Friday, March 21, 2014

Little Fish, Big Deal

The return of smelt to the Sandy River over the last few weeks brings back memories of my childhood; dip netting for the herring sized fish with ease with my family in the late 70's.. It also reminds me of the rich and diverse ocean food web that is so crucial to steelhead survival. Salmon and steelhead spend 3 or 4 years feeding in the ocean and rely on an abundance of oily, protein-rich forage fish like smelt to survive their long journey back to their spawning grounds.

A healthy ocean ecosystem is important to anyone who fishes the many salmon bearing streams and rivers in Oregon. Unfortunately, we are not always aware of what’s happening outside of the river system. Forage fish are dynamic species and many factors affect their abundance including water temperature, fishing pressure, and shoreside development.

The smelt have been noticeably absent over the past few years and were listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2010. It’s not uncommon for these fish to disappear for years and then return in huge numbers. This year’s run looks to be at least 20-miles-long containing millions of smelt. Many anglers are reporting partially digested smelt in the stomachs of spring Chinook and Marty witnessed  sturgeon in the Sandy mowing down on the smelt buffet this week  as well as bald eagles and other birds of prey. It is one of the most incredible sights to see.

It’s ironic to witness this considering we just signed a petition last week to protect these small bait fish.

The Pew Charitable Trusts works with the Pacific Fishery Management Council to protect forage species in the ocean to help ensure that they are accounted for as an important part of the ecosystem and a critical food source for predatory fish such as salmon, steelhead, sturgeon, and tuna. The Council will be looking at how to manage these critical species at their meeting in Vancouver, Washington on April 10th and they need to hear from anglers like you. To learn more about their work and take action to protect this vital food source for our steelhead, click here. 

By Mia Sheppard and Tara Brock - contact Tara- Campaign Associate for Forage Fish for additional info 503-221-7922 x 224