Editorial: Cowlitz Tribe spurs action on fish
"This year's smelt run is a near-total bust, and now they are quite likely to be added to the Endangered Species list following a petition by the Cowlitz Tribe that suggests Oregon and California runs face local extinction. This year's returns are the second lowest on record, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. There are no signs of smelt on the Cowlitz River, where Kelso, Wash., describes itself as "Smelt Capital of the World." There have been meager returns to the Sandy, Elochoman and Grays rivers. It's been years since the last significant return to the Naselle River.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has accepted the tribe's assertion and will begin the listing process, correctly characterized as "long overdue" by Cowlitz Chairman John Barnett. There have been some decent returns in the years since Mount St. Helen's 1980 eruption damaged the regional watershed, but a catch of only a few thousand pounds qualifies as a "good year" nowadays. We all knew or should have known smelt were in trouble.

We know pathetically little about how and why salmon fail to thrive in the ocean, and far less about smelt, on which salmon rely. In both cases, however, critical factors are likely to include habitat destruction during the fresh-water phase of their lives, changing ocean productivity and chemistry, and mismanagement.

An online discussion board dedicated to sport fishing contains a 2001 inquiry from someone interested in dipping smelt here, to which this response was posted: "Nobody gives a $hit about the lowly smelt." It's time to start caring: this whole world is hooked together and what's bad for smelt is bad for salmon and ultimately bad for us."

Get the Story:
Editorial; Decline of smelt fishery is bad for us (The Daily Astorian 3/17)

Related Stories:
Cowlitz Tribe pushes for federal review of smelter (3/14)
Cowlitz Tribe seeks endangered lising for smelt (11/8)