FISHING — Washington and Oregon on Tuesday closed the final remnants of commercial smelt season in the Columbia River, ending a century-long fishery that once tallied its harvest in the millions of pounds, according to Al Thomas of the Vancouver Columbian.
The National Marine Fisheries Service listed smelt as endangered in May. Without Tuesday’s action, commercial smelt netting in the Columbia would have opened Dec. 1, Thomas reported.
“This day is not unexpected, but it’s still kind of a sad day,” said Harry Barber of Washougal, a fishery activist and leader in the Coastal Conservation Association.
Sport dipping already is closed under permanent rules in Washington. Commercial dipping in the Washington tributaries also is closed permanently unless opened by the state.
Commercial harvest in the 1980s in the Cowlitz River averaged 2.5 million pounds, not including thousands of pounds more taken by sport dippers. The last appreciable commercial harvest in the Cowlitz was 216,200 pounds in 2004, Thomas writes.
Mysterious ocean conditions appear to be the culprit. You have to go to Alaska to find decent smelt numbers.
Hobe Kytr of Salmon For All, an Astoria-based commercial fishing group, said not all hope is lost. Historical records show tremendous swings in Columbia River smelt populations, Kytr said.
While the fish were plentiful in the 1805-06 journals of Lewis and Clark, smelt disappear from historical mention from about 1830 to 1860, he said
“We’ve seen them disappear for a generation,” Kytr said. “Abundance swings in eulachon (smelt) are frequent and well-documented.”