One-day smelt opening announced for Cowlitz River

Cowlitz River - (Cowlitz County)

Photo Credit: Courtesy of WA Department of Fish & Wildlife

by WA Department of Fish & Wildlife Staff

Fishery managers with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) approved a limited-opening recreational smelt fishery for Friday, Feb. 14.

A portion of the Cowlitz River will be open to recreational dip netting along the shore from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. for one day only.

The portion of the river open to dip netting extends from the Highway 432 Bridge upstream to the Al Helenberg Memorial Boat Ramp, located approximately 1,300 feet upstream from the Highway 411/A Street Bridge in Castle Rock.

This is the first year since 2017 that a recreational smelt fishery has opened on the Cowlitz. Columbia River smelt – also known as Eulachon – were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2010.

NOAA Fisheries, which oversees ESA-listed stocks, approves of limited recreational harvest when commercial test fishery data shows runs are strong enough to support a recreational opener, said Laura Heironimus, WDFW’s Columbia River smelt, sturgeon, and lamprey lead. Managers review the catch and biological data from the research-level commercial fishery to better determine the run strength in order to consider opening the recreational dip net fishery. 

“We work closely with NOAA to take a precautionary approach to any fisheries involving an ESA-listed species,” Heironimus said. “Initial indicators suggest this run is strong enough to offer this limited opportunity while still allowing us to meet our conservation goals and help the population rebuild.”

About 4.2 million pounds of smelt returned to the Columbia River in 2019, and based on evidence to date managers expect the run this year is large enough to support a recreational fishery.  Managers will continue to closely track all available indicators of abundance, including catches in the upcoming recreational fishery and the commercial test fishery.

Each dip-netter may retain 10 pounds of smelt per day, with no more than one day's limit in possession. Ten pounds is about a quarter of a 5-gallon bucket. No fishing license is required to dip net for smelt in this limited fishery.

Prospective dip netters should be aware that flooding on the Cowlitz River began to subside over the weekend, but river levels and flows may still be very strong, and dip netters are urged to exercise caution. WDFW Enforcement officers will be present to help ensure the safety of the public, as well as enforce the 10-pound limit while the fishery is open.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is the state agency tasked with preserving, protecting, and perpetuating fish, wildlife, and ecosystems, while providing sustainable fishing, hunting, and other recreation opportunities.

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