OLYMPIA - With another poor run of smelt expected back to the Columbia River and its tributaries, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is limiting the Cowlitz River sport fishery to only four days this winter.
"This fishery is primarily intended to provide information on the size of this year’s smelt run and to avoid significant impacts on the population," said Brad James, a WDFW fish biologist.
Harvest numbers in February provide fishery managers a valuable indicator of the size of the annual smelt return to the Cowlitz River, said James.
Recreational smelt dipping on the Cowlitz River will be limited to Feb. 6, 13, 20 and 27, between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. with a 10-pound daily limit.
The small commercial fishery in the river will also be curtailed, running three hours per day Sundays and Wednesdays from Feb. 3 through Feb. 28.
Fishery managers have delayed smelt fishing on the Cowlitz River since Jan. 1 to determine how much fishing - if any - to allow. Although smelt returns are expected to increase slightly from last year, the entire population from northern California to northern British Columbia has been depressed since 2005.
Pacific smelt are a food source for larger predators, such as salmon, marine mammals and seabirds. NOAA Fisheries has proposed listing the species as "threatened" under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and is expected to announce its decision this year.