Tag Archives: smelt

Sea Lion Discovered On Road Near Castle Rock

Another sea lion went for a walkabout in Southwest Washington, this time Cowlitz County.

On Sunday the estimated 600-pound marine mammal was discovered “a significant distance from water” 4 miles west of Castle Rock along Garlock Road.

IN THIS SCREENSHOT FROM A COWLITZ COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE YOUTUBE VIDEO CREWS USING PLYWOOD AND PRODDING STICKS HERD A WAYWARD SEA LION INTO A TRAILER FOR TRANSPORT TO THE COLUMBIA. (COWLITZ COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE)

“It is believed the sea lion reached the area after traveling up Delameter Creek from the Cowlitz River,” the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office reported on its Facebook page.

If I had to bet, I’d say it was probably chasing the smelt that are now in the river but for whatever reason turned up the tributary and kept going and going.

A COWLITZ COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE YOUTUBE VIDEO SHOWS THE SEA LION LUNGING AT A MAN WORKING TO HERD THE MARINE MAMMAL TO A TRAILER FOR TRANSPORT. (COWLITZ COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE)

In 2016 a sea lion was found near a cattle pasture outside Oakville after apparently swimming up the Chehalis River and then a feeder stream.

At that time, a WDFW deputy chief said that agency officers annually herd from three to six sea lions, mostly in Pacific County. The month before one had crawled out of a slough along Highway 101 and headed a mile over to a gas station.

On Sunday Cowlitz County deputies were assisted by WDFW staffers as they used sheets of plywood and wooden prods to herd this latest peripatetic pinniped into a trailer for a ride back to the Columbia.

(COWLITZ COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE VIA FACEBOOK)

In late 2018, Congress granted Northwest states and tribes broader authority to remove California as well as Steller sea lions in portions of the Columbia above and below Bonneville Dam, plus salmon- and steelhead-bearing tributaries of the big river, and last June ODFW, WDFW and other entities applied to the National Marine Fisheries Service for a permit to do so.

It’s Official, Second Smelt Opener On Cowlitz Set For Wednesday

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has approved another one-day recreational smelt fishery for Wednesday, Feb. 26. 

BILL LISTON SHOWS OFF A DIP’S WORTH OF SMELT FROM THE COWLITZ RIVER. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

The portion of the Cowlitz River from the Highway 432 Bridge upstream to the Al Helenberg Memorial Boat Ramp, located approximately 1,300 feet upstream from the Highway 411/A Street Bridge in Castle Rock, will be open to recreational dip netting along the shore from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Feb. 26.

This is the second smelt opening on the river in 2020, the first year since 2017 that returns could support a recreational dip net fishery.

The first opening this year proved to be quite successful for recreational dip-netters, said Laura Heironimus, WDFW’s Columbia River smelt, sturgeon, and lamprey lead. Fishery managers estimate that nearly 35,000 pounds of smelt were caught during the five-hour opening on Valentine’s Day, representing almost 400,000 fish.

Each dip-netter may retain 10 pounds of smelt per day, with no more than one day’s limit in possession. Ten pounds is about a quarter of a 5-gallon bucket. No fishing license is required to dip net for smelt in this limited fishery.

WDFW Enforcement Capt. Jeff Wickersham noted that WDFW plans to have a strong enforcement presence for the upcoming opener.

Though most fishers followed the rules during the previous opening, WDFW Enforcement officers did confiscate about 500 pounds of smelt from dip-netters who went over the 10-pound limit, Wickersham said.

Columbia River smelt – also known as Eulachon – were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2010, and the run is closely monitored as a result, Heironimus said.

“We work with our federal partners to ensure that opening any fishery for an ESA-listed species won’t affect our ability to meet conservation goals,” Heironimus said. “We’re pleased to see the run is strong enough to support these recreational fisheries this year, and we want to make sure we can continue to offer this fishery in the future.”

Second Cowlitz Smelt Opener Set; 35,500 Pds. Dipped On First

Editor’s note, 3:30 p.m. Feb. 20, 2020: We can confirm an Outdoor Line report out this afternoon that there will be a second smelt opener next Wednesday, Feb. 26. Below is our original story from this morning.

WDFW is mulling another smelt opener after dippers harvested an estimated 35,500 pounds out of the lower Cowlitz in five hours late last week.

State fisheries biologist Laura Heironimus says a midweek date is being eyed, which would help to limit harvest on this Endangered Species Act-listed stock but will also again disappoint those who can’t get the day off work.

SMELT DIPPERS WORK THE GEARHART AREA OF THE LOWER COWLITZ ON THE FRIDAY, FEB. 14 OPENER. (JULIE JOHNSON)


Still, she said 4,300 dippers turned out for Friday’s opener, and that was far more than WDFW Region 5 Capt. Jeff Wickersham estimated would.

He said he brought in all of his available officers plus some from outside the area and was “still understaffed.”

Wickersham reported that wardens seized around 500 pounds of smelt from dippers who harvested more than their 10-pound limit, which according to WDFW is about a quarter of a 5-gallon bullet.

“I think the largest overlimit for a group was a couple people with 60 to 80 pounds,” he said.

He thinks that the relative number of smelt in the Cowlitz and the pace of the dipping might have helped hold overlimits in check.

In 2015, when an estimated 11.4 million pounds worth of smelt swam up the Columbia, one Saturday opener on the Cowlitz saw over 200 people ticketed or warned about overlimits totaling 3,500 pounds, including one man with 200 pounds, according to a local newspaper report.

The thin, oily little fish also known as eulachon are primarily smoked up or used for sturgeon bait, but some fry them up too.

Wickersham acknowledged viewing a widely seen Facebook video in which individuals working together can be seen with half-full dipnets filling buckets to the brim and hauling them up to nearby rigs. It drew lots of ire, some directed at immigrant communities from Eastern Europe.

Whether it’s the rare, limited opportunity to go after smelt — last Friday was the first opener since 2017 — the fact that there’s no requirement to keep each person’s catch separate from others like with razor clams, or just greed, some dippers can be pretty brazen.

The captain said that he and another officer were in full uniform in marked vehicles as they watched two people come up from the river with smelt, “change clothes and go back down” for another round.

“No excuses, it was difficult,” Wickersham said of policing the opener.

Commercial landings the day before Friday’s opener suggested a good sized jag of smelt in the Columbia. Five netboats caught 2,869 pounds worth, with deliveries averaging over 573 pounds, a strong sign of abundance.

Three boats on this Monday’s commercial opener brought in 449 pounds, or 149 pounds per delivery.

Netting helps WDFW gauge whether enough are available to consider a recreational opener on the Cowlitz. In past years the agency waited until the 150-pound benchmark was reached before opening the river. Three of the five comm fishing days have been well north of that.

SMELT FRESHLY DIPPED FROM THE COWLITZ ON LAST FRIDAY’S OPENER. WDFW SAYS THAT THE 10-POUND LIMIT FILLS ABOUT A QUARTER OF A 5-GALLON BUCKET. (JULIE JOHNSON)

Now it’s up to Heironimus and other state smelt staffers to figure out if and when another chance to dip might be set.

In the meanwhile, Capt. Wickersham is gearing up.

“If we have another one, I’ve put out the word to captains across the state that I could use some help,” he said.

Wickersham estimated that during a 2016 smelt opener, 50 wardens had been on patrol.

Essentially, the ESA listing and federal overseers’ buy-in to the “research fisheries” WDFW came up with to offer some dipping opportunity while also providing population data requires heavy monitoring of the fishery, even as it yields no revenue to the agency because fishing licenses aren’t required.

Wickersham asked dippers to respect the limits and for those who witness people going overboard to call in.

WDFW advises that if you see poaching in progress to call 911. For nonemergency poaching violations, call (877) 933-9847.

Cowlitz Dippers Net Lots Of Smelt On Opener

Smelt are now being smoked for snacks as well as prepared for sturgeon bait after today’s five-hour opener on the lower Cowlitz.

(WDFW)

WDFW reports that dippers enjoyed the most success between Gearhart and Lexington, while few were caught in the Castle Rock area.

“Effort was pretty high considering it was a weekday, but catch rates were variable depending on how close the fish were running to shore,” said biologist Laura Heironimus after dipping ended for the day.

“In some areas we saw folks get their limit in a few minutes, in other areas it took them longer,” she added.

(WDFW)

Northwest Sportsman contributor MD Johnson termed it “really REALLY fun.”

He and wife Julie came over from Cathlamet and after a good breakfast at the Pancake House in Longview they began dipping.

“Got to Gearhart Gardens ramp up from Highway 432 Bridge about 0830 and done by 0930 or so. Lots of people, but not crazy busy. My kind of dipping exactly — one … none … one … none … none … none … two … one … none,” he reported.

“Best dip I had I think I got four. Ten pounds happens pretty quick,” Johnson added.

MD JOHNSON SHOWS OFF A SMELT TO A FELLOW DIPPER. (JULIE JOHNSON)

The opener was announced on Monday after commercial netting last week suggested good numbers of smelt were making their way up the mainstem Columbia towards the Cowlitz, their primary spawning stream.

Another comm fishery this week yielded deliveries averaging 308 pounds, more than twice the benchmark for considering a rec opener.

“Down at Gearhart, the sex ratios were roughly 50:50 male:female throughout the day — females were ripe and most had not yet spawned,” said Heironimus. “Everywhere upstream, males dominated the catch, but females started to move in later during the day.”

Dipping was open 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. from the Highway 432 bridge near the mouth up through Kelso and Longview to Castle Rock’s Al Helenberg Memorial Boat Ramp, which is about a quarter of a mile above the Highway 411/A Street bridge in town.

The daily limit of 10 pounds fills about a quarter of a 5-gallon bucket.

“They were incredibly nice AND the biggest smelt we’ve ever seen. Average was probably 7 inches, with some legit fish measuring up to 9 and 10 inches,” Johnson said.

He also noted the presence of WDFW staffers and game wardens.

“We had several enforcement officers on patrol but most anglers were following the set catch limits and overall we didn’t see too many issues,” said Heironimus.

With smelt listed under the Endangered Species Act, WDFW took a conservative approach in picking Friday instead of Saturday for the opener to limit effort and overall catch, but it could yield enough information to consider another day of dipping.

“Overall I think the day went fairly smoothly and most anglers were pretty happy with their catch,” Heironimus added.

In a time of depressed salmon and steelhead runs and even as some were angry with the  opportunity not being on a Saturday, the shimmering scales of smelt represented a glimmer of hope as well as brought the community together on the banks of a river to witness one of nature’s wonders and keep an old winter tradition alive.

“Excellent weather. Lots of families with little ones. Like dove hunting, only with smelt. I LOVE the social aspect of smelt dipping,” said Johnson.

JOHNSON AND FELLOW DIPPERS COMPARE NOTES. (JULIE JOHNSON)

All Eyes On Lower Cowlitz For Friday Smelt Opener

Signs are pointing to at least some smelt being around for Friday’s chance to dip for them in the lower Cowlitz.

BRAD HOLE HOISTS A DIP NET WITH A HANDFUL OF COWLITZ SMELT SCOOPED OUT OF THE RIVER DURING 2015’S OPENER. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

WDFW’s Laura Heironimus points to reports of fish in the Cowlitz as far up as Carnival Market in Kelso, “tons of sea lions and birds” that she saw, and smelt also in the Kalama and Lewis Rivers and Carrolls Slough.

“Those are good signs of a larger run,” she says.

It will be the first recreational opener since 2017’s, which was a bust with most just “paddling the river with nets,” in the words of one disgusted dipper.

With smelt listed under the Endangered Species Act, WDFW is taking a conservative approach, and evidence of that is most clear in which day the agency picked for the limited opener — Friday instead of Saturday.

That will effectively limit effort and overall catch, but could still yield enough information to consider another opener.

Creel samplers along the banks and a boat monitoring the open waters of the Cowlitz will help collect data, she says.

As it is, WDFW used commercial catches to help determine the run was large enough to support a limited recreational fishery.

Netters brought in 1,800 pounds on Monday, Feb. 3, or about 300 pounds per delivery.

“When it’s over 200 pounds per delivery, that’s a good indicator, Heironimus says.

That tally did drop last Thursday to an average of about 100 pounds, but she says she heard that effort was impacted by weather conditions.

Data from yesterday’s netting wasn’t available as of early this afternoon.

There’s not much market for smelt outside of sturgeon bait these days, so commercial effort is low, according to WDFW’s Ryan Lothrop, but his sense is that this year’s run is as big if not bigger than 2019’s 4.2 million pounds, which surprised managers.

He says that last year’s “bumper crop” of 3-year-old fish should make up the “core component” of 2020’s run.

Once upon a time, smelt dipping was open year-round on the Columbia and its tributaries, with daily limits of 20 pounds, and commercial catches in the “millions of pounds” range.

But the stock began to decline in the 1990s, and restrictions began to be placed on fisheries, paring back the sport limit to 10 pounds and generally holding openers two days a week, then Saturdays only, until by 2010 the stock was listed.

SEA LIONS GATHER INSIDE THE MOUTH OF THE COWEEMAN RIVER AT KELSO, MOST LIKELY FOLLOWING THE 2016 RUN OF ESA-LISTED EULACHON, OR SMELT, UP THE COLUMBIA RIVER. THE ENDANGERED SALMON AND FISHERIES PREDATION ACT GIVES STATE MANAGERS MORE LATITUDE TO LETHALLY REMOVE THE SPECIES IN TRIBUTARIES OF THE COLUMBIA. (SKYLAR MASTERS)

For three years there was no season, but state and federal managers agreed to hold limited “research fisheries” to gauge the run and gather biological data like smelt size and age.

That led to four years with limited opportunities, but the last opener, 2017, saw just 540 pounds dipped along the banks of the Cowlitz and led to grumblings that WDFW had “orchestrated” the fisheries version of a grand snipe hunt.

In truth, an outsized interest in a very limited opportunity collided with very limited numbers of actual fish which managed to elude outsized nets.

It also turns out there’s more to why smelt make their spawning run when they do than just a winter day or two on the calendar.

Still, unlike fisheries for salmon, steelhead, trout, walleye, halibut, etc., with no license required to dip smelt there’s no dedicated revenue stream for the species and so less is known about them, limiting WDFW’s ability to manage the stock, according to Lothrop.

For Feb. 14’s five-hour dippery, open waters on the Cowlitz stretch from the Highway 432 bridge near the mouth up through Kelso and Longview to Castle Rock’s Al Helenberg Memorial Boat Ramp, which is about a quarter of a mile above the Highway 411/A Street bridge in town.

Dipping is open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The daily limit of 10 pounds fills about a quarter of a 5-gallon bucket.

Besides the sneaky ways of smelt, the other challenge will be river conditions.

The same rain-warmed flows that may be drawing fish into the Cowlitz are also more than twice as high as average for this time of year, though also dropping steadily and expected to bottom out on Friday.

WDFW warned river-goers to be careful. Game wardens and county sheriff’s deputies will be on hand as much to try and keep things safe as to ensure any smelt poachers are caught.

Northwest States, Tribes Apply To Feds For OK To Kill More Columbia Sea Lions

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), along with a consortium of state and tribal partners, today submitted an expanded application to lethally remove California and Steller sea lions preying on threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia River and its tributaries.

SEA LIONS GATHER INSIDE THE MOUTH OF THE COWEEMAN RIVER AT KELSO, MOST LIKELY FOLLOWING THE 2016 RUN OF ESA-LISTED EULACHON, OR SMELT, UP THE COLUMBIA RIVER. (SKYLAR MASTERS)

California sea lions — and increasingly, Steller sea lions — have been observed in growing numbers in the Columbia River basin, especially in the last decade. These sea lions prey heavily on salmon and steelhead runs listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), including thousands of fish at Bonneville Dam each year.

The impacts come at a time when many Chinook salmon runs are already at historic lows.

The recovery of sea lions since the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) in 1972 is a success story, said Kessina Lee, Region 5 director with WDFW. But that recovery has also brought challenges.

“The vast majority of these animals remain in coastal and offshore waters, but several hundred have established themselves in upriver locations,” Lee said. “Where salmon and steelhead numbers are low, any unmanaged increase in predation can cause serious problems.”

Predator management is a key part of a multi-faceted effort to restore salmon and steelhead populations in the Pacific Northwest.

“For decades, we’ve made strides in habitat restoration, hydropower policy, hatchery production, and fishery management, and we continue to work with our partners to further those initiatives,” Lee said. “Predator management remains an essential part of the equation.”

The application submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) by WDFW and its partners is the first since Congress passed an amendment to the MMPA in December 2018. That amendment, spearheaded by the Pacific Northwest congressional delegation, passed with strong bipartisan support and offers greater flexibility to wildlife managers when determining if a sea lion should be lethally removed in waters that host ESA-listed runs of salmon or steelhead.

“Based on years of experience working within the bounds of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Columbia River fishing tribes contend that predator management is necessary to restore balance to the Columbia River system,” said Ryan Smith, chairman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “Strong partnerships and collaboration with the states, northwest congressional delegation, federal authorities, and nongovernment organizations resulted in this amendment, which applies robust tools to manage sea lions in the lower Columbia River and recognizes tribal sovereignty in that management.”

WDFW and its partners have taken steps to deter California sea lions in the Columbia River basin for more than a decade, but non-lethal measures have proven largely ineffective, driving animals away for only short periods. These hazing measures appear similarly ineffective against Steller sea lions. Non-lethal measures continue to be used as a short-term deterrent when appropriate.

Wildlife managers have conducted lethal removal operations of California sea lions in the Columbia River basin since 2008, when NMFS first issued a letter of authorization under section 120 of the MMPA. From 2008-2019, wildlife managers removed a total of 219 California sea lions that met the federal criteria for removal below Bonneville Dam.

Steller sea lions have not previously been subject to lethal removal.

“Prior to this legislation, wildlife managers were severely limited in their ability to effectively manage sea lions in these areas,” Lee said. “Additional action is required to protect these troubled fish stocks before they are completely eliminated. This is an unfortunate, but necessary step in the salmon recovery process.”

If approved, WDFW expects to begin humanely removing animals under the terms of the expanded application beginning in 2020. The application is subject to a public comment period and review by NMFS. Members of the public can review the application at https://wdfw.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2019-06/MMPA-120f-application.pdf.

Other entities submitting the application with WDFW include the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Nez Perce Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR), the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon (CTWSR), The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, and the 3.6.D Committee, which includes ODFW, CTUIR, CTWSR, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community, and the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians of Oregon.

Yes, Smelt Are In; No, Not Enough ‘To Justify A Fishery,’ But Still A Good Sign

THE FOLLOWING IS PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF NO FUN

Smelt are running up the Cowlitz River, but not in substantial enough numbers to justify a fishery this year, according to state fish managers.

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)

In late January, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) projected a poor 2019 smelt return, which would not likely support a fishery.

“The delayed run, which didn’t begin entering the river until early March, has not changed the assessment,” said Laura Heironimus, a WDFW fish manager. “People get excited when they see fish running up the river, but the monitoring data we have indicates the run is not strong enough to support harvest.”

“Though still a low run, more fish are returning than did last year, which may indicate a positive shift in ocean conditions for smelt” Heironimus said. “This may bode well for future years.”

Smelt along the Pacific Coast were listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2010. Since then, WDFW has opened limited recreational dip-net fishing in the Cowlitz River for smelt – also known as eulachon – four of those years when returns have been strong.

Lower Columbia, Gorge, SW WA Fishing Report (3-6-19)

THE FOLLOWING WDFW FISHING REPORT WAS TRANSMITTED BY BRYANT SPELLMAN

Salmon/Steelhead:

Lower Columbia mainstem from Bonneville Dam to Warrior Rock– 47 salmonid boats and 6 Washington bank rods were tallied during last Saturdays flight count.

ANTHONY CLEMENTS SHOWS OFF A NICE BROODSTOCK WINTER-RUN FROM AN OREGON NORTH COAST STREAM. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Washington only creel checks: February 25-28, 2019

? Sec 8 (Longview) bank- 2 salmonid anglers had no catch.
? Sec 8 boat -2 boats/4 salmonid anglers had no catch.
? Sec 9 (Cathlamet) bank- 3 salmonid anglers had no catch.
? Sec 10 (Cathlamet) boat – 1 boat/2 salmonid anglers had no catch.

Washington only creel checks: March 1-3, 2019
? Sec 3 (Vancouver) boat – 1 boat/2 salmonid anglers had no catch.
? Sec 4 (Vancouver) bank – 2 salmonid anglers had no catch.
? Sec 4 boat – 4 boats/ 6 salmonid angler had no catch.

John Day Pool – 1 bank angler had no catch.

Sturgeon:

Bonneville Pool- No anglers sampled.

The Dalles Pool- Closed for retention. No report.

John Day Pool- 8 bank anglers had no catch. 1 boat/4 rods had no catch.

Walleye:

Bonneville Pool- 1 boat/3 rods kept 3 walleye.

The Dalles Pool- No anglers sampled.

John Day Pool- 11 boats/25 rods kept 9 walleye and released 8 walleye.

Salmon/Steelhead:


Concerned about closures in your area? Book the world’s best salmon and halibut fishing in Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), Canada. Click HERE to learn more.

Columbia River Tributaries

Elochoman River – 6 bank anglers released 2 steelhead.  1 boat/2 rods kept 1 steelhead and released 2 steelhead.

Germany Creek – 6 bank anglers had no catch.

Cowlitz River – I-5 Br downstream: 106 bank rods kept 7 steelhead and released 2 steelhead.

Above the I-5 Br:  25 bank rods released 4 steelhead.  47 boats/137 rods kept 46 steelhead and released 3 steelhead.

Last week, Tacoma Power employees recovered 12 winter-run steelhead adults during five days of operations at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator.

Tacoma Power employees released three winter-run steelhead adults into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton and one winter-run steelhead adult into the Cispus River near Randle.

River flows at Mayfield Dam are approximately 5,060 cubic feet per second on Monday, March 4. Water visibility is 10 feet and the water temperature is 41 F.

East Fork Lewis River – 16 bank anglers released 2 steelhead.  1 boat/1 rod had no catch.

Salmon Creek – 7 bank anglers had no catch.

  • Tributaries not listed: Creel checks not conducted.

Catchable Trout Plants:  No report on angling success.

Lake/Pond Date Species Number Fish per
Pound
Hatchery Notes
KLINELINE PD (CLAR)
Clark County – Region 5BATTLE GROUND LK (CLAR)
Clark County – Region 5
Feb 25, 2019

Mar 04, 2019

Rainbow

Rainbow

1,500

2,000

1.9

2.3

VANCOUVER HATCHERY

VANCOUVER HATCHERY

LACAMAS LK (CLAR)
Clark County – Region 5
Mar 04, 2019 Rainbow 4,000 1.9 VANCOUVER HATCHERY

 

Smelt

Reports of smelt in showing up in the Lower Columbia and Cowlitz River.

Mainstem Columbia and all other Washington tributaries – Closed to sport fishing for smelt (eulachon).

Dip Not: Smelt Season A No Go Due To Poor Run

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

For the first time in five years, the Cowlitz River will not open to smelt dipping.

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)

A commercial test fishery conducted last month in the Columbia River showed that area smelt abundance is too low to warrant a recreational fishery this year, state fishery managers said.

Laura Heironimus, a fish manager at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said gillnet boats participating in the test fishery near the mouth of the Cowlitz River landed less than 130 pounds of smelt after eight days of fishing.

“That’s well below the 250-pound average daily catch benchmark for opening a recreational fishery,” Heironimus said. “We also didn’t see the frenzied activity by birds and sea lions last month that usually occurs during a healthy smelt run.”

Eulachon, more commonly known as smelt, were listed in 2010 as a threatened species from Washington state to the Mexican border under the federal Endangered Species Act. In 2014, after a three-year closure, WDFW opened a two-day sport fishery on the Cowlitz River in conjunction with a commercial test fishery designed to monitor the smelt population.

For the past two years, the recreational dip-net fishery on the Cowlitz River has been limited to a six-hour period on a single day.

“We know people really enjoy this fishery, but we can’t open it in good conscience knowing the abundance is so low,” Heironimus said. “The smelt population appears to be declining again after gaining some ground, so it’s hard to say whether we’ll be able to open a fishery next year.”

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.