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Lake Roosevelt sturgeon fishing to close July 31 to prevent overharvest

Lorey Chillbeck holds her first Lake Roosevelt sturgeon. The 39-inch fish was within the legal range to keep, but she released it. (Brandon Collier / Courtesy)
Lorey Chillbeck holds her first Lake Roosevelt sturgeon. The 39-inch fish was within the legal range to keep, but she released it. (Brandon Collier / Courtesy)

Updated 2:50 p.m. with the official announcement by WDFW at end.

FISHING -- Anglers are a victim of their own success at Lake Roosevelt where the reservoir's first sturgeon fishing season will be closed after opening two months ago, a state fisheries manager said today. The closure, which hasn't yet been officially announced, is being set for July.

"Anglers very quickly got very good at catching them and we need to back off a little so we can continue to fish for sturgeon in the future," said Chris Donley, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regional fisheries manager in Spokane.

"People love the fishery and it's great for the economy up there."

Sportfishermen have caught and kept about 3,500 sturgeon in the designated slot length of 38-63 inches since the season was opened May 27, he said. 

State and tribal fisheries managers had estimated that about 21,000 sturgeon of that size needed to be removed to improve breeding genetics over about 10 years, he said. Sportfishermen will get about half of that allotment of the long-lived fish and the tribes will share the rest, he said.

"If we were to continue the fishery, our anglers could catch them all this year," he said. "From a fish manager's point of view, anglers got a great start in what we want to accomplish, but we also want to let fishermen have a chance at catching sturgeon year after year."

The next sturgeon fishing opportunity in Lake Roosevelt will likely be opened next spring, he said. "The season structure likely won't be as liberal next time around," he said, referring to the slot limit, season length and the two-fish season limit.

"Now we have date from the creel surveys so we can work out a season structure to manage seasons every year."

In the late 1990s, fisheries managers, including those responsible for the Columbia River in British Columbia, confirmed that sturgeon weren't reproducing and surviving into adulthood. Starting in 2000, they captured adult spawners and started raising their young in hatcheries.

"Releasing their progeny was a stop-gap measure," Donley said. "The number of family groups we started with was too small for genetic diversity."

The fishing season was opened to thin out the number of sturgeon in the system that share the same genetics before they could spawn.

"We want to remove most of the fish in that category to leave what we believe is the right number to breed in the future," he said.

"Our goal with our co-managers is to try to fish for sturgeon ad infinitum on a piece of the population as we move along. That's the trick in fish management."

Following is the official announcement of the sturgeon closure by the Washington Department of  Fish and Wildlife:

Action: Closes fishing for white sturgeon in Lake Roosevelt.

Species affected: White sturgeon.

Locations and effective dates: Lake Roosevelt.

From Grand Coulee Dam to China Bend Boat Ramp (including the Spokane River from Highway 25 Bridge upstream to 400 feet below Little Falls Dam, Colville River upstream to Meyers Falls and the Kettle River upstream to Barstow Bridge). Closes July 31, 2017, one hour after official sunset. From China Bend Boat Ramp upstream to the Canadian Border (white sturgeon spawning sanctuary). This section is closed to sturgeon fishing and will not open Aug. 1 as previously planned.

Reason for action: At the beginning of the season, there were approximately 10,250 white sturgeon available for harvest in Lake Roosevelt to non-tribal anglers over the next several years. By July 31, recreational anglers are expected to have harvested approximately 3,500 white sturgeon. Due to higher than anticipated catch, the department is closing this fishery earlier than planned this season to allow for additional sturgeon fisheries on Lake Roosevelt in the coming years.

Other information: Lake Roosevelt fisheries are co-managed between WDFW, Spokane Tribe of Indians and Colville Confederated Tribes. The co-managers negotiated a harvest plan that allows each a portion of the sturgeon harvest. Neither tribe has caught their portion of sturgeon and plan to continue fishing after July 31. Sport anglers are asked to be respectful both of tribal fishing and of ongoing sturgeon research being conducted by the state and tribes.

Sport anglers will have opportunities in the future to harvest the remainder of the state?s portion of white sturgeon in Lake Roosevelt. Anglers are reminded that fishery dates, times, slot limits, daily limits and annual limits may be adjusted in the coming years to ensure that a sustainable population of sturgeon is maintained in Lake Roosevelt and to ensure equitable access to the fishery resource amongst the three co-managers.

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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