Eulachons, better known as smelt, are returning to the Columbia River in stronger numbers this year than in the recent past, although they are still listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and, as such, are off limits to fishing.

In reaction to their arrival in the Sandy River, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is reminding anglers that eulachon smelt fishing seasons remain closed. This closure also applies to the Columbia River and all other inland waters.

“We want to make sure people remember that eulachon smelt are now protected and need to be left alone,” said Todd Alsbury, district fish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Smelt arrive in waves, and in the past when one was seen in the Sandy River within hours lots of people were fishing for them. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen this year.”

Once so abundant they were caught by the bucket load with dip nets, eulachon numbers have dropped dramatically since the early 1990s when they regularly entered the Columbia and Washington tributaries.

The National Marine Fisheries Service listed eulachons for protection under the ESA in 2010 and is looking into what caused the declining smelt runs and how to restore them.

Image courtesy Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

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