Additional one-day smelt fishery announced for Cowlitz River on Tuesday, March 5

Cowlitz River - (Cowlitz County)

Harvesters dip for smelt in the Cowlitz River near Castle Rock on Feb. 15, 2024.

by WA Department of Fish & Wildlife Staff

RIDGEFIELD – There will be another opportunity to dip for smelt in the Cowlitz River as the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has approved an additional one-day recreational fishery from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 5.

To increase access opportunity, the upper boundary of the fishery has been extended. Dip-netting is permitted from the shore along the river from the Highway 432 Bridge near Kelso upstream to the mouth of the Toutle River north of Castle Rock, spanning the north end of the mouth to the opposite bank of the Cowlitz River. For more details including a map showing fishing boundaries and popular access areas, visit the Cowlitz River smelt fishing webpage.

“After observing a recent influx of smelt in the river, we’re excited to announce this additional fishery,” said Laura Heironimus, WDFW’s Columbia River smelt lead. “Our data indicates the run can support it without compromising our conservation objectives.”

Anglers are reminded to respect private property boundaries when accessing the river, as well as being mindful of road closures, including ongoing construction on the Cowlitz River Bridge in Castle Rock, which may result in significant delays.

As of early 2024, a fishing license is not required to dip-net for smelt. However, harvesters are required to follow all regulations. Each dip-netter is allowed to retain a daily limit of up to 10 pounds of smelt. For reference, 10 pounds of smelt fills about a quarter of a five-gallon bucket, though anglers are advised to bring their own scale to keep track of their catch.

Dip-netters must keep all smelt caught until they reach the daily limit. Each harvester must be actively participating and is required to use a separate container to hold their catch, which must be either in their presence or marked with their name. It is unlawful to harvest smelt from a vessel.

WDFW Enforcement officers will be present to ensure public safety and enforce regulations, including the 10-pound limit and separate container requirements. With potentially strong river levels on the Cowlitz River Tuesday, dip-netters are strongly advised to exercise caution. WDFW recommends the use of personal flotation devices.

Preliminary estimates for the recreational fishery on Feb. 15 indicate 8,600 dip-netters harvested nearly 54,000 pounds of smelt during the five-hour fishery. Approximately 40 citations were issued by WDFW Enforcement, with more than 600 pounds of smelt seized.

Eulachon, commonly known as Columbia River smelt, have been listed as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 2010 due to a sharp decline in returns that began in the 1990s.

To ensure a sustainable harvest, fishery managers monitor the fish population each year. The recreational fishery plays a crucial role in this process, providing the opportunity to gather biological data on the spawning grounds.

WDFW updated its smelt management plan in September 2023. The new plan identifies current management strategies and makes recommendations for monitoring and evaluation of the population, as well as harvest criteria and communication between state and federal managers. For more detailed information, please refer to the Washington and Oregon Eulachon Management Plan.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife works to preserve, protect, and perpetuate fish, wildlife, and ecosystems while providing sustainable fish and wildlife recreational and commercial opportunities.

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