Rare Smelt Fishery In Sandy River

Photo: Ford, Brad

Photo: ODFW

Recreational harvest of eulachon smelt on the Sandy River will be open Thursday, March 30 from noon to 7 p.m.  

The open area will be from the mouth of the Sandy River upstream to the Stark Street Bridge with a limit of 10 pounds per dipper. Each dipper must have their own container. Harvest is allowed with dipnet only and smelt may only be caught from the bank. Each dipper must also have a valid 2023 Oregon angling license.  

The 10-pound limit is roughly ¼ of a five-gallon bucket or a full 5-quart bucket. Anglers should bring scales to ensure they do not exceed the legal limit.  

The eulachon smelt spends most of its life in the ocean, migrating up rivers, including the Columbia and some of its tributaries, to spawn. They grow to be 6-9 inches long and live 3-5 years. Most adults die shortly after spawning, so it is not uncommon to see large numbers of dead smelt along the river.  

While Columbia River eulachon smelt were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2010, abundance has recently increased to a level that allows limited, conservative harvest.  

Although eulachon smelt return annually to the Columbia River, they only return to the Sandy River periodically, and this is the first time they have been seen in any numbers here since 2015. “We’re happy to provide an opportunity for recreational smelt dipping this year,” said Tucker Jones, Columbia River Program Manager. “We know it’s short notice, but the eulachon smelt will not be present for long in the Sandy, and we’re already seeing some post-spawn die-offs." ODFW is hopeful that providing afternoon opportunity during Oregon’s spring break will allow access to this somewhat rare opportunity before the smelt are gone from the system. 

“Initially we were concerned that the timing of the smelt return would overlap with releases of hatchery spring Chinook smolts which would make a fishery impossible, but after consulting with district fish biologists, we’ve determined that we are actually in a sweet spot between releases,” Jones added.  

 Source: ODF&W

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