OLYMPIA – For the first time in five years, the Cowlitz River will not open to smelt dipping.
A commercial test fishery conducted last month in the Columbia River showed that area smelt abundance is too low to warrant a recreational fishery this year, state fishery managers said.
Laura Heironimus, a fish manager at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said gillnet boats participating in the test fishery near the mouth of the Cowlitz River landed less than 130 pounds of smelt after eight days of fishing.
“That’s well below the 250-pound average daily catch benchmark for opening a recreational fishery,” Heironimus said. “We also didn’t see the frenzied activity by birds and sea lions last month that usually occurs during a healthy smelt run.”
Eulachon, more commonly known as smelt, were listed in 2010 as a threatened species from Washington state to the Mexican border under the federal Endangered Species Act. In 2014, after a three-year closure, WDFW opened a two-day sport fishery on the Cowlitz River in conjunction with a commercial test fishery designed to monitor the smelt population.
For the past two years, the recreational dip-net fishery on the Cowlitz River has been limited to a six-hour period on a single day.
“We know people really enjoy this fishery, but we can’t open it in good conscience knowing the abundance is so low,” Heironimus said. “The smelt population appears to be declining again after gaining some ground, so it’s hard to say whether we’ll be able to open a fishery next year.”