There are some signs that the Lower Columbia River smelt migration could be picking up very soon.
The good news is 60 pounds of smelt was caught last Thursday (Feb. 20) in the commercial fishery on the Lower Columbia, and this morning (Monday, FEb. 24), state Fish and Wildlife reported that commercial catches increased significantly (possibly thousands of pounds per boat)!
Another positive sign was the water temperature during last Thursday’s larval sampling was 44.6 degrees in the Cowlitz River, and 43.7 in the Columbia River. That is the ideal temperatures for smelt movement.
Now the bad news, is the water flows are up and the river is very muddy with lots of debris. That could delay smelt migration.
A few cormorants and about four seals were spotted in the Lower Cowlitz River at Gerhardt Gardens Park last week. There were no gulls sighted. A few birds were sighted at near Cathlamet on Saturday.
The sport bank dip-net fishery in the Cowlitz River last Saturday (Feb. 22) produced no smelt catch. This coming Saturday, March 1 is the last day scheduled to be open for sport dipping. Fishing is allowed from 6 a.m. until noon. 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.