The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe will hold a ceremonial and subsistence salmon fishery on the Elwha River for coho this October, the first easing of the more than decade-long fishing moratorium there, with an expected catch of 400 or less.
State and other tribal fisheries will continue to be closed for at least another year, the fifth extension of the closure on the north Olympic Peninsula stream since all opportunities were suspended in the early 2010s ahead of the demolition of Glines Canyon and Elwha Dams.
The C&S fishery, made in conjunction with WDFW and Olympic National Park, was announced in a press release posted Monday afternoon to the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission’s NW Treaty Tribes blog, but didn’t appear on the state agency‘s website until midmorning Tuesday.
The Elwha River’s preseason forecast calls for 3,666 hatchery and 3,456 wild coho, overall considered to be in the “neutral” range relative to the 10-year average, meaning within 75 to 125 percent of mean. The release termed coho recovery there “a success story, thanks to the Tribe’s hatchery and fish relocation efforts during and after the dam removal process.”
Taking out the two dams is still considered to be the largest removal in U.S. history, but will be eclipsed this year as work begins to tear down several Klamath River structures in Northern California.
Lower Elwha Klallam Vice Chair Russ Hepfer said he looked forward to fishing the iconic river again.
“It will provide food for my soul and family. It will keep the fishing culture alive not only for me, but for my 16-year-old son. So many youths and adults have given up gill net fishing as the economic value is not there. Many have turned to harvest of shellfish, which provides more value. I hope opening the river to fishing will revitalize our fishing culture and traditions,” he said in the release.
The fishery is expected to occur in the lower 3 miles of the Elwha. C&S fishermen will be allowed to use hand-held gear and nets, the latter of which can only span half the river. It will be “intensively monitored” to minimize impacts to nontarget species such as Chinook, which are constraining tribal and sport fisheries elsewhere.
Restoration of Elwha fish populations via dam removal is something of a mixed bag, with rainbow trout immediately returning to their anadromous ways after roughly a century behind the barriers, but while Chinook smolt survival is up, that hasn’t produced big jumps in adult returns anyone who’s ever heard of the river’s fabled 100-pound kings of yore are hoping for.
“The data that biologists collect from this fishery will be crucial in developing future in-river commercial and recreational fisheries for coho and other salmon species,” the release on NW Treaty Tribes blog states.
“And then the thought has been with the tribe’s amazing patience over you could say the last 100 years, we would want to see how to get those treaty fisheries out there first,” WDFW Region 6 fisheries manager James Losee toldThe Seattle Times.
A former state fishery official pointed out that state anglers will get a crack at the same coho in the early October any-silver fisheries off of Sekiu and Freshwater Bay.