This year’s smelt run is continuing with its surprises, with fish being reported this week in the Kalama, where a pod of hungry sea lions has also gathered.
WDFW smelt biologist Laura Heironimus said a report came in Tuesday morning that they were in the Southwest Washington river and a field tech confirmed the oily fish were as far up as Modrow Bridge yesterday.
She said the agency isn’t set up to monitor the Kalama for the species also known as eulachon, but was interested in hearing from steelheaders about how far up the river the fish are being seen.
Smelt primarily swim up the Cowlitz to spawn, but WDFW notes “inconsistent runs and spawning events” do occur from time to time in the Kalama, along with the Grays, Skamokawa, Elochoman and Lewis and Sandy. Historically, they ranged up to the Hood and Klickitat Rivers.
This week’s showing is a reminder that once upon a time the Kalama hosted recreational seasons (the last opener was in 2005), and even a commercial fishery. According to WDFW documents, as much as 300,000 pounds were commercially netted out of the Kalama as late as the 1970s before the runs there and in the rest of the Columbia began to wane precipitously and the stock was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2010.
With federal approval, rec and comm openers have been reinstated at a research level since 2014. While this year’s window for a Cowlitz dip came and went without one, ODFW jumped on the opportunity when smelt showed in the Sandy.
Following along too, lots of sea lions. Two videos from today show a couple dozen packed into the lower Kalama. News coverage of videos last week showing a couple boaters swerving at sea lion pods in the interstate stretch of the Columbia gave fishermen as a whole a black eye while also bringing home the pinniped predation problem for the big river’s weak fish stocks.
Heironimus speculated that with 2023’s smelt run so relatively late, possibly due to cold Columbia temps in February and March, biologists may still be performing larvae surveys down by Cathlamet into June. From 2015 through 2020, surveys essentially sampled no larvae after the first week of May, mid-May in 2022. The surveys help establish post-run abundance estimates.