Smelt Run Attracts Seals, Sea Lions and Birds

Salmon aren't the only species that return to the lower Columbia River and its tributaries in spring. Smelt, small ocean going fish that spawn in fishwater, once swarmed into rivers like the Cowlitz and Sandy in late winter and spring. However in the late 1980's smelt runs started a decline that eventually led to their listing in 2010 as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. So, when Tom Paulu from The Daily News in Longview, Washington reported  a big mass of smelt 20 miles heading up the Columbia River, it was a moment, if brief, for spring optimism. Of course, the big giveaway as Paulu reported, was the high activity of the seals, birds, and sea lions feeding on the smelt. As Paulu reported, Craig Olds, smelt biologist for the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, noted "hundreds if not thousands of birds" feeding on the smelt and about 20 marine mammels, mostly seals. Though smelt dipping was once a popular recreational fishery, and there were important tribal and commercial fisheries, it's unlikely smelt dipping will be allowed any time soon as threats including predators, water flows, climate change, and smelt by-catch in the United States and Canadian shimp fisheries continue to threaten smelt runs. Read Paulu's The Daily News article here