The Elwha River will remain closed to fishing for another two years, until mid-2021, according to WDFW.
“Monitoring has shown that salmon and steelhead populations are expanding into newly opened habitats, but have not yet achieved recovery goals,” Director Kelly Susewind reported to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission this morning.
The north Olympic Peninsula river was closed to all sport and tribal fishing in 2011 ahead of the removal of the two dams on its lower end, Glines Canyon and Elwha.
Chinook, coho, chum, steelhead and bull trout are taking advantage of the new habitat in the pristine national park watershed, with the seagoing char observed as far as 40 miles upstream, above “five major canyons,” according to a Peninsula Daily News report from last fall.
WDFW district fisheries biologist Mike Gross says there are also encouraging signs with Chinook, including this year’s conservatively estimated forecast of 7,400, which is well above 2018’s prediction of 5,200 and above the actual return of 7,100.
He says that last year’s strong showing of 3-year-olds should translate into a good number of 4-year-olds this fall and 5-year-olds in 2020.
That good three-year push of fish should help propel the Chinook population further and further up the Elwha
“These early re-colonizers play an important role in establishing spawning and juvenile rearing in habitats of the upper watershed,” Susewind’s director’s report states.
The Elwha is fabled for once hosting returns of truly massive Chinook before the dams were built in the early 1900s.
“Hopefully the ocean cooperates the next few years,” says Gross.
As for coho, the ocean forecast is 1,679, and he expects between 1,000 and 1,200 to actually return to the river.
The extension of the moratorium, which was agreed to by WDFW, the National Park Service and Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, is slated to run from June 1, 2019 through July 1, 2021.
“Recreational, subsistence and commercial fishing will resume when there is broad distribution of spawning adults in newly accessible habitats above the former dam sites, and when spawning occurs at a rate that allows for population growth and diversity, producing adequate escapement and a harvestable surplus,” Susewind’s commission briefing says.