All eyes have been on the Lower Columbia mainstem commercial smelt fishery this week to see if any could be migrating up into the Cowlitz when the second sport bank di-net fishery opens on Saturday.
“We are telling folks that it is not worth the drive, and wait-and-see deal,” said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist. “The water cooled down (ideal smelt passage is about 41 degrees) and nothing has been seen.”
A commercial fishery in the Lower Columbia River produced no smelt, and there was another fishery on Thursday with no reports of catches. The commercial smelt fishery will continue on a Monday and Thursday schedule between 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day in the Lower Columbia mainstem.
The first sport smelt dip-net fishery since 2010 occurred in the Cowlitz River last Saturday (Feb. 8), and coincided with the winter storm producing nothing for the few who turned out to try their luck.
Only a half dozen dip-netters turned out with no catch observed.
The sport dip-net bank fishery in the Cowlitz River will reopen this 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.