OLYMPIA - Starting Jan. 5, the Cowlitz River will be open to smelt dipping from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. each Saturday through March 29, under rules adopted by Washington fishery managers. Like last year, the daily catch limit will be 10 pounds per person
All other tributaries to the Columbia River in Washington state will remain closed to smelt fishing until further notice.
As during the past two seasons, most indicators point to another year of poor smelt returns to rivers in the Pacific Northwest, said Brad James, fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
"Smelt populations tend to be variable, and now appear to be in a period of low abundance similar to the one we experienced in the mid-1990s," James said. "Smelt populations are also down in British Columbia, suggesting that poor ocean conditions are a likely factor in the current downturn."
Based on current projections, fishing seasons for recreational and commercial smelt fisheries on tributaries to the Columbia River are designed to be conservative, James said.
"We'll be watching the run closely, and will modify the season if it turns out to be stronger than expected or if the run size appears to be very low," he said. "Agency staff will review the results of the run in mid-February and consider any necessary changes in fishing seasons after that date."
Of less concern is the sport fishery for smelt on the lower Columbia River, where a scarcity of bank access and the dispersal of spawning locations limits catch rates, James said. That fishery opens New Year's Day and is scheduled to run seven days per week through March 31.