For more information on fisheries management, please contact the WDFW Fish Program.



Cowlitz/Columbia River Smelt Fishery Management



Washington and Oregon Eulachon Management Plan
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For more information:

- Forage Fish Management Plan: A plan for managing the forage fish resources and fisheries of Washington

- Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Commercial Smelt Fishery Landings

- Joint Staff Report Concerning Commercial Seasons for Sturgeon and Smelt in 2010

- Characterization of Development in Columbia River Prolarval Eulachon, Thaleichthys pacificus, Using Selected Morphometric Characters

- Outmigration Timing and Distribution of Larval Eulachon, Thaleichthys pacificus, in the Lower Columbia River, Spring 2001

- Trading across time and space: Culture along the North American "Grease Trails" from a European perspective

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Prior to 1995 only minor regulation changes were adopted for Columbia River commercial and sport smelt fishing seasons. During 1960-1977 commercial smelt fisheries were open year-round 3½ days per week, except for 1965 and 1966 when the season was expanded to 4½ days per week. Beginning in 1978 the commercial season was expanded to seven days per week. Prior to 1986 the season was open the entire year but beginning in 1986 the season was reduced to the December-March time frame to better reflect the run timing of Columbia River smelt. Prior to 1997 the sport fishery was open seven days per week the entire year.

As Columbia River smelt abundance began to decline during the early 1990’s, fishery managers recognized the need to restrict fisheries to increase escapement to spawning areas. Lower Columbia River mainstem and tributary commercial fisheries were greatly reduced beginning in 1995. During 1995 and 1996, commercial fisheries were restricted to fewer fishing days per week, but the season extended through the end of March. During 1997-2000, commercial fisheries were further reduced to test fisheries, which ended in mid to late February. These test fisheries were intended to allow minimal smelt catch to provide fishery managers with data necessary to assess the annual run strength and provide an opportunity to sample catch for biological data. Seasons during these test fisheries were severely restricted in both days per week fished and duration of the fishing season. Sport fisheries in Washington tributaries were closed early during 1997-1999 in response to continued poor smelt returns to the Columbia River.

The Oregon and Washington Joint State's smelt management and stock assessment activities had included commercial landings accounting, on-board monitoring of commercial fisheries, sampling of catch for biological data and age structure, and indexing larval production. The commercial fishery monitoring program was initiated in 1997 and focused primarily on the lower Columbia River commercial fishery. Data gathered during catch sampling and fishery monitoring included daily landings, CPUE, length, weight, sex, and otolith collection and allowed for analysis of trends in catch by time and area, run timing, and sex and age composition through time. Otoliths were collected annually from 1987-1999 with aging data providing a better understanding of the population dynamics of Columbia River smelt and possible development of parent/recruit relationships. These data work in conjunction to provide managers with tools to monitor annual abundance and stock status.

Joint State Eulachon Management Plan

Beginning in 1999 the Washington and Oregon Departments of Fish and Wildlife began work on a Joint State Eulachon Management Plan to guide all aspects of smelt management for future years. During 1999, WDFW and ODFW developed an interim Eulachon Management Plan to guide fishery

Eulachon Distribution Map
Click to enlarge.

management decisions in the year 2000 because a draft plan had not been completed prior to adoption of sport and commercial fishing seasons for that year. Fisheries adopted during 2000 were consistent with the interim Eulachon Management Plan.

In 2001, the WDFW, with input from ODFW, completed a eulachon management plan, which contains recommended policies concerning smelt fishery management. These policies are considered wise-use management precepts that are consistent with the need to maintain an ecosystem approach to resource decisions. The ecological importance of eulachon is underscored in much of the body of research in the Northeast Pacific ecosystem and should be the fundamental consideration when making fishery management decisions affecting the health of this resource.

Policy Recommendations for Eulachon Conservation and Fishery Management From the Joint State Eulachon Management Plan

Conservation Policy

  • Maintain healthy populations of eulachon while assuring the integrity of the ecosystem and habitat upon which they depend.
  • Management actions will consider the role of eulachon in both the marine and freshwater ecosystems and the need to maintain sufficient populations of eulachon for proper ecosystem functioning.
  • A precautionary approach to resource management shall be utilized.
  • Consider the best scientific information available and strive to improve the information base for eulachon.

Fishery Management Recommendations

  • Maintain commercial and recreational fishing opportunity in the lower Columbia River, to include opportunities in both mainstem and tributaries for both fleets.
  • Smelt egg (left) and larvae (right).
    Commercial smelt fishery. Recreational smelt fishing.

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