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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

X-rays reveal Snake River sturgeon eating tackle

Bottom-feeding white sturgeon often eat lost fishing tackle. (Associated Press)
Associated Press

RIGGINS, Idaho – The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is conducting a three-year study to determine if fishing hooks and lines ingested by sturgeon are adversely affecting the health of the long-lived fish.

The Times-News reported that biologists are capturing white sturgeon in the Snake River inside Hells Canyon and using a mobile X-ray machine to find out what kind of fishing tackle is inside them.

Biologists say the study that runs through 2014 has found that most of the gear inside sturgeon is fishing tackle lost by anglers who snagged the bottom of the river and then broke off. Sturgeon eventually find and eat the bait and tackle.

Biologists say the images have revealed ingested hooks, weights and swivels inside the large fish that can live up to 100 years. Idaho fishing regulations require anglers to release sturgeon unharmed.

Some of the gear found inside the fish, officials said, is for catching steelhead, bass or crappie. The study has found that only a tiny percentage of the hundreds of X-rayed sturgeon were deeply hooked.

During the survey, crews have been sampling sturgeon each week from June to October in a 140-mile stretch of the Snake River and 23 miles of the lower Salmon River, Idaho Power spokesman Brad Bowlin said.

Tony Lamansky, a senior fishery research biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, leads an innovative research project. He said that at the end of 2012, the project had recaptured 10 sturgeon that had been previously X-rayed.

New X-rays after the second capture found that of the 10, one had rid itself of all metal; a sturgeon that didn’t have metal on its first X-ray had ingested some by the time of the second X-ray; and the remaining eight fish contained metal both times.

Since 2011, crews have also been X-raying Snake River sturgeon below Shoshone Falls, below Bliss Dam, and between Swan Falls and C.J. Strike dams.

Idaho Power Co., as required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, is helping pay for the study as mitigation for its hydroelectric dams on the Snake River.