State fishery managers approved a limited sport fishery for smelt on the Cowlitz River for Saturday, Feb. 25.
Under this year’s rules, a portion of the Cowlitz River will be open to recreational dip netting along the shore from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. for one day only.
The area open to sport dipping stretches from the Highway 432 Bridge upstream to the Al Helenberg Memorial Boat Ramp, located approximately 1,300 feet upstream from the Highway 411/A Street Bridge in Castle Rock.
Each dip-netter may retain 10 pounds of smelt per day, with no more than one day’s limit in possession. Ten pounds is about a quarter of a five-gallon bucket. No fishing license is required to dip for smelt in Washington state.
This marks the fourth year that the state has allowed smelt fishing since 2010, when the species – also known as eulachon – was listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) along the Pacific Coast.
NOAA Fisheries, which oversees ESA-listed stocks, supports limited fisheries that contribute to research, said Cindy Le Fleur, regional fish program manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“We’re expecting a modest return of about 3 million pounds of smelt to the Columbia River this year,” Le Fleur said. “That compares to an estimated 16.6 million pounds in 2014, when the run reached its recent peak.”
The sport fishery was also limited to one day in 2016, when the run was estimated at 5.1 million pounds. Le Fleur said these fisheries have a limited impact on the overall smelt return, while providing biological data on the species’ abundance.
Le Fleur said WDFW announced the decision to open this year’s sport fishery after tracking catch rates in the ongoing commercial test fishery in the mainstem Columbia River. Managers were looking for weekly average landings to reach at least 150 pounds per fisher to feel confident that the run was likely as large as anticipated pre-season she said, noting that last week’s landings averaged 281 pounds per fisher.