The first sport smelt dip-net fishery since 2010 occurred in the Cowlitz River this past Saturday (Feb. 8), and coincided with the winter storm producing nothing for the few who turned out to try their luck.
“There was only a half dozen guys and no catch observed,” said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist. “There wasn’t much signs of any smelt lately.”
“Last week it looked like the smelt were doing alright in the (Lower Columbia) mainstem, the water temperature was right around 41 degrees (which is conducive for smelt movement) and there was a bunch of bird activity below the Megler-Astoria Bridge,” Hymer said. “If the water cools down they could possibly move back out.”
More should come to light as a commercial fishery occurred Monday (Feb. 10) from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Lower Columbia mainstem, and then another will happen Thursday (Feb. 13) during the same time frame. This fishery will continue on a Monday and Thursday schedule.
The sport dip-net bank fishery in the Cowlitz River will reopen Saturday (Feb. 15) from 6 a.m. until noon, and will also reopen every Saturday through March 1. The daily limit is 10 pounds.
A similar smelt dipping sport fishery is happening on the Sandy River in Oregon.
These fisheries were created by state fisheries officials from Washington and Oregon to gather data on smelt abundance and the catch was only expected to amount to no more than 1 percent of the predicted return this year.
Smelt were listed as threatened from northern California into British Columbia under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2010.
Smelt have been declining for more than a decade, and then took a turn for the better in 2011, and by last year there was 110-million spawned smelt. Fisheries managers were predicting another strong return this year.