OLYMPIA - Starting New Year's Day, anglers fishing for sturgeon should find the big fish easier to measure for compliance with state size limits.
By mutual agreement, fishery managers in Washington and Oregon have agreed to base official size limits for white sturgeon on "fork length" - the distance between the tip of a fish's nose and the fork in its tail - rather than their full length.
That change is designed primarily to make it easier to measure thrashing sturgeon, which often run four to five feet in length, said Brad James, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
"In most cases, a legal-size fish under the old rules will still be a legal-size fish under the new rules," James said. "The method of measuring the fish will change, but the size of the fish retained by anglers will remain the same."
The main problem with trying to measure the total length of a sturgeon is that the top lobe of a sturgeon's tail is longer and more flexible than the bottom lobe, James said. "The new rule eliminates an element of subjectivity that has long been problematic for anglers and fishery managers alike," he said.
An illustration of measuring a sturgeon according to fork length is posted on the WDFW website (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/sturgeon/index.html ).
Starting Jan. 1, both the minimum and maximum size limits for retaining white sturgeon will be adjusted to reflect the new "fork-length" measurement. As under current rules, a maximum size limit will be retained to protect large, breeding female sturgeon.
Under rules currently in effect for most waters of the state, anglers may retain only those white sturgeon with a total length of 42 to 60 inches. Under the new statewide rule, the new standard for legal-size sturgeon will be 38 to 54 inches, measured from a fish's snout to the fork in its tail.
The new 54-inch size maximum limit will be in effect statewide. However, as under current rules, minimum size limits will vary from the 38-inch statewide standard on certain stretches of the Columbia and Snake rivers. Effective Jan. 1, new size limits on those rivers will be as follows:
- The mouth of the Columbia River upstream to Wauna powerlines near Cathlamet: New fork-length limit is 38 to 54 inches through April 30. (Old limit 45 to 60 inches.)
- The Dalles Dam upstream to Priest Rapids Dam on the Columbia River: New fork-length limit is 43 inches to 54 inches. (Old limit 48 to 60 inches.)
- The Snake River upstream to Lower Granite Dam near the border with Idaho: New fork-length limit 43 to 54 inches. (Old limit 48 to 60 inches.)
The new fork-length measurements will also take effect Jan. 1 for non-Indian commercial fisheries on the Columbia River.
While the Columbia River accounts for most white sturgeon caught in Washington state, James said the species is also the focus of active fisheries from northern Puget Sound to the bays and rivers along the Pacific Coast.
"Regardless of where people are fishing, these new size limits should make it easier for fishers to tell whether they should keep or release a fish," James said.
Capt. Jerry Brown
Columbia River Fishing