OLYMPIA - The first recreational fishery for eulachon smelt in three years will get under way Saturday (Feb. 8) on the Cowlitz River under a new rule approved by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
Under the new rule, fishing with dip nets will be allowed from the riverbank from 6 a.m. until noon each Saturday through March 1. Each dip-netter may retain 10 pounds of smelt per day.
In a joint meeting Wednesday, fishery managers from Washington and Oregon also approved a similar smelt-dipping schedule on the Sandy River in Oregon and a limited gillnetting fishery on the lower Columbia River.
Ron Roler, WDFW Columbia River policy coordinator, said all three fisheries are designed primarily to gather basic biological data on smelt, which were listed as threatened from northern California into British Columbia under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2010.
"In the three years since the fishery closed, we've lacked basic data to monitor the smelt population returning to the lower Columbia River," Roler said. "The limited fishing opportunities approved this year will allow us to monitor this resource without affecting its recovery."
Working in consultation with NOAA-Fisheries, state fishery managers developed fishing seasons that are expected to take no more than 1 percent of the total amount of smelt expected to return this year.
After declining for more than a decade, smelt returns began to increase in 2011, reaching 110 million spawners in 2013, Roler said. Another large run is expected this year, he said.
"This year's fishery will provide limited fishing opportunities that are consistent with the conservation of smelt and will assist NOAA-Fisheries in developing a recovery plan," Roler said.
The commercial fishery for smelt approved this year is scheduled to run Mondays and Thursdays from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the Columbia River below Warrior Rock at the mouth of the Lewis River.