Smelt are running up the Cowlitz River, but state fish managers say they are not seeing substantial enough numbers to justify a fishery this year. In late January, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) projected a poor 2019 smelt return, which would not likely support a fishery.
“The delayed run, which didn’t begin entering the river until early March, has not changed the assessment,” said Laura Heironimus, a WDFW fish manager. “People get excited when they see fish running up the river, but the monitoring data we have indicates the run is not strong enough to support harvest.”
“Though still a low run, more fish are returning than did last year, which may indicate a positive shift in ocean conditions for smelt” Heironimus said. “This may bode well for future years.”
Smelt along the Pacific Coast were listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2010. Since then, WDFW has opened limited recreational dip-net fishing in the Cowlitz River for smelt – also known as eulachon – four of those years when returns have been strong.
WDFW is the primary state agency tasked with preserving, protecting and perpetuating fish and wildlife and ecosystems, while providing sustainable fishing and hunting opportunities.