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

Program encourages pikeminnow fishing on Snake and Columbia rivers

At the Cle Elum Fish Hatchery, Northern Pikeminnows, formerly known as Squaw Fish, wait for a meal of young salmon as part of an experiment on how hatchery fish adapt to predators. (File / SR)
From staff reports

“Catch a pikeminnow, save a salmon” is the motto for another season of fishing for dollars in the Pikeminnow Sport Reward Fishery Program.

Starting on Monday on the Snake and Columbia, the program funded by the Bonneville Power Administration and administered by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, will pay anglers for each northern pikeminnow they catch that is 9 inches or longer. Rewards range $5-$8 per fish, and special tagged fish are worth $500.

The program will operate at least until Aug. 31 and maybe longer in the lower Columbia River (mouth to Priest Rapids Dam) and the Snake River (mouth to Hells Canyon Dam).

Unlike northern pike and other non-native species that can impact native salmon and steelhead fisheries, northern pikeminnows are natives, too. But the dams built on the rivers have given the predators an unnatural advantage for ambushing smolts as they tumble stunned over the spillways or through the turbines.

“Northern pikeminnows eat millions of salmon and steelhead juveniles each year in the Columbia and Snake River systems,” the pikeminnow program literature says. “The goal of the program is not to eliminate northern pikeminnow, but rather to reduce the average size and curtail the number of larger, older fish. Reducing the number of these predators can greatly help the salmon and steelhead juveniles making it out to sea.”

In 2016, the top 20 anglers caught an average of approximately 4,250 fish per angler and averaged reward payments of $36,000 each for the five-month season. The highest paid angler earned $119,341.

BPA funds the program to partially mitigate for the impact of the federal Columbia River hydroelectric system on salmon. State and federal officials confirm that results indicate the program is successful.

“Since 1990, over 4.6 million northern pikeminnows have been removed by the Sport Reward Fishery,” he program posts. “Predation on juvenile salmonids by northern pikeminnow has been reduced by up to 40 percent compared to levels of predation before the program began.”