MILWAUKIE, Ore. -- Thousands of fishermen mobbed the Willamette River last weekend to catch a dinosaur species called “sturgeon.”
When it’s elbow-to-elbow there are no ‘secret’ fishing holes on the Willamette River.
Anglers came with rods and reels to enjoy a special “catch and keep” season for ‘rod-busting’ sturgeon
OSP Enforcement Officer, Sgt Chris Allori, said “I’ve never seen it this busy with this much traffic- for any fishery – anytime.”
He watched over scores of anglers lining the shore at RiverVilla Park in Milwaukee. “There’s a lot of bank fishermen, there’s a lot of boat fishermen and they’re coming from all over the state.”
The short four-day “keeper sturgeon” season also drew OSP Fish and Wildlife officers from across Oregon.
The officers fanned out along 50 miles of river stretching from Oregon City to Scappoose.
Boatloads of anglers had mile-wide smiles with plenty of sturgeon, but it didn’t take long to see a sobering truth.
The first boat the Trooper Les Kipper stopped for inspection had two problems – an undersized sturgeon and a out of compliance gear.
The keeper sturgeon must be be3tween 38 and 54 inches and the hooks must be barbless.
The anglers kept a sturgeon that was short of the minimum length by ¼ of an inch.
That violation earned one angler a warning while another angler was cited with a ticket for using the wrong gear. The angler had a barbed hook on his line.
The fishery requires barbless hooks to ease the release of the smaller, so called “shaker sturgeon.”
The sturgeon was released back to the river.
The angler admitted, “That was just not paying attention – plain and simple.”
Officer Kipper said that the biggest problem they see on the river is called “high-grading.”
That is, keeping a smaller fish – without immediately tagging it as required by law – with hopes of catching a bigger fish later.
Kipper added, “It’s wrong – biologically and ethically!” He added, “If we’re going to have a future fishery, we need to keep everyone playing by the rules that are established.”
Within a short time the patrol encountered another angler who had a legal sturgeon.
The trouble was, he wasn’t a legal angler.
He told officers that he had the required angling tag, but he couldn’t find it.
Officer Andy Vanderwert made a short call to OSP headquarters to run a computer check of the man’s license record.
As it turned out, there was no record of the man’s angling tag.
Officer Kipper told the man, “It is unlawful to high-grade sturgeon. You can’t catch one and continue to angle for a bigger one and then let the shorter one go.”
I asked the officer, “Isn’t it the same as stealing the public resource?”
Kipper agreed and said that it happens too often. “It’s a common violation but we have trouble catching the violator in the act. Not this time!”
The angler received a citation with a $435 fine.
I asked Kipper, “What does this tell you about compliance during this sturgeon fishery?”
Kipper responded, “It’s not very good so far. Fifty percent of the boats we’ve contacted today have been out of compliance in one way or another.”
“And people do know what the law is for this fishery,” added trooper Vanderwert. “They’ll violate just to catch a bigger fish or to catch another fish and that’s hurting the resource for everyone else.”
It’s a ‘resource’ that officers will continue to patrol and protect.
Late today, Oregon Fishery managers announced that the Willamette River downstream from Willamette Falls, including Multnomah Channel and the Gilbert River, will not be open to sturgeon retention on Feb. 24-25.
In January, fishery managers had announced a possible four-day retention season to include Feb. 17-18 and Feb 24-25.
In just two days, anglers caught 1,535 sturgeon, almost 90 percent of the 1,768 allowed for the Willamette -- in large part due to the number of anglers.
However, the river remains open for “catch and release” sturgeon fishing – and the Columbia River below Bonneville Dam is open for sturgeon fishing each Thursday through Saturday.