OLYMPIA – The recreational smelt fishery on the Columbia River will open around the clock starting New Year’s Day, but expectations of another poor run will again limit smelt fishing on the Cowlitz River to one day per week.
All other tributaries to the Columbia River will remain closed to smelt fishing until further notice.
Starting Jan. 6, the Cowlitz River will be open to smelt dipping from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. each Saturday through March 31, under rules adopted by Washington and Oregon fishery managers. Like last year, the daily catch limit will be 10 pounds per person
As during the past season, 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 cyclical, and appear to have entered into another period of low abundance,” James said. “Poor ocean conditions are the most likely cause, because the runs that spawned these fish were actually fairly strong.”
James noted that fishery managers are not overly concerned about a seven-day-per-week season on the lower Columbia River, where a scarcity of bank access limits fishing pressure. Sport fishers can dip up to 25 pounds of smelt per day from the Columbia River during the season, scheduled Jan. 1 through March 31.
But the situation is different on the Cowlitz River and other tributaries to the Columbia, where dippers have easier access to the fish.
“For now, we’ve adopted very conservative seasons for both recreational and commercial fisheries on those rivers,” James said. “We’ll be watching the run closely, and will modify the season if it turns out to be stronger than expected.”