Elwha River fishery managers are extending the closure on this north Olympic Peninsula stream another year, through June 30, 2023.
It’s the fourth time the state-tribal fishing moratorium has been rolled over, albeit now in one-year bites.
Biologists are seeing positive signs since a pair of dams were removed last decade, including returning adult Chinook, sockeye, coho and pink salmon, winter and summer steelhead, bull trout and Pacific lamprey all migrating above the site of the upper structure, Glines Canyon, with some swimming as far upstream as river mile 40, and chums also seen above the lower dam, Elwha.
And they report that Chinook egg-to-smolt survival rates are increasing. But that good news is also tempered by an apparent lack of corresponding increases in returning natural-origin adult kings.
Also, numbers of certain stocks are still low and there’s a relative lack of fish in the upper Elwha.
A joint WDFW-National Park Service-Elwha Tribe press release states that fisheries “will resume when there is broad distribution of spawning adults in newly accessible habitats upstream of 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.”
Fishing was put on hold here in 2011, prior to dam removal, then extended in 2017, 2019 and then again early last year.
The dams were built in the early 1900s without fish ladders. The river was once known for very large Chinook. The Elwha mostly flows through Olympic National Park before draining into the Strait of Juan de Fuca west of Port Angeles.
“The dams were in place for 100 years and it took patience and determination to get them removed; the same patience and determination will also result in restored fisheries,” said Lower Elwha Klallam Vice-Chair Russ Hepfer in the release.
Mountain lakes in the Elwha River watershed as well as Lake Sutherland are open for fishing under state and federal regs.