• Outdoors Outdoors

Fisherman earns six-figure sum for help in removing menace from state rivers — how experts use bounties to control populations of problematic species

The incentives have been a success for wildlife officials and the local salmon population.

The incentives have been a success for wildlife officials and the local salmon population.

Photo Credit: iStock

The top angler from the 2023 Northern Pikeminnow Sport-Reward Program raked in $107,800 after catching 10,755 fish over the five-month open season in the Pacific Northwest's Columbia and Snake Rivers.

They became just the third person to break the $100,000 mark and earned the second-highest total in the program's history, falling shy of the record of $119,341 set in 2016. Overall, 11,954 entrants reeled in 156,505 pikeminnows in 2023; the top 20 anglers averaged 4,005 caught fish for $40,135.

"Harvest was very close to the 32-year average of 160,000 and effort increased by more than 10 percent [from 2022]," Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife project leader Eric Winther told the Northwest Sportsman. "... All in all, a really solid year punctuated by some exceptionally good fishing during several windows of opportunity in multiple areas." 

While overfishing can destroy ecosystems and push species to the brink of extinction, the practice is welcome in states such as Oregon, Washington, and Idaho to help restore balance to other fish populations.

Northern pikeminnows are native to the region but can eat millions of young salmon and steelhead, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The bounty, administered by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, helps reduce the predator's average size and limit the number of bigger and mature fish, allowing more juvenile salmon and steelhead to migrate to the ocean.

The ODFW also notes that the Bonneville Power Administration funds the operation to "partially mitigate for the impact of the federal Columbia River hydroelectric system on salmon."

Last year, the program ran from the beginning of May to the end of September and authorized anglers to catch pikeminnows that measured at least 9 inches. Organizers offered $6 apiece for the first 25 pikeminnows caught, $8 each for the next 175, and $10 for every fish caught after the initial 200.

Additionally, any fish that had swallowed a passive integrated transponder tag, which researchers implanted in young salmon, rewarded a participant anywhere from $200 to $500. 

The incentives have been a success for ODFW officials and the salmon population, as the Sport Reward Fishery has removed 5.3 million northern pikeminnows since the start of the program in 1990. Juvenile salmonid predation has dropped 40% as a result. 

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