The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, Olympic National Park, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced an extension to continue recreational and commercial fishing closures for the Elwha River and its tributaries through July 1, 2022.
In place since 2011, a fishing moratorium in these waters aims to protect depleted native salmonid populations, including four federally listed fish species, to re-colonize habitat between and upstream of the river’s two former dam sites. Fishing in mountain lakes in the Elwha River basin within Olympic National Park and Lake Sutherland, generally occurring from the fourth Saturday in April through October 31, will not be impacted by the Elwha River closure.
Fisheries biologists note salmon spawning and rearing in habitats upstream of the former Glines Canyon Dam is paramount to successful restoration. These early re-colonizers play an important role in establishing spawning and juvenile rearing in habitats of the upper watershed.
Final obstacles to migrating fish were removed from the Glines Canyon Dam site in 2016. Fisheries biologists confirmed upstream passage of adult chinook salmon, sockeye salmon, coho salmon, winter and summer steelhead, bull trout, pink salmon and Pacific lamprey past the former Glines Canyon Dam site with some adults reaching as high as river mile 40 in the Elwha. Chum salmon have been documented upstream of the former Elwha Dam site but not above the Glines Canyon Dam site.
Despite these encouraging signs, 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.
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.
Monitoring ecosystem recovery in the Elwha is a cooperative effort among the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, Olympic National Park, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and WDFW. The Elwha River project partners evaluate spawner abundance, extent of distribution, and juvenile production each year throughout the system using a variety of tools including sonar, spawning (redd count) surveys, snorkel surveys, tangle net surveys, and smolt trapping.