State adds another day of dipping for smelt on the Cowlitz

Tacoma News TribuneMarch 5, 2014 

After a successful day of dipping for smelt on the Cowlitz River last Saturday, the state will allow one more day of dipping. Recreational dip-netting will be allowed from 6 a.m.-noon Saturday.

Each dip-netter may retain 10 pounds of smelt for the day.

Guy Norman, Southwest regional director for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the extra day of fishing will allow the department to collect additional data on the movement of eulachon smelt into the Cowlitz.

"The fishery was open for four partial days over the past month, but dip-netters didn't actually land any smelt until (Saturday)," Norman said in a news release. "Catch rates were extremely good that day, indicating a strong run, and another opening will give us a better idea of just how strong that run is."

Prior to last month, the recreational smelt fishery had been closed for three years because smelt were listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act after more than a decade of declining returns. However, since 2011, smelt returns to the Columbia River have shown significant improvement, Norman said.

Working with NOAA-Fisheries, state fishery managers developed a limited sport and commercial fisheries this year to gather basic biological data on the returning fish. Under that plan, the total catch by sport, commercial, and tribal fisheries is not expected to exceed 1 percent of the smelt returning this year. 

Since only one of the four fishing days actually occurred while smelt were in the Cowlitz, Norman said the additional day will fall within the planned level so the harvest is still expected to meet that expectation.

"We're pleased to be able to give families another chance to enjoy harvesting smelt this year and help us get the information we need about this run," he said. "It's a win-win situation."  

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