Fishing

Little to no smelt dipping expected this year

There were far more smelt dippers than smelt near Longview’s water treatment plant intake at Fishers Lane on the Cowlitz River in February 2008. Recreational dipping has been limited to a handful of days the last two years because of low runs.
There were far more smelt dippers than smelt near Longview’s water treatment plant intake at Fishers Lane on the Cowlitz River in February 2008. Recreational dipping has been limited to a handful of days the last two years because of low runs. The Daily News, Longview, file

While there have been reports of smelt in the Columbia River already this fall, the prospects of any significant recreational dipping season are slim.

Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon have been meeting with staff from NOAA Fisheries. If any fishing were to take place, it would likely be similar to or reduced from levels in 2014-15.

Officially known as eulachon, Pacific smelt are small ocean-going fish that historically ranged from northern California to the Bering Sea in Alaska. They return to rivers to spawn in late winter and early spring.

The lack of a fishery is driven by a run in 2016 that is forecast to be modest in size, similar to the 2011 and 2012 returns. The 2011 and 2012 estimated total run-size was 3.3 million and 3.2 million, respectively, according to a report from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The abundance of smelt improved sharply after 2012, averaging 12.6 million pounds over the past three years.

11.4 million The estimated total Columbia River smelt run in 2015, in pounds.

Ocean environmental conditions were favorable for marine survival during 2012-2013, but have deteriorated the past two years, according to fish biologists.

Because of the declining numbers, NOAA listed smelt as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. All commercial and recreational fisheries were closed in 2011-2013.

In 2014 and 2015, limited commercial fishing, eight fishing periods over four weeks, was allowed in the mainstem Columbia River.

Even more limited, the recreational fishery provided two meaningful days of harvest opportunity in the Cowlitz River, out of the five days dipping was allowed in 2014 and the two days in 2015.

The estimated total run was 16.6 million pounds in 2014, then dropped to 11.4 million last year.

An estimated 203,880 pounds of smelt were caught in the tributary recreational fisheries in 2014, while 290,770 pounds were caught in 2015.

In 2014, 18,560 pounds were caught in the mainstem Columbia commercial fishery, and 17,500 pounds for ceremonial and subsistence by tribal fishers, according to the state. Last year, 16,550 pounds in the Columbia commercial fishery, and 10,170 pounds for ceremonial and subsistence by tribal fishers.

Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640

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