The Bonneville Power Administration has extended its northern pikeminnow reward program by 11 days and boosted the per-fish reward amounts for the rest of the 2020 season to encourage more participation.

So far this summer, anglers have caught about 89,000 northern pikeminnows—the lowest on record. Last year, about 146,000 northern pikeminnows were removed from the Snake and Columbia rivers through the annual reward program, and the average annual harvest is 174,000 fish.

Northern pikeminnow are native to the Columbia Basin, but eat millions of young salmon and steelhead during their spring and summer migration to the ocean.

BPA officials say the program's extension through Oct. 11 will help offset the season's delayed start due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The reward program usually runs from May 1 to Sept. 30. This year, to stem the spread of the virus, Washington and Oregon closed recreational salmon and steelhead fishing in the Columbia River in March, and limited access to many recreational facilities, including boat ramps. Recreational fishing resumed May 5, but BPA delayed the start of pikeminnow season until May 11.

"It also appears the pandemic may have discouraged some anglers from participating in the sport-reward fishery, as the number of anglers is down 28 percent from this time last year," according to BPA's news release.

Participating anglers are seeing average catch rates of eligible northern pikeminnow—which are at least 9 inches long, according to a news release from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The top 20 anglers have caught between 946 and 3,952 fish, earning between $7,153 and $33,377.

Now is the time of year when catch rates are typically the highest, the agency says.

Beginning Sept. 19, instead of paying between $5 and $8 per fish on an increasing scale based on the number caught, BPA is now paying $10 per fish regardless of how many an angler catches. It will also pay $1,000 instead of $500 for specially tagged northern pikeminnow.

The reward program's goal is to reduce the average size and number of pikeminnows by removing 10 to 20 percent of the larger fish each year. In operation since 1990, the reward program has removed more than 4.8 million pikeminnow from the basin, reducing predation by about 40 percent, according to BPA.

K.C. Mehaffey covers fish issues for Clearing Up, and is editor of the NW Fishletter. She joined the NewsData writing team in February 2018. From lawsuits to scientific studies, she is enjoying the deep dive into the Columbia Basin's many fish topics.