OLYMPIA – Washington state fishery managers have delayed setting a recreational smelt-fishing season on the Cowlitz River until they can better gauge the size of this year’s run.
In a joint meeting Tuesday with their Oregon counterparts, they also postponed setting an end date for sturgeon fishing in the Bonneville Pool because anglers took just 16 of the 325-fish catch guideline in January.
“In both cases, we just don’t have enough data to make an informed decision,” said Ron Roler, a Columbia River fishing manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “We’re going to keep a sharp eye on the indicators in the weeks ahead.”
Last year, recreational smelt dipping in the Cowlitz River was limited to one six-hour period, during which 16,700 dippers took approximately 141,000 pounds of the species, also known as eulachon. Smelt were listed under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2010, but a small fishery is allowed to help monitor the size of the return.
To help assess smelt returns, the two states today approved a series of eight commercial fishing periods in February. If the daily catch reaches 150 pounds, WDFW will consider open a short sport fishery.
“We know there’s a lot of interest in this fishery, but we have to make sure the run can support it,” Roler said.
Unlike smelt fishing, the retention fishery for white sturgeon is already under way on the Columbia River upriver from Bonneville Dam to McNary Dam. After a month of fishing, catch levels in Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day pools ranged from 5-14 percent of allowable catch levels.
Fishery managers will continue to track catch levels and revisit those fisheries in mid-February to early March, Roler said.
On Feb. 23, they also expect to set seasons for the spring chinook salmon fishery. The salmon season is currently open through March 31, when the bulk of the run begins to arrive.
“We fully expect to announce new seasons for spring chinook well before the fish arrive in earnest,” Roler said.