Due to fishing closures prompted by the coronavirus outbreak, Bonneville Power Administration's popular reward program that pays anglers to catch northern pikeminnow in the Snake and Columbia rivers each year will not begin on May 1, as it usually does.

BPA announced April 29 the 2020 northern pikeminnow reward fishery season is instead scheduled to open 10 days later—on May 11—and continue through Sept. 30, as planned.

In March, the states of Washington and Oregon closed recreational salmon and steelhead fishing in the Columbia River, and also limited access to many recreational facilities, including boat ramps.

And while Washington state will reopen all freshwater fisheries under standard regulations beginning May 5, BPA will hold off for a few days before opening the pikeminnow fishery.

In reopening fishing, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is asking anglers to adhere to social distancing, and avoid crowding on banks, piers or boat ramps. "If sites become overcrowded or other COVID-19 related public safety concerns develop, the department may reclose areas to further protect public health and safe resource management," the agency's news release said.

BPA plans to announce any changes to the pikeminnow reward season—including the start date—on its pikeminnow website.

Pikeminnow eat millions of young salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin every year. The reward program is designed to pay anglers to reduce predation on salmonids by removing 10 to 20 percent of the larger pikeminnow each year, which is estimated to reduce predation by about 40 percent.

The program is funded by Bonneville and administered by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. It pays fishermen between $5 and $8 for each pikeminnow caught in the Columbia River from the mouth to Priest Rapids Dam, and in the Snake River from the mouth to Hells Canyon Dam. Per-fish rewards increase based on the number of fish caught. Specially tagged fish—which earn $500 each—help biologists determine the percentage of the population being caught.

Last year, 2,700 anglers registered for the program, and more than 146,000 northern pikeminnow were taken, with the top angler earning $53,107 for catching 6,482 fish.

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.