July 7, 2015 – by Lonnie Johnson, Advisory Board Member
At a meeting on June 19th, ODFW (Oregon dept. of Fish & Wildlife) announced their plan to propose deregulating all Warmwater species in the Columbia, John Day, and Umpqua Rivers. ODFW will propose to the Fish & Wildlife Commission at the August 7, 2015 meeting to make a policy change, and want to remove bag limits on smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, catfish, walleye, crappie, bluegill, and other Warmwater fish.
The department readily admits that there will be little or no change in the fisheries under this policy change, but they are signaling the salmon recovery folks that they ARE doing something for coldwater species. They also state that this change is NOT based on science, but merely politics.
The reality is far different from the rhetoric, however. Beyond the dam issues, which are by far the real problem, the northern pikeminnow preys on outmigrating smolts at a rate of 10:1 over the smallmouth bass. The smallmouth actually prey on the northern pikeminnow and shad fry, also. So by trying to eliminate the smallmouth, they will actually be increasing the predation on the salmon smolts. The possibilities of actually eliminating smallmouth bass from the Columbia are very slight.
The Columbia River has just been named #53 in the 2015 list of “100 Best Bass Lakes” in Bassmaster Magazine. It seems a shame for ODFW to turn their backs on the fine bass fishing provided by all three of the targeted rivers. The John Day River is considered to be a quiet gem for smallmouth bass, with incredible catches in the spring. Anecdotally, it was mentioned in the aforementioned meeting that the bass were moving into the upper reaches of the John Day, and needed to be stopped. The issue isn’t that the bass are reaching farther upstream, but why. The water is warming due to riparian issues, as well as water concerns. The science is allowing the fish access, but the fish are getting the blame.
The Umpqua River had the bag limit for smallmouth bass raised to 15 per day several years ago, and it has not produced the desired result, i.e. eradication of the species, so now they will attempt to remove bag limits altogether. At that time, there was to be a study done to determine predation rates of smallmouth bass on salmon and steelhead smolts. To date that study has not been done, but the “policy change” will still remove the bag limits.
So, by and large, while the department is making a “policy change”, they are also alienating a rather large constituency at the same time. The warmwater angler is taking a back seat to everyone. Warmwater is listed as a fishery by 27% of anglers in a study conducted by ODFW in 2006. With the fiscal issues currently being experienced by the department, it seems strange that they would deliberately turn their backs on a large money source.
Everything about this proposal sets a dangerous precedent for warmwater species management in the future. Is this a long term trend? Last year ODFW, without preamble, reduced warmwater staff by half. Since then, one full time warmwater biologist is covering the entire state of Oregon. An impossible task, at best.
Oregon BASS Nation
This article is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Oregon Outdoor Council or affiliates.