SANDY, Ore. -- Visitors lined the banks of the Sandy River this weekend to catch a glimpse of a strong smelt run.
The river was full of the silver fish, which were put on the threatened species list three years ago because of dwindling runs.
One woman heard about the spectacle and grabbed her camera to head down to the river.
“I was really excited because it's been years since I've seen them,” said Annetta Dials of Troutdale. "There were thousands of them."
Because the fish are protected, its still illegal to catch smelt in the Sandy River. Oregon State Police troopers were patrolling at Lewis and Clark Park Sunday and handing out citations for anyone caught "dipping" for smelt.
“We want to make sure people remember that eulachon smelt are now protected and need to be left alone,” said Todd Alsbury, district fish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Smelt arrive in waves, and in the past when one was seen in the Sandy River within hours lots of people were fishing for them. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen this year.”
The National Marine Fisheries Service listed eulachons for protection under the ESA in 2010 and has been investigating the cause of declining smelt runs and how to restore them. Experts said the smelt used to be so abundant that they were caught by the bucket-load with dip nets. But the numbers have dropped dramatically since the early 1990s when they regularly entered the Columbia and Washington tributaries.
KGW Reporter Grant McOmie contributed to this report.