Fishing for Dollarsby Kurt Holland
The Bulletin, August 9, 2007
Cash is the lure for anglers in the Northern Pikeminnow Sport Reward Fishery Program
THE DALLES -- Reeling in dollars simply by catching fish sounds like a dream come true for anglers.
But this fish story is fact for those participating in the annual Northern Pikeminnow Sport Reward Fishery Program.
Now in its 17th year, the program is designed to help improve salmon and steelhead runs on the Columbia and Snake rivers and their tributaries - including the Deschutes River - by reducing the number of predatory pikeminnow.
Pikeminnow, according to program biologists, eat millions of migrating juvenile salmonids in the Columbia and Snake river system each year. According to the program's Web site, www.pikeminnow.org, estimates show that predation has been cut by about 25 percent since the its inception.
"The goal is a 10 to 20 percent exploitation rate," says Paul Dunlap, a scientific technician with the Vancouver office of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "We estimate that 15 percent of the population of pikeminnow is around 200,000 fish annually."
The 2007 Northern Pikeminnow Sport Reward Program, which started May 14 and will continue through Sept. 30, rewards anglers for catching the predatory fish.
The first 100 pikeminnow 9 inches or longer that an angler lands during the season are worth $4 each. The bounty increases to $5 per fish for catches of 101 up to 400 pikeminnow. And individuals are paid $8 for each additional pikeminnow they catch in excess of 400 in one season.
A number of fish that have been specially tagged by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife are worth $500 each.
As of Tuesday, 107 tagged fish had been caught and turned in for payment, worth $53,500.
"I saw a 15-year-old recently catch a fish worth $500, and his dad, who's been doing this for quite a while hasn't even caught a tagged one yet," says Janice Pletcher of Dallesport, Wash., who has been staff checkpoint stations along the mid-Columbia since May. "It's cool when somebody brand new to this catches a tagged fish. Five hundred dollars to a 15-year-old is a lot of money."
Funding for the program comes from the Bonneville Power Administration, which, under the Pacific Northwest Power Act of 1980, is required to finance work to improve fish runs damaged by federal hydroelectric dams on rivers.
"I love to fish, but to get paid for it? This is the best of both worlds," says Tim Johnson of The Dalles, who estimates he has caught "about 200" of the northern pikeminnow this season. "You get paid for your hobby."
Those who take their pikeminnow angling seriously are proof that there is money to be made fishing for dollars, notes Craig Miller of the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, which administers the overall Northern Pikeminnow Management Program.
The sport reward program's top angler in 2006 was David R. Vasilchuk of Vancouver, Wash. He caught 5,714 pikeminnow and earned $48,348 - both records for the program - during the five-month season. Nikolay N. Zaremskiy of Gresham, who caught 5,708 fish and received $45,351 last year, leads all anglers so far in 2007 with earnings of $23,036 for 2,919 fish.
"But it's not as easy to catch them as it sounds," says Dunlap. "It's like any type of fishing: the guys who are good at it put in a lot of time and effort."
For fish caught in 2006, 1,469 anglers were paid a total of $1,568,722.
"It is a sport you have to learn - the technique is different from other kinds of angling," adds Pletcher, who has a pole set up at her registration station to show first-timers how to fish for pikeminnow. "But how can you go wrong? You get paid to fish."
Northern pikeminnow, which are native to the Columbia River system, particularly congregate below dams. That is where they feed on the salmonids that become disoriented and are sometimes injured after traveling through spillways and turbines at the dams while making their way down river and toward the Pacific Ocean.
Since the program's inception in 1991, more than 2.8 million pikeminnow - including nearly 128,000 this year - have been caught and removed from the river system. But the goal is not to eliminate the fish, says Dunlap. Rather, it is to reduce the average size of the pikeminnows in the rivers: smaller fish eat fewer of the salmon fry; conversely, larger pikeminnow have a bigger appetite and devour more of the valuable salmonids.
Northern pikeminnow that are caught and turned in for payment are "recycled" into liquid organic fertilizer and fish meal additives for livestock and poultry feed, according to www.pikeminnow.org.
Two of the historically most productive areas to fish for the pikeminnow along the Columbia system are also the closest to Central Oregon. One of the popular sites is at The Dalles Boat Basin just below The Dalles Dam, about 2½ hours from Bend. The other is just upriver from The Dalles near Rufus at Giles French Park, also just off I-84, below the John Day Dam.
The two sites, among 17 checkpoint stations along the Columbia and Snake rivers this year, have accounted for more than 44,000 of the total catch of 128,000 pikeminnow this season, according to data from the program's Web site. The locations also are responsible for 44 percent (55 of 125) of the special $500 tagged fish caught so far this season.
"Below dams are the best spots," says Dunlap. "That's where the smolts are coming through and that attracts more pikeminnows."
But many of the 17 checkpoints along the two rivers are productive for knowledgeable anglers.
"I see mostly retirees or guys whose wives work during the day and they can afford to do it," says Pletcher as she describes the average program participant. "It's mostly retirees, but we have families and kids who try as well.
"It's a lot of fun, and once you learn the technique for catching them, you can make yourself some nice money and help the fishery at the same time."
Getting Paid to Catch Fish What: 2007 Northern Pikeminnow Sport Reward Fishery Program.
Who: Any angler licensed by the state of Oregon or Washington. Anglers must adhere to all state fishing regulations for the area in which they fish.
When: Through Sunday,Sept. 30.
Where: The mainstem Columbia River, including backwaters, sloughs and up to 400 feet into its tributaries, from the mouth up to a restricted zone below Priest Rapids Dam; or in the Snake River from the mouth up to restricted area below Hells Canyon Dam.
How to participate: Prior to fishing for the northern pikeminnow, anglers must register each day at any of the 17 check stations, including stations at The Dalles Boat Basin in The Dalles and at Giles French Park below the John Day Dam. Fish caught must be returned on the same day to the same registration station where the angler registered, and fish must be turned in either live or in good condition. Fish must be a minimum of 9 inches to qualify for payment. For the fish they catch, anglers receive vouchers that must be mailed to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, which mails checks to successful anglers.
What to use: Bait, including worms and chicken liver, is the most popular method. Plastic grubs or worms are also popular, as are various lures.
Information: www.pikeminnow.org; 1-800-858-9015.
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