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Entries in Salmon (28)


Oregon Removes Limits on Smallmouth Bass; Angry Anglers Consider Options

Following a disappointing decision by fisheries managers, Oregon bass anglers are considering their options--- and sounding off about the removal of limits on smallmouth bass in the Columbia, John Day, and Umpqua Rivers.

The ruling by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, they argue, was based more on politics than science.

"Needless to say, it's very frustrating," said Lonnie Johnson, conservation director for the Oregon B.A.S.S. Nation, who believes that the decision was pre-ordained because of pressure by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, neighboring Washington, tribes,  and preservationist groups who do not like the "non-native" fish.

"To me, it devalues the resource,” added Bud Hartman, a long-time member of the Oregon Bass and Panfish Club. “It says to the angling public that these fish don’t mean anything.”

B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director Gene Gilliland attended the commission meeting to voice the organization's opposition to removing limits. In the aftermath, he said this:  "In my opinion it sends a poor message, that warmwater species are of little value and that the agency's priorities are so focused on native species (i.e. endangered salmon stocks) that even a world-class smallmouth bass fishery can be sacrificed."

And writing in the Oregonian newspaper, veteran outdoor writer Bill Monroe theorized that the move threatens "a long history of support from about a quarter of their constituency."

Johnson acknowledged that support for the Department of Fish and Wildlife by warmwater anglers likely will be damaged, because they're paying license fees to an agency that disrepects them. At a meeting following the decision, he said, "At first the consensus was that we needed to separate ourselves from ODFW permanently. Just walk way.

"But as the initial visceral response eased, the rhetoric eased also. My feeling is that, however distasteful, it is easier to work from within the system than from outside. Several folks probably will step away, but most will grit their teeth and persevere."

Gilliland, meanwhile, hopes to rebuild a relationship with the agency, while making it clear "that a great deal of trust was lost during this process and both sides will need to work at it."

Preservation and native fish groups have been pushing for removal limits on bass and other warmwater non-native species for some time, arguing they are harming native salmon by predation. But little evidence supports that. Habitat loss and degraded water quality are the primary causes of declines in these coldwater species. Consequently, ODFW framed its action as "simplifying" regulations.

“There are lots of confusing regulations and conservation needs,” said Mike Gauvin, recreational fishing program manager. “First and foremost, though, we’re doing this to simplify and streamline the regulations.”

But on behalf of bass anglers, Johnson offered an option that was just as simple: Make the statewide bag limit 5, with one over 15 inches.

Of course, the recommendation was rejected, as the commission removed limits for bass, walleye, and catfish. As it did so, though, Johnson said that one commissioner acknowledged that the action was going to anger a large constituency. Gauvin responded that it sends a good message to the salmon recovery community.

"That sort of wraps the whole thing into a single sentence," said Johnson.

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)


Oregon May Remove Limits on Smallmouth Bass in Columbia River

Oregon may be about to make a major fisheries management decision based on politics instead of science, Activist Angler has learned.

Sources reveal that unless loud public outcry forces it to reconsider, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) likely will remove limits on smallmouth bass in the Columbia River. In doing so, it will cave to pressure from the federal government, neighboring Washington state, and native species advocates, not only within the state but within the agency.

The announcement could come as early as June 19, when the state’s Warmwater Working Group (WWG) meets. Ostensibly, the WWG is a coalition of fisheries biologists and representatives of warmwater angling groups who meet to discuss issues related to management of bass and other non-native species.  In reality, it is little more than window-dressing for a feeble attempt to hide the agency’s anti-bass bias.

That bias exists because of the continued demise of salmon fisheries in the Northwest. In reality, they are in decline because the rivers have been altered and degraded through dams, irrigation, and development. The water is warmer and slower than it would be if free-flowing, and the dams block salmon migrations.

But smallmouth bass are blamed because they thrive in this altered habitat and because they are predatory. No evidence exists, however, to show that they substantially harm salmon populations.

If ODFW does bow to political pressure and removes limits on smallmouth bass in the Columbia, it will alienate a large portion of its constituency, which pays for its operation through purchase of fishing licenses. And nearly all bass fishermen will continue to catch-and-release smallmouth bass in the Columbia as they have for decades.

All that will change is removal of the façade that ODFW manages  fisheries based on science instead of politics and that it does so on behalf of all anglers.


Will Alaska Sacrifice Wild Salmon for Coal?

Photo by Bill Roth, Alaska Dispatch News

Up in Alaska, politicians are being lured to surrender a wild salmon fishery to a coal company. It promises that it can remove the stream to mine 300 feet down and then, once strip mining is done, put it back together again as good as new, with  functioning surface and groundwater systems.

A former commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game insists that it can’t be done.

“I can tell you from my experience and the experience of stream restoration efforts throughout the Pacific Northwest, this proposal to remove the Middle Fork of the Chuitna River for 25 years and then put it back together as a wild salmon stream is a pipe dream; it will not work,” Frank Rue says unequivocally.

Furthermore, he adds, if PacificRim Coal is allowed to proceed, it will signal that Alaska intends to follow the Pacific Northwest, New England, Canada, and Europe in replacing its wild salmon runs with artificial propagation in the name of progress.

“If the decision is made to mine the site, we can assume that the mining company’s restoration will eventually stabilize the land and the drainage patterns, and maybe leave behind lakes and wetlands with pike and stickleback, but the lost wild salmon productivity of the Middle Fork will be permanent. Is that where Alaska wants to go?”

He adds, “This paradigm shift will shape resource decisions across the state for generations to come. It’s Alaska’s choice: Do we reserve water in our streams to support our wild, sustainable salmon, or do we sacrifice our wild salmon habitat for a one-time use of a non-renewable resource and follow the lead of others who have decimated their wild salmon?

Alaskans have until April 9 to weigh in on the debate with the Department of Natural Resources. Comments can be sent to


War on Bass Heats Up in Northwest

Washington state has joined the campaign to eliminate smallmouths like this from Northwest rivers.

For years, individuals and non-government groups in the Northwest have waged a war on bass, pushing for removal of limits and even bounties on the fish that have been established in some waters for more than a century. They blame predation by the warm-water species for the general decline of salmon and steelhead, even though evidence suggests that is true only in limited and isolated cases.

Many fisheries biologists, meanwhile, have been sympathetic to the cause, while state agencies mostly have treated bass and other nonnative warm-water species with benign neglect, instead of open hostility.

Until recently.

The cold-water war against bass has heated up, as Washington State has removed size and bag limits for bass and walleye in the Columbia and Snake Rivers and their tributaries above McNary Dam on the Washington/Oregon border. The big question now is what will happen on the lower 300 miles, which serve as a border between Washington and Oregon, as the former seems intent on pushing for removal of limits there as well.

Traditionally, the two have tried to manage with the same regulations on this river that is world famous for its hefty smallmouths.

“Previously, it was NGOs (non-government organizations) pushing for removal of limits. But now the mindset seems to have changed in Olympia (Washington state capital),” says a biologist, who wishes to remain anonymous.

“Now, I’m pretty sure that Washington will propose taking the rest of the regulations off.  If Washington does it, will Oregon go along?” he asks. “They (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) said that they wouldn’t rubber stamp it, that they’d have to see the biological benefits of doing so. But I’m skeptical.”

Additionally, now that a state has joined the war, its advocates might enlist the aid of Indian tribes as surrogates to sue both states for removal of limits.

The feds already have sided with the anti-bass faction, and, in fact, pressured Washington state to conform. The state also was considering taking off the bag limit, but requiring that only three bass per angler could be more than 15 inches.

In response, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) said that option “would imply a desire by WDFW (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) to maintain a healthy population of large, non-native predators.”

Yet the agency also admitted that quantifying the damage done to salmon and steelhead by bass “is difficult to quantify.” And it admitted, “The extent to which a regulation change will affect the harvest of these species and thereby reduce predation rates on at-risk salmon and steelhead populations is uncertain . . .”

Still, even if limits on bass are removed all the way to the mouth of the Columbia, anglers likely won’t see a big change in the population. That’s because most of the fishermen who target smallmouths release them.

So, even if smallmouth predation were having a significant impact on salmon and steelhead generally --- and it’s not --- removing limits would do little to remedy that.

“On the main stem of the Columbia, increasing spill (dam discharges) instead of storing water for hydropower, would be more helpful,” says the biologist. “It would make the Columbia more like a river again, fish wouldn’t bottle up, and water temperatures would lower, meaning predators wouldn’t feed as aggressively.

“But spill is money, while bass are low-hanging fruit that are easy to target.”

Social implications, however, could be significant, with relationships becoming even more strained between warm-water anglers and state wildlife agencies. When resource managers remove limits on a species, they are saying that it has no value. Yet thousand of anglers annually pay licenses and fees to fish for smallmouth bass. In return, they want a return on their investment.

And they have the right to expect that.

Additionally, their financial contributions benefit all fisheries, both warm-water and cold, as they enable the states to qualify for matching funds from the federal Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program.

Before removing size and bag limits on smallmouths, Northwest resource managers would be wise to remember that.

If they truly wanted to revive native species, they would insist on blowing out the dams that have impeded their migration and spawning, while creating hospitable habitat for bass and other warm-water species.

But those dams also provide hydropower and water for agriculture, benefitting millions of people. Consequently, they will stay too, while bass remain low-hanging fruit that are easy to target by private groups, and now, it seems, at least one state government.

(This column appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)


Pikeminnow Bounty Program Helps Anglers Find Smallmouth Bass

While many anglers fish for pikeminnows in the lower Columbia and Snake rivers in hopes of collecting bounties, they also catch plenty of other fishing, including smallmouth bass.

“I always thought it (catch statistics) could be of some use to anglers fishing the Columbia and Snake who are not obsessed with only salmon and steelhead,” said Eric Winther, pikeminnow manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Typically, fishermen catch the greatest number of warmwater species at the Columbia Point station in the Tri-Cities (Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland). During the week of July 7-14, they boated 949 pikeminnows and 601 smallmouths, with Greenbelt and Lyon’s Ferry yielding more than 1/3 of the bass.

In 2013, pikeminnow anglers landed nearly 9,000 smallmouth bass, along with more than 4,000 sturgeon and nearly 1,500 channel catfish.

Operating from May 1 to Sept. 30, the program pays $4 to $8 for each pikeminnow caught that measures 9 inches or longer.

Formerly called northern squawfish, the pikeminnow is a native species that resembles a walleye. Impoundments on the rivers have enabled it to become a much more effective predator of young salmon and steelhead.

Since 1990, more than 4.2 million pikeminnows have been removed through the bounty program.