Elwha Fishing Closure Extended Again

The fishing closure on the Elwha River and its tribs has been extended for another year and now runs through July 1, 2022.

State, tribal and federal managers said in a press release there are “encouraging signs” that Chinook, coho, pink, chum and sockeye salmon, summer and winter steelhead, and lamprey are taking advantage of the unshackled northern Olympic Peninsula river system since its pair of dams were removed last decade.


But “some fish populations remain low and the lack of habitat utilization in the upper reach of the river indicates that further recolonization and spatial expansion are needed to reach population levels in the Elwha watershed capable of supporting sustainable fisheries,” they add.

It’s the third time that 2011’s sport and tribal fishing moratorium has been extended, following previous rollovers in 2017 and 2019.

Among the good signs is that the river’s rainbows have quickly reverted to their anadromous ways, as if the concrete plugs hadn’t blocked their path to the sea and back for a century.

An estimated 920 summer-run steelhead returned to the Elwha in 2019, making it “now likely the largest population (of summer-runs) in Puget Sound, and along the Washington Coast.”

The success story was the subject of a short film, Rising from the Ashes, last spring and I wrote about here.

Last fall, The Seattle Times reported that 2019’s Chinook return was the highest since the 1980s, but also that few so far are accessing the upper Elwha, leading to questions centered around the integrated hatchery stock’s ability to ascend the river, salmon density around lower river spawning grounds and the type of Chinook they are – today’s summers versus likely springers before the dams.

“Fisheries managers note that recreational and commercial fishing will resume when there is broad distribution of spawning adults in newly accessible habitats above the former dam sites, when spawning occurs at a rate that allows for population growth and diversity, and when there is a harvestable surplus of fish returning to the Elwha River,” states a joint WDFW-ONP-NWIFC press release.

Fish recovery is being monitored by a host of federal agencies and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and includes sonar counting of returning adults.

Mountain lakes in the Elwha River watershed as well as Lake Sutherland are open under state and federal regs.