‘Very Successful Day’ For Smelt; 2nd Dip Unlikely

Cowlitz River smelt dippers enjoyed a stellar opener last weekend, netting 83.5 tons, but with the harvest rate reached there probably won’t be another go at the tasty snacks and sturgeon bait.

“Overall, Saturday was a very successful day,” reported WDFW smelt biologist Laura Heironimus this morning. “More than 16,000 people participated in the fishery and most people went home with limits of smelt. The total harvest was an estimated 166,700 pounds of smelt in just five hours of dipping.”


That tops 2021’s opener by roughly 77,000 pounds and almost five times 2020’s haul, emblematic of a stronger run and a perfectly timed five-hour opener. Commercial catches in the Columbia spiked in mid-February and helped inform when to open the sport fishery.

Heironimus reported best dipping for those further up the lower Cowlitz, with an estimated 36,700 pounds harvested around Carnival Market and around 33,100 pounds in the Camelot area, “though plenty of fish were harvested all around.”  

Too many in some cases, however.

“We had quite a few enforcement infractions — overlimits and folks not following the individual container rule. There were some harvesters who tried to take home way more fish than the legal limit and enforcement seized an estimated 2,800 pounds of fish from those dippers,” Heironimus reported.

The daily limit is 10 pounds, about a quarter of a 5-gallon bucket, and dippers need to have their own container.

This was also the second straight year WDFW has put up sampling stations along the river to collect info on the run and talk to the public about the species.

“At our sampler stations we focused on educating the public about these rules and where to find more information about the fishery for future openers,” Heironimus said.

But as good as dipping was and a positive sign for these Endangered Species Act-listed fish, it doesn’t look like we’ll have another go.

“Because this fishery was so successful, we have reached our target harvest rate approved by NOAA. Therefore, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to open a second day for this fishery,” the biologist said.

That target harvest rate is 1 to 2 percent for all fisheries. ODFW reports that through March 11 the commercial harvest on the mainstem Columbia was 26,693 pounds.