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Go Fishing for Fun and Money

by Jeffrey P. Mayor
Columbia Basin Bulletin - July 1, 2004

While watching some fishing show on television or talking to some hard-working outdoor writer, have you ever found yourself muttering, "I wish I could get paid to go fishing?"

Well, here in the Northwest, you can do exactly that if you want to fish for northern pikeminnows in the Columbia and Snake rivers.

Started back in 1990, the reward fishery program run by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife is designed to reduce the average size of the pikeminnow, which are native to the Columbia system and used to be known as squawfish. Fisheries biologists figure smaller pikeminnows will eat fewer salmon and steelhead smolts, thus helping rebuild runs of those fish.

The money for the program comes from the Bonneville Power Administration, part of its work under the 1980 Pacific Northwest Power Act to improve salmon runs harmed by federal hydroelectric dams.

Imagine - being paid to fish, and we're not talking pennies. And they've raised the ante this year as well. The heck with trout and salmon, let me after Ptychocheilus oregonensis.

Here are the financial rewards for each fish you catch that is at least 9 inches long: For the first 100 you catch and turn in, you get $5 per fish. For fish 101 to 400, you get $6 per fish. For fish 401 and above, you get $8 each.

If you catch one that sports a "spaghetti" monitoring tag, you'll have earned $500.

Consider this, the top pikeminnow angler last year took home $23,592 for catching 3,905 pikeminnows. Not bad for about six months of fishing.

Typically, anglers are paid about $1 million each year, according to Eric Winther, project leader for Fish and Wildlife.

Since 1990, more than 2 million northern pikeminnows have been removed from the two rivers through the program. The average size is 2 to 4 pounds, but a fish can weigh over 20 pounds.

"We base our success on trying to remove a certain portion of the population every year, about 10 to 20 percent," Winther said. "We're averaging about 12 percent since 1991."

That's about 160,000 fish taken out of the system each year. Last year was a good one for anglers, who caught more than 195,000 pikeminnows. So far this year, anglers have caught more than 67,000 fish.

But has that helped the young salmon and steelhead survive?

While Winther said it is hard to determine precise numbers, program officials say predation has decreased 25 percent since the program started.

The program covers the lower Columbia River between the mouth and Priest Rapids Dam, and on the Snake River from the mouth to Hell's Canyon Dam. This year, the season will end Sept. 26.

"The secret is finding them and finding them consistently. You may find them in one spot on one day, but when you return the next day or the next week, they may not be there," Winther said. "There's a learning curve to figure out the feeding spots."

Yeah, who wouldn't like to earn a few bucks while fishing? After all, you could use that money to invest in some new gear for chasing salmon and steelhead. More salmon survive, you get paid to fish and you can maybe buy some new gear. It's a win-win-win situation.

Jeffrey P. Mayor
Go Fishing for Fun and Money
Columbia Basin Bulletin, July 1, 2004

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