Smelt fishery is a big question mark

11:28 am February 10th, 2014

By Bob Brown
When the Southern District Population Segment eulachon were federally listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in May 2010, many fishermen believed the listing was the end of the rainbow for a smelt fishery in their lifetime. Depressing as that perspective appeared, it may not be the case.
Smelt have been confirmed to be present in the Cowlitz River and reported in the Grays River. This positive turn of events has resulted in Oregon and Washington fish managers discussing with the National Marine Fisheries Service the possibility of reestablishing eulachon fisheries this year to gather adult catch-per-unit-effort data for monitoring the status of the population. While the Columbia River return appears to have improved over the past three years, it doesn’t mean other sectors of the population are recovering. The 2014 smelt return is forecasted to be similar to 2011 and 2012, but could be on par with 2013 which was the best return in a decade.
While NOAA understands the situation, the agency is not about to make any decisions until it has additional information, said Joe Hymer, supervisory fish biologist for Pacific States Marine Fishery. Hymer also said it should be understood that should NOAA approve a fishery, it would be limited to gather additional information on the year’s return.
Following the ESA listing of Columbia River eulachon, both Oregon and Washington enacted permanent rules prohibiting directed harvest of eulachon in recreational and commercial fisheries in the main stem Columbia River and its tributaries. Commercial fishing closed permanently effective Dec. 1, 2010 and recreational fishing closed permanently effective Jan. 1, 2011.

Fishing report

Bonneville Pool is now closed to sturgeon retention. An estimated 247 (22.5 percent) of the 1,100 annual guideline has been taken. The Dalles Pool has been slow for legal size sturgeon; however boat anglers and bank anglers have been catching some legals in the John Day Pool.
Fishing has been slow in the Kalama. Some steelhead are being caught in the Humptulips with water levels low and clear. Walt Harvey of Verles Sports in Shelton said boat angler activity has been heavy in the Wynoochee with mixed results being reported. Eggs, shrimp and jig and bobbers have been the baits of choice. Harvey also said tribal nets are in the Chehalis. Fishing has been fairly decent for coho in the Skookumchuck. Some steelhead have also been caught. Most of the action is being had in the upper reaches of the river near the hatchery. Also angler activity has been heavy.

Update on private-land hunting

Last year’s announcement by Weyerhaeuser that it was going to start charging a recreational access fee to its Vail and Pe Ell tree farms was a sledge hammer blow to hunting in western Washington. The announcement not only took the hunting community by surprise, it also resulted in a number of sportsmen shying away from purchasing state hunting licenses, and thinking about pursuing their sport in neighboring states. It is rumored other timber companies are also considering initiating access fees this year.
There are two bills in the Legislature (HB 2150 and HB 2243) intended to encourage private landowners to open their lands to recreational activity. HB 2150 would allow landowners to charge an annual fee of $25 per person for recreation use of their lands, including hunting and fishing. They could also receive payments from state or local government to facilitate or manage public access.
HB 2243 is also designed to encourage private landowners to allow public access to their lands for recreational activities, including hunting and fishing. An annual public-private access permit would be available at a cost of $35, purchased through the Washington Department of Fish and Widlife’s automatic licensing system. Sixty percent of revenue generated through the sales of permits would reimburse landowners for public use of their lands. Twenty- percent of the sales would be used to reach out to other landowners, and the remaining 20 percent would be used for enforcement efforts. A full explanation and clarification of both bills can be found on the state’s legislative website.
There are no guarantees either proposals will be adopted. However, passage of one or the other and private landowner acceptance would certainly go a long way in reestablishing viable hunting in western Washington.

Bob Brown can be contacted at

One Response to Smelt fishery is a big question mark

  1. DJ Reply

    March 1, 2014 at 9:42 am

    How about some stick along with all carrot for the timber companies. Reduce their tax breaks if they charge for public access. If you think about it, that isn’t a “stick” approach. It just reduces the size of the carrot they already get (at taxpayer expense).

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