OLYMPIA - Recreational dip-netters will have one more day - Saturday (March 8) - to catch eulachon smelt on the Cowlitz River.
Fishing with dip nets will be allowed from the riverbank from 6 a.m. until noon, under a new rule approved by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Each dip-netter may retain 10 pounds of smelt for the day.
Guy Norman, WDFW southwest regional director, said the extra day of fishing will allow the department to collect additional data on the movement of eulachon smelt into the Cowlitz River.
"The fishery was open for four partial days over the past month, but dip-netters didn't actually land any smelt until March 1," Norman said. "Catch rates were extremely good that day, indicating a strong run, and another opening will give us a better idea of just how strong that run is."
Prior to last month, the recreational smelt fishery had been closed for three years and was listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act after more than a decade of declining returns. However, since 2011, smelt returns to the Columbia River have shown significant improvement, Norman said.
Working in concert with NOAA-Fisheries, state fishery managers developed limited sport and commercial fisheries this year to gather basic biological data on the returning fish. Under that plan, the total catch by sport, commercial, and tribal fisheries is not expected to exceed 1 percent of the total amount of smelt returning this year.
Since only one of the four fishing days actually occurred while smelt were in the Cowlitz River, the additional day of dipping will fall within the planned level so the harvest is still expected to meet that expectation, Norman said.
"We're pleased to be able to give families another chance to enjoy harvesting smelt this year and help us get the information we need about this run," he said. "It's a win-win situation."