Some 200 smelt dippers were swimming in greed Saturday, taking more than 3,500 pounds over the legal daily limit from the Cowlitz River, the State Department of Fish and Wildlife said Wednesday.
Fish and Wildlife officers filed more than 98 citations and 122 warnings against smelt dippers, one of whom netted 200 pounds — more than 20 times the legal limit. Most of illegal dippers took about twice the daily limit, 10 pounds.
“I don’t know why greed takes over people,” Fish and Wildlife Sgt. Bob Weaver said Wednesday.
Smelt, also known as eulachon, are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. Smelt dipping was restricted starting in the 1990s as smelt populations continued to decline.
On Saturday, state fishery managers opened the Cowlitz and Columbia rivers for smelt fishing for a second straight year. Some people, however, tried to slip away with much more, hiding extra smelt in their cars or among shrubs along the river.
“The biggest case came in from a citizen who happened to see a person stashing fish in the woods,” Weaver said.
The price tag for such fishy behavior? At least $150 for minor infractions or a mandatory court appearance for larger offenses.
As for the illegally caught fish, their corpses will go back into the Cowlitz River, Weaver said.
“We try to donate it if we can. It was warmer this year, so we had concerns as to whether or not it will get tainted,” he said. “We returned some to the environment to the system where they came from.”
The Cowlitz River will re-open to smelt dipping from 6 a.m. to noon Saturday. Dippers should think twice before taking too much smelt, Weaver said.
“We will be putting just as much effort (into patrolling) this Saturday as much as last weekend.”