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Smelt may join endangered-species list

By Warren Cornwall

Seattle Times environment reporter

A silver 6-inch-long oily fish that once teemed through coastal rivers in Washington, Oregon and California is the latest candidate for the Endangered Species Act.

Federal scientists will give the Pacific smelt, or eulachon, a close look for possible federal protection, the agency in charge of endangered fish announced Wednesday.

The decision by the NOAA Fisheries Service comes in response to a 2007 petition by the Cowlitz Tribe of Southwest Washington. The tribe urged protection as smelt populations in the Columbia River and such tributaries as the Cowlitz River have plunged and smelt have vanished from other rivers.

Cowlitz Tribal Chairman John Barnett called the news "long overdue."

"No one else seemed to be taking action, and we didn't want to see this important part of our heritage disappear," he said in a news release.

If the fish gets on the Endangered Species Act list, it could trigger restrictions on activities that might harm the fish, such as dam operations or development that damages spawning areas in rivers.

It's not a sure thing the fish will get protection. Wednesday's decision sets in motion a potentially drawn-out process. As early as this fall, federal officials could determine whether to protect the fish. If they say it's warranted, there's a yearlong review of the proposal before a final decision.

The fish spend three to five years in the ocean before returning to spawn in rivers. Historically the fish spawned as far south as the Sacramento River in California and north into Alaska.

They are now feared extinct from the Klamath River in Oregon and Northern California and possibly the Sacramento River.

The species is different from the surf smelt found in Puget Sound.

The tribe blames dams on the Cowlitz River and sediment from Mount St. Helens for the declines there. The small fish is popular among anglers, who use nets to scoop up fish heading upriver to spawn in the early spring.
 

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I wonder how that would effect the use of smelt as bait. Are the smelt used for bait farm raised or netted wild?
 

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Sure not a good sign of things to come. Wonder how long mother earth will put up with us? :(
 

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Dr Hook said:
If the fish gets on the Endangered Species Act list, it could trigger restrictions on activities that might harm the fish, such as dam operations or development that damages spawning areas in rivers.

The tribe blames dams on the Cowlitz River and sediment from Mount St. Helens for the declines there. The small fish is popular among anglers, who use nets to scoop up fish heading upriver to spawn in the early spring.
All the news is bad these days. I happened to catch smelt this year (couldn't believe all the people on the Cowlitz!) while driving home I heard on the radio that this might happen. I was amazed, and felt awful. I really wish fisheries management would step in before this crap happens. What do we pay them for, otherwise?
 

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The smelt have been in trouble for years but they keep letting comercials net them that one thing I could never understand .
 

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we have not had hardly any eulachon / smelt since we moved up here. I guess the runs use to be huge up years ago Tdown:
 

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On the states how to catch smelt page earlier this year there was a link about them possibly going on the list. It was strange reading how easy it is, and them basically promoting fishing for them and then see that.
I think the state has given up on there end of recovery and is going to wait until there listed and its the feds problem.
 

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You guys mean to tell me all those fancy crankbaits and spinnerbaits for smelt that I bought last year are going to be worthless??? I just can't seem to catch a break!!
 

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and dipped commercially on the Cowlitz.
But in all honesty I haven't seen a commercial dipper in over five years on the Cow. The boats are still tied up year round on the river but why burn the gas???
 

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Whats it matter anyway? The Cowlitz Indians will still be able to net them as well as the commercial guys. Aren't some salmon and steelhead on that same endangered species list? The tribes and commercial gill netters still get to kill what they want anyway. Its just another way for those two fisheries to crap on the sportsman and continue to harvest(kill) everything they can. There is no justice or commen sense at the WDFW. The White Possum
 
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