectiveness conducted by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Fish must have been caught in the mainstem Columbia River from the mouth up to the restricted zone below Priest Rapids Dam, or in the Snake River from the mouth up to the restricted zone below Hell's Canyon Dam. The "mainstem" includes backwaters, sloughs, and up tributaries 400 feet from the tributary mouths. The season opened from The Dalles Dam to the Columbia's mouth on May 5 and from The Dalles Dam upriver as of May 19.

The program, which began in 1990, has a goal of taking 10 to 20 percent of the older, more voracious pikeminnow out of the population each year. A 20 percent exploitation rate would cut predation in half, the researchers believe.

That exploitation rate has been in the 13 to 13 percent range over the past couple years, Porter said. The average from 1991 through 2001 was 12 percent.

"We're always trying to think of ways to get people out there," Porter said of desire to push the exploitation rate closer to the upper end of the desired range -- 20 percent. To do it they will have to do more with less.

The program sponsors requested more than $2.8 million in funding, a total that include $1 million for the sport rewards with the balance for administration. The request was pared to $2.2 million in a decision announced Oct. 3 by the Bonneville Power Administration. The BPA funds the program through the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's Fish and Wildlife Program.

"We're not real excited about next year's budget. We could go below that 10 percent," Porter said of the minimum exploitation goal. Discussions are under way, both regarding the budget and the tasks that budget would fund.

The $2.2 million figure was a bit of a compromise. The NPCC had recommended the budget request be halved, based on recommendations from its staff. An Independent Scientific Review Panel review of the project deemed it fundable, but suggested its effectiveness was diminished and urged consideration of "new ideas for streamlining or economizing the approach.

In a response last year to the ISRP, project proponents defended the program, saying they disagreed with the ISRP's assessment of its biological and economic effectiveness. Supporting data showed that the overall program cost per fish had declined from a peak of nearly $35 per fish in 1993 to $22 in 2002.

The true measure of success -- exploitation of the larger pikeminnow -- is increased too, the response said. Exploitation averaged 11.7 percent from 1991 through 1998, but averaged 13.5 in 1999-2001 and was about 12 percent in 2002.

In its funding decision, BPA said that sustaining survival benefits from the program remained a high priority in the federal effort to recovery salmon and steelhead populations listed under the Endangered Species Act. The NOAA Fisheries 2000 biological opinion specifically calls for the continuation and improvement of the program. The BiOp describes measures NOAA feels necessary to counteract the jeopardy posed by the federal hydrosystem to the survival of the listed fish.

Related Sites:
National Academy of Sciences:
Washington Department of Ecology:

Barry Espenson
Pikeminnow: 197,977 Fish Caught for a $1 Million Bounty
Columbia Basin Bulletin, October 24, 2003

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