One angler is being paid $61,000 for the northern pikeminnow he caught in the Columbia and Snake rivers and turned into state fish and wildlife officials last summer.
Next year he has the potential for an even bigger payout as the Pikeminnow Sport Reward Program plans to pay more per fish turned in when the season opens in May . This year the program paid out almost $700,000 to anglers who registered for the program and then turned in the northern pikeminnow they caught each day.
That’s down from the $840,000 paid in 2020. That’s because river conditions were not ideal, including at one of the best places to fish in the Tri-Cities, the mouth of the Yakima River, said Eric Winther, project leader for the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife Pikeminnow Sport Reward program. Grass and debris clogged the water when the pikeminnow fishing is usually at its best there in May and early June, he said.
About the same number of anglers participated in the program in Washington and Oregon this past season as the year before. But anglers did not do as well this past season, with about 89,600 fish caught compared to 103,100 the year before. To encourage people to keep fishing next season, the program plans to increase the reward paid per fish. Last season payments started at $5 per fish.
Next season will pay $6 each for the first 25 pikeminnow; $8 each for 26 to 200 fish; and $10 for each after 200.
In addition, specially tagged pikeminnow are worth $500.
Northern pikeminnow are voracious eaters, consuming millions of young salmon and steelhead every year.
To reduce the pikeminnow population, the Northern Pikeminnow Sport Reward Program pays people who register and then turn in the pikeminnow they catch on the Columbia and Snake rivers. Money comes from the Bonneville Power Administration.
Helping salmon, steelhead
Biologists estimate the reward program has reduced predation on young salmon and steelhead by up to 40% from levels before the program began.
The program’s annual goal is to remove 10% to 20% of pikeminnow that are 9 inches or longer in the two rivers in Washington and Oregon. This year an estimated 11.3% of pikeminnow were removed, Winther said.
“They are not really hard to catch, but the hardest thing is to find them,” Winther said.
An angler may have a good catch one day and go back to the same spot the next day and find none. The $61,000 the past season’s top earner brought home was more than the top earner for 2020, who was paid $48,500.
“Not bad for five months of fishing,” Winther said.
The year’s top earner was helped by catching seven tagged pikeminnow among his total of 7,185. His household income also was boosted by the estimated 1,700 pikeminnow his wife caught, Winther said.
The next three top earners in the program during the past season each had payouts between $30,000 and $40,000. The season is expected to be May 1 to Sept. 30. For more information, go to pikeminnow.org.
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