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News / Sports / Outdoors

Dead smelt wash ashore in Vancouver

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 28, 2023, 6:33pm

Hundreds of dead fish washed ashore near Vancouver’s Waterfront Renaissance Trail in recent days, but officials say it’s not a cause for concern.

Eulachon, the small dead fish otherwise known as smelt, die after they spawn and normally wash up along the Columbia River’s banks, said Laura Heironimus, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife sturgeon, smelt and lamprey lead.

The carcasses produced a fishy odor near the trail, drawing dozens of geese and ducks to the pebble shoreline. A variety of wildlife ranging from salmon to eagles depend on the flashy, white-bellied fish as a major food source.

“We have a strong run of smelt coming in right now, so it’s no surprise we’re seeing them wash up all over the lower Columbia,” she said.

Though the fishy circumstances along the banks aren’t so fishy after all, smelt populations have faced challenges in previous decades. In 2010, they were listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act due to startlingly meager returns that stretch back to the 1990s — a result of overharvesting and climate change impacts.

Fish and Wildlife biologists continue to monitor these populations and are considering updating its smelt management plan, which hasn’t been revised since 2001.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

Columbian staff writer