It’s time to dust off the smelt dip-nets as state Fish and Wildlife has approved a one-day, five-hour long sport fishery this Saturday (Feb. 25) along the banks of the Cowlitz River.
Fishing from the shoreline using dip-nets will be allowed from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. only from the Highway 432 Bridge up to the Al Helenberg Memorial Boat Ramp, located approximately 1,300 feet upriver from the Highway 411/A Street Bridge in Castle Rock.
“We’re expecting a modest return of about 3 million pounds of smelt to the Columbia River this year,” Cindy Le Fleur, a state Fish and Wildlife regional fish manager said in a news release. “That compares to an estimated 16.6 million pounds in 2014, when the run reached its recent peak.”
The daily limit is 10 pounds of smelt with no more than one day’s limit in possession. 10-pounds is about a quarter of a five-gallon bucket. No fishing license is required to dip for smelt in Washington.
This is the fourth year dating back to 2010 that a dip-net fishery was allowed since smelt were listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) along the Pacific Coast.
Last year fishing was open for six hours on Feb. 6 in the Cowlitz River. There were also fishing seasons– five days total in 2014 and two days in 2015 – along with smelt dip-netting opportunities in the Sandy River on the Oregon side of the Columbia River.
This upcoming one-day fishery was a result of the ongoing commercial test fishery in Columbia River mainstem. State fishery managers wanted a weekly average catch of at least 150 pounds per fishermen to allow a dip-net fishery in the Cowlitz. Last week’s landings climbed to an average of 281 pounds per fishermen.
For those who aren’t familiar the smelt return used to be a highly popular recreational fishery from the 1980s to the early 2000s before they started to steadily decline to the point where they were added to the ESA listing.
The report stated smelt abundance has increased steadily from 2011 to 2014, reaching a peak of 16.6 million pounds, and has since declined the past two years.
The 2017 return is expected to be modest in size, similar to or slightly smaller in magnitude than the 2011 and 2012 returns.
Ocean environmental conditions were favorable for marine survival during 2012-2013, but have deteriorated the past three years.
Both commercial and recreational fisheries were closed to all harvest in 2011-2013.
Very conservative fisheries were reinstated in 2014 to collect biological and catch per effort data. The 2014, 2015 and 2016 commercial fisheries each consisted of eight fishing periods over four weeks in the mainstem Columbia River.
Here is a rundown on of Columbia River total run sizes and harvest catches:
2016: 5,100,00 pounds, with 4,820 pounds caught in non-tribal commercial fishery, 141,050 pounds in sport fishery and 8,330 pounds in the tribal fishery.
2015: 11,400,000 pounds, 16,550 pounds caught in non-tribal commercial fishery, 290,770 pounds in sport fishery and 10,400 pounds in the tribal fishery.
2014: 16,600,00 pounds, with 18,560 pounds caught in non-tribal commercial fishery, 203,880 pounds in sport fishery and 6,970 pounds in the tribal fishery.
2013: 9,600,000 pounds, with none caught in non-tribal commercial fishery, none in sport fishery and 7,470 pounds in the tribal fishery.
2012: 3,200,00 pounds, with none caught in non-tribal commercial fishery, none in sport fishery and no data available in the tribal fishery.
2011: 3,300,00 pounds, with none caught in non-tribal commercial fishery, none in sport fishery and no data available in the tribal fishery.