Smelt dippers reported fast netting during today’s opener on the lower Cowlitz River, quickly catching their limits of 10 pounds of the oily little fish also known as eulachon.
“From my perspective, the fishery went well and there were a lot of happy people heading home with smelt,” confirmed WDFW Sturgeon, Smelt, Lamprey Unit Lead biologist Laura Heironimus early this evening.
As with February 2020’s opener, it might take a day or two to tally harvest and effort estimates.
“But from the reports from all of our samplers throughout the open area, it sounds like some of the best dipping was upriver, with some dippers up in Castle Rock catching their entire limit in a single dip,” Heironimus said.
The Cowlitz was open from the Highway 432 bridge near the mouth at Gearhart Gardens upstream to the Al Helenberg Memorial Boat Ramp just upstream of the Highway 411 bridge at Castle Rock.
New for this five-hour, 8 a.m to 1 p.m. opener, WDFW set up 10 sampling stations at popular access sites to collect smelt data from dippers and chat with them.
“Enforcement did report around 500 pounds of smelt seized from those who had overlimited, but I also interviewed a lot of people who were trying hard to stay within the regulated 10 pounds per person,” said Heironimus. “I think the sampling stations were a success and I had a lot great conversations with folks excited for the opportunity and eager to learn more about smelt.”
On last year’s first opener, an estimated 4,300 dippers harvested 35,000 pounds of smelt during a similar midweek opportunity, with roughly 500 pounds also seized for overlimits.
Also new this year was the request from WDFW to “recreate responsibly” – mask up and practice social distancing due to the ongoing pandemic.
Smelt were listed in 2010 under the Endangered Species Act, but afterwards WDFW was able to get the National Marine Fisheries Service to buy into the idea of commercial and recreational “research fisheries” to help fill in data gaps about a species that isn’t as well known as others, including age and sex composition of the run, and fecundity.
Dipping also provides a key “connection” for keeping the public engaged in their recovery.
Recent netting on the mainstem Columbia saw good catches, leading to today’s opportunity after consultation with local health authorities.
Per a report in The Daily News of Longview, it’s unclear whether there will be another opener like last year – and which was a bust as the run was over by that point– but Heironimus said “we’ll keep watching the returns.”
Besides recreational catch data, ODFW should be posting results from Monday’s 12-hour commercial opener soon.