Washington’s Elwha River Stays Closed to Fishing

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OLYMPIA – The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, Olympic National Park and the Washington Department for Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) today announced an extension to close recreational and commercial fishing for the Elwha River and its tributaries through July 1st To continue in 2022.

A fishing moratorium in these waters since 2011 aims to protect the impoverished native salmonid populations, including four nationally listed fish species, in order to repopulate the habitat between and upstream of the two former dam sites of the river. Mountain lake fishing in the Elwha River Basin in Olympic National Park and Lake Sutherland, which typically takes place from the fourth Saturday in April through October 31, will not be affected by the closure of the Elwha River.

Fishery biologists note that spawning and rearing salmon in habitats in front of the former Glines Canyon Dam is paramount to successful restoration. These early recolonists play an important role in establishing spawning and rearing juveniles in upper watershed habitats.

The last barriers to fish migration were removed from the Glines Canyon Dam site in 2016. Fishery biologists confirmed the 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 going as far as Mile 40 in the Elwha pass. Chum salmon has been documented upstream of the former Elwha Dam, but not above the Glines Canyon Dam.

Despite these encouraging signs, some fish populations remain low and the under-exploitation of habitat in the upper reaches of the river indicates that further recolonization and spatial expansion are required to reach the levels of population in the Elwha watershed that can support sustainable fishing.

Fisheries managers note that recreational and commercial fishing will resume when there is a widespread distribution of adult spawning 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 fishery fish returning to the Elwha River.

The monitoring of the restoration of the ecosystem in the Elwha is a cooperation between the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, the Olympic National Park, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration / the National Marine Fisheries Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Geological Survey and the WDFW. Elwha River project partners assess spawner frequency, extent of distribution, and hatch production throughout the system each year using a variety of tools including sonar, redd count, snorkel, entanglement, and smolt trapping .

Current fishing regulations for waters in Olympic National Park can be found at nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/fishing.htm. For information on waters outside the park, visit wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/.