SEATTLE - A program that pays anglers to catch a predator that eats young salmon and steelhead resulted in more than 180,000 northern pikeminnows being caught and killed in the Columbia and Snake rivers this year, federal officials say.
The anglers were paid $1.4 million for catching northern pikeminnows from May 1 through Sept. 30, the Bonneville Power Administration announced Friday in a news release.
The annual reward program is funded by the agency and is intended to remove the predatory pikeminnow that eats young salmon and steelhead headed for the ocean. Thirteen populations of salmon and steelhead in Washington, Oregon and Idaho are struggling and listed as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
"We've seen a substantial reduction in predation by these fish, which mean young salmon and steelhead have a better chance of making it to the ocean and eventually returning to the basin as adults," said Eric McOmie, the program's manager at Bonneville Power Administration.
The agency said anglers removed 11.5 percent of the pikeminnow population measuring 9 inches or longer, meaning the program successfully met its goal of removing 10 to 20 percent of the predators. Larger fish are believed to eat the most salmon and steelhead.
Anglers who register and participate are paid $5 to $8 per fish. As an incentive, wildlife officials released more than 1,000 specially tagged northern pike minnows worth $500 if caught by an angler.
The top angler this year earned about $71,000 after catching 8,600 fish during the five-month season. The top 20 anglers earned an average of $29,000 each.
The program began in 1990 and, officials said, has resulted in the removal of 5 million pikeminnows. Officials say that has reduced predation on salmon and steelhead by up to 40 percent.
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