Monday, March 9, 2015

Southwest Washington smelt run

By Chase Gallagher, Communications Manager Southwest Regional Office

In Southwest Washington, this year’s smelt run is causing a bit of a splash in the area’s rivers. As thousands of the small fish return to spawn, the circle of life completes and their bodies wash-up along the river’s shore.

A smelt completing the circle of life in the Columbia River.

As their bodies decompose, the smelt’s oil is released into the water, creating an oil sheen that to the untrained eye looks a lot like a hazardous spill. Our spills response teams received a number of calls last weekend about oil sheens in area rivers, but all evidence pointed to the smelt as the culprit.

The story behind every sheen

With smelt bodies along the shore, tracking the source of the oil sheen can sometimes be simple. But the river’s flow may also carry the oil downstream farther than the smelt bodies on shore, making it harder to identify. On close observation however, the smelt oil contains tiny scales, which can help guide our responders in determining the appropriate action.

While this die-off is nothing new, our unseasonably nice weather may be bringing more people outside, causing an increase in people witnessing the natural life cycle, and in turn creating an increase in calls to our spill responders.

Of course, humans aren't the only ones taking notice of the smelt:
It’s always important for our crews to assess and identify the source of any spill, whether from people or fish. Contact us to report a spill when you’re out and about, and together we can make sure we’re all doing our part to protect our waters.

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