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Smelt fishing returns to Columbia, tributaries

CLACKAMAS, Ore. – After a three-year hiatus, smelt fishing is returning to the Columbia River and two of its tributaries.

In a joint state hearing, the departments of fish and wildlife from Oregon and Washington approved very limited commercial and recreational smelt fisheries on the Columbia, Cowlitz and Sandy rivers for the first time since the fish was listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2010. Collectively, these fisheries are expected to harvest less than 1 percent of adults returning to the Columbia this year.

Adult returns have shown significant improvement in recent years and the return in 2014 is expected to be strong. These fisheries will allow the states to obtain more current information about the smelt population and help managers better understand trends and variability in abundance. Though smelt are still listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act, NOAA Fisheries supports limited research-based fisheries in strong return years.

Commercial smelt fishing will be permitted for 8 days on the Columbia, on Mondays and Thursdays, Feb. 10 – March 6, from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fishing is restricted to 2” gillnets in Zones 1-3 only.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announced smelt fishing will be open on the Sandy River on Saturdays only March 1 – March 22 from 6 a.m. to noon. Fishing will be restricted to dip nets from the bank with a bag limit of 10 pounds per angler per day, with no more than one day’s limit in possession.

The state of Washington announced similar rules for the Cowlitz, which will be open on Saturdays from Feb. 8 – March 1, 6 a.m. to noon.