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2001 Pikeminnow Sport Reward Season: Tough Act to Follow

by Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - May 10, 2002

"Sport reward" anglers will need plenty of luck and effort in their pursuit of northern pikeminnow on the Columbia and Snake rivers this year if they expect to break records set in 2001 both for fish caught and for cash bounties collected.

With special rules put into play last year because of drought and low flow conditions, fishers taking part in the pikeminnow control program caught nearly 239,964 pikeminnow. That's quite a few more than the previous best of slightly fewer than 200,000.

The program has been in place since 1990 to reduce the number of larger, older pikeminnow, which consume disproportionately more juvenile salmon than the smaller pikeminnow do. Many of the salmon and steelhead stocks migrating through the Columbia-Snake river's system of dams and reservoirs are listed under the Endangered Species Act. The non-native pikeminnow blossomed in the mainstem reservoirs.

The fishers -- who put in 39,091 angler days in 2001 -- were paid $1,527,046 last year, according to Russell Porter of the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. The PSMFC administers the program with assistance from the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife. The previous record was $995,000 in 1995, Porter said.

The top angler was Robert McDonald, who hauled in 4,873 pikeminnow last year to earn $35,346. A Tri-Cities area resident, McDonald, fished that stretch of the mid-Columbia and the lower Snake River. Porter said the top six anglers all earned between $30,000 and $35,000 last year.

"The catch rate was pretty good up and down the river," Porter said. The anglers averaged 6.1 fish per trip with some doing much better than others.

With near-record low water conditions last year, the Bonneville Power Administration decided to up the ante for the sport reward fishery to lure more anglers onto the water. The low flows served to slow the juvenile salmon's and steelhead's travel times, making them more vulnerable to natural mortality and to the waiting pikeminnow, Porter said.

For every northern pikeminnow 9 inches or longer returned to registration stations set by the WDFW up and down the river, anglers receive $4 to $6. The more fish an angler catches, the more they're worth: the first 100 in one season are worth $4 each; after 100, they're worth $5 each; and after 400 they're worth $6 each. The intent is to keep the more skilled of the pikeminnow anglers motivated.

Midway through last year, BPA boosted the bounties to $5, $6 and $8. The federal power marketing agency, which funds the program, also offered a special $1,000 reward for specially tagged fish that are used by ODFW in ongoing pikeminnow population studies.. The overall goal of the program is to reduce the population of predatory pikeminnow by 10 to 20 percent each year.

The reward had been $50 previously. During 2001 anglers cashed in 118 tagged fish at the $50 reward, then produced 82 more after the bounty had been raised to $1,000.

The special tagged northern pikeminnow will be worth $100 this year. The normal sport rewards fall back to the $4, $5 and $6 levels with near normal flows predicted.

The 2002 season began last week in the area from the mouth of the Columbia to The Dalles Dam. Fishers can cash in on pikeminnow caught above The Dalles as of May 13. The season ends Sept. 30.

Young salmon are a food source for many predators. Since 1990, BPA has paid an incentive for each northern pikeminnow caught. Pikeminnow in the Columbia and tributaries are estimated to consume more than 10 million juvenile salmon a year.

The 240,000 pikeminnow caught in 2001 could have, over an average six- to eight-year life span consumed as many as 17 million young salmon, according to BPA.

Here are some facts fishers of pikeminnow need to know:

Here's how to fish for them: The northern pikeminnow caught are not going to waste. They are used in liquid organic fertilizer for agriculture and fish meal for poultry and dairy cattle feed, according to information posted on the pikeminnow web page.

The 1980 Pacific Northwest Power Act directs the BPA to fund work to improve salmon runs harmed by federal hydroelectric dams. Development of the hydrosystem has made young salmon more vulnerable to predators, including northern pikeminnow, by slowing the flow of the river and concentrating young salmon at dams. In addition, young salmon pass dams through conduits around dam turbines, over spillways or through the turbines. This disorients and injures them, making them easy prey for northern pikeminnow, according to the web page.

The pikeminnow eat young salmon in greatest numbers downstream of the Bonneville Dam, in Bonneville and The Dalles reservoirs and somewhat less in the John Day reservoir and Snake River, according to BPA.

The fishery includes the mainstem lower Columbia River up to Priest Rapids Dam in Washington and the Snake River up to Hells Canyon Dam in Idaho. Also open within this reach are backwaters, sloughs, and up to 400 feet into tributaries on the Columbia and Snake rivers (Check fishing regulations for your state).

In 2000 there were 30,337 registered angler days. The catch was 189,710 fish or 6.3 fish per angler day. In 1999, 25,905 anglers registered and caught 114,687 pikeminnow -- only 4.4 per angler registration.

Participants must register in person at one of the registration stations or authorized satellites each day prior to fishing. Reward vouchers are issued for the catch, which must be turned in each day. The fisher must mail the vouchers in to collect the reward.

Main and satellite stations are located along the river. For more information and brochures to help identify a pikeminnow, call the Washington Sport Reward Hot Line at (800) 858-9015, or for voucher information, (800) 769-9362 or (503) 650-5449 in Portland. Visit the Web site at

The four lower Columbia River treaty tribes had been involved in the pikeminnow control effort since the beginning through dam and site specific angling but only the Yakama Nation continues to participate. Porter said roughly $40,000 is budgeted each for Yakama dam angling efforts and directed gill net fishing.

The Yakama Nation directs the efforts with dam angling carried out primarily at McNary and John Day dams, Porter said. Gill net efforts are largely directed at the mouths of Columbia tributaries, where pikeminnow school to await the arrival of migrating juvenile salmon. Porter said the tribal dam anglers caught 2,731 pikeminnow last year. The nets brought in 523 of the predators.

Barry Espenson
2001 Pikeminnow Sport Reward Season: Tough Act to Follow
Columbia Basin Bulletin, May 10, 2002

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