Fewer Smelt Than Last Year’s Small Run Expected

Columbia smelt managers are forecasting the fewest of the tasty, oily fish back since at least 2011.

They say the run will be “smaller in magnitude than the 2017 return,” which saw 1.6 million pounds worth of eulachon come into the big river and its lower tributaries to spawn.

SMELT DIPPERS AND OBSERVERS GATHER ALONG THE LOWER COWLITZ ON FEBRUARY 25, 2017, DURING A FIVE-HOUR OPENER THAT WAS DESCRIBED AS “PRETTY MUCH A BUST” WHEN FEW CAUGHT ANY. (OLAF LANGNESS, WDFW)

Following test-boat fisheries, that was enough to open one day’s worth of dipping on the Cowlitz in late February.

But that turned out to be “largely a bust.”

Managers estimate sport dippers harvested all of 540 pounds.

That’s down from 290,000-plus pounds in 2015.

Poor ocean conditions are blamed for recent years’ declining smelt runs, which peaked with 16.6 million pounds in 2014.

A GRAPH AND CHART SHOW COLUMBIA RIVER SMELT ABUNDANCE AND HARVESTS IN RECENT YEARS. (WDFW)

Columbia smelt are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Following longterm declines, seasons were closed for three straight years, but with federal blessing, WDFW was able in 2014 to hold limited “research fisheries” to survey the population.

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