While the 2012 smelt forecast for the Columbia River and its tributaries is favorable, recreational anglers should plan to leave their nets in the garage for another season. Both recreational and commercial fisheries will remain closed this year, the Washington and Oregon fish and wildlife agencies have decided.
The 2012 run is forecasted to improve from 2011, but is still expected to be at a low level, said Joe Hymer, state fish biologist. He said this year’s run could possibly be better than the past couple of years, but still will be weaker than the brief rebound years of 2001-2003.
On May 17, 2010, Columbia River smelt, also known as eulachon, were federally-listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. As a result of the listing, Washington and Oregon closed all eulachon-directed fisheries in the Columbia River and the entire state of Washington.
In developing the forecast, the Joint Staff looked at various abundance indicators, Hymer said.
Among the positive indicators for 2012:
• Modest improvements in adult eulachon returns during 2008.
• A moderate increase in the level of Age 1-plus bycatch of smelt during 2008-2009, and a slight increase of Age 2-plus bycatch during 2009-2010 in the Canadian ocean shrimp fisheries.
• Favorable ocean conditions during most of the ocean-phase starting in 2007 and continuing through 2011.
• Anecdotal accounts of an increase in the numbers of older age class smelt bycatch in U.S. ocean shrimp fisheries in 2011.
Negative abundance indices for 2012 include:
• Low mainstem Columbia River larval densities during the winters of 2007 through 2009.
• A slight decline in estimates from the Fraser River along with decreasing adult smelt biomass tonnage in the 2010 and 2011 Canadian ocean shrimp fisheries,
• Warm ocean conditions during the end of 2009 and beginning of 2010.
• Weak adult landings and catches for brood years 2007-2009.
The declining smelt run can be seen in the pounds of fish caught during the commercial fishery. From 1990-92, the commercial fishery averaged 3.13 million pounds. The catch dwindled until rebounding in 2001-02, reaching a peak of 1.08 million pounds in 2003. The catch was just 3,600 pounds in 2010, the last time fishing was allowed.