Some anglers have been able to make a living off of this program and I am not here to say it is a bad program. I am here to say that the overall reason for the program is just another way we think we can have our dams and eat our salmon too and that is not working if salmon and steelhead recovery is truly our goal.
The program is very enticing to an angler like me. Not only would I get paid for catching fish, good, I would get paid for catching what is considered by just about everyone a trash fish, good. It being a government program and northern pikeminnow residing in many other locations besides those two river systems, means it has a lot of rules and I will share them with you and point you here for a more complete display of the program.
Northern pikeminnow are voracious predators, I have watched as Idaho Department of Fish and Game personnel worked to remove them from Cascade Reservoir in Long Valley in Valley County, Idaho. In that instance the pikeminnow were eating enough perch to keep what once was a great perch fishery from recovering. The fisheries biologists caught the pikeminnow in traps that they emptied regularly into big plastic trash cans. They also used Rotenone on the North Fork of the Payette River during times when northern pikeminnow would go up the river to spawn to kill off the fish and possibly stop new generations of the fish. Of course, any use of Rotenone, a fish poison, does not discriminate in the fish it kills, so it has some bad effects on desirable fish as well. This program did a bang up job reducing northern pikeminnow numbers and today the Cascade Reservoir or Lake Cascade as they like to call it these days has a resurgence in its perch fishery.
As I stated before there are several rules that apply to this northern pikeminnow bounty program, but first I want to share with you the attractive part of the program, which will begin again May 1, 2012. The season ends Sept. 30, 2012. The first 100 northern pikeminnow an angler catches in the season are worth $4 each. The northern pikeminnow caught by an individual angler from 101 to 400 are worth $5 each. After an angler catches northern pikeminnow number 400, the fish are now worth $8 per fish. The top angler in 2011 earned $66,478 catching northern pikeminnow. That's not a bad income for five months work, and don't think it isn't work to catch that quantity of northern pikeminnow. There are also specially tagged northern pikeminnow that are worth $500 each, this year anglers caught 156 of the specially tagged northern pikeminnow, kind of like the old crappiethon fishing lottery that used to tempt anglers back on Kentucky Lake when I was growing up. Though they weren't doing it to reduce crappie numbers.
An angler who wants to participate in this program must register each day they participate and there are stations where this registration can occur. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I point you here for a list of the stations and their locations.
There are also a number of special rules and regulations beyond the states of Washington and Oregon fishing regulations that you must comply with in order to have your northern pikeminnow catch qualify for payment vouchers and that is located here. The big rules that apply are you must register at the station prior to fishing and you can register before the station opens using the self-registration forms and you must turn in your fish from that day while the station is open to receive a payment voucher that you would mail in to receive payment, but go to the link I provided and get all the information before embarking on a new career. The program is funded by the Bonneville Power Administration and while they spend a lot of money for "salmon recovery" let's not lose sight of the fact that they are the primary reason salmon need to be recovered as they stand in the way of the one thing that has a 100 percent probability of recovering Snake River salmon stocks; breaching the four lower Snake River dams.
Northern pikeminnow do eat a lot of juvenile salmon and steelhead smolts. It is estimated that for every northern pikeminnow that has been caught, about 25 or 26 salmon or steelhead smolts have been saved. In 2011, some 155,000 northern pikeminnow were caught and counted in this bounty program, which translates to 4 million salmon and steelhead smolts that did not find the wrong end of a gullet.
One of the reasons why the overall reason for this program runs contrary to true salmon recovery is because northern pikeminnow populations exploded with the creation of the reservoirs behind these dams, thus prompting this bounty program. This is a Band Aid approach, like so many other Band Aid approaches to the cancer that is killing off our wild salmon and steelhead of the Snake River basin. The four lower Snake River dams and the slackwater they produce are the tumors that have to be removed if we are ever to truly recover Snake River salmon stocks. This Northern Pikeminnow Sport-Reward Program is another in a long line of actions that says "hey, we know the primary cause of salmon decline (people and our energy and cheap transportation needs), but we aren't going to do anything about that." The sad thing is we can do a lot about that.
We can replace the power those lower Snake River dams produce right now if we wanted to. We could replace them with other renewable energy sources. We could reduce the need for the electricity those dams produce through conservation practices. We can already make these dams obsolete on the power side and when you consider the transportation side of it, the tonnage shipped through Lower Granite Dam today is already about 50 percent less than it was 20 years ago. Invest in rail again if the transportation side of this equation right now is so attractive that salmon extinction is an acceptable outcome. It's not like it's that great a distance that having four reservoirs on the lower Snake River really would make that much of a difference. Everyday the lower Snake River dams exist is a reminder of our own lack of imagination in a society that once put people on the moon with great regularity. We can do better than that. We can replace the energy and we can replace the cheap transportation and we can recover salmon, but will we?