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Public meeting set in Kelso on smelt...

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Public meeting set in Kelso on smelt fishing prospects
OLYMPIA - The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has scheduled a public meeting Wednesday, Jan. 6 in Kelso to discuss prospects for smelt fisheries on the Cowlitz River and other tributaries to the Columbia River in 2010.

The meeting will be held from 6-8 p.m. on the third floor of the Cowlitz County Administration Building at 207 4th Ave. N. in Kelso.

As in recent years, state fishery managers are predicting low returns of Pacific smelt in 2010. In addition, NOAA Fisheries has proposed listing the species as "threatened" under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). A final decision on the proposed listing is expected in March.

"Fishery managers are thinking long and hard about what kind of smelt fishery - if any - makes sense in light of the proposed ESA listing," said Bill Tweit, WDFW Columbia River policy leader. "Before we begin making those decisions, we'd like to hear what the public has to say."

Earlier this month, representatives of WDFW and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife agreed on restrictive sport and commercial smelt-fishing seasons for the Columbia River, but delayed decisions about the Cowlitz River and other tributaries.

Sport fishing for smelt on the mainstem Columbia River will be open seven days per week starting Jan. 1, although anglers catch very few fish there. The ongoing commercial fishery will be restricted to Mondays and Thursdays starting Jan. 1 through March 31.

Columbia River smelt are part of a designated West Coast population that extends from the Mad River in northern California to northern British Columbia. A scientific review by NOAA Fisheries found that this stock is declining throughout its range, mostly due to changes in ocean conditions.