Salmon fishermen try their luck on the Quillayute River at Three Rivers west of Forks on Saturday prior to the closing of fishing Monday due to extremely low flows. (Lonnie Archibald/for Peninsula Daily News)

Extreme low flows in West End rivers prompt closures to protect salmon

River flows so low they impede salmon returning to rivers to spawn are prompting emergency fishing closures on several West End rivers beginning Monday.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife will close the Quillayute, Sol Duc, Dickey and Hoh rivers to all fishing and sections of the Bogachiel and Calawah rivers Monday until further notice, it said on its website, wdfw.wa.gov.

Also Monday, Olympic National Park will prohibit fishing in the Quillayute, Dickey and Hoh River mouths and the portions of the rivers within park boundaries until flows are higher, said Penny Wagner, public information officer for the park.

Treaty fisheries will be closed until further notice by the Quileute Tribe in the Quillayute River and by the Hoh Tribe in the Hoh River.

“The emergency closure is designed to maximize the protection of migrating salmon that are more vulnerable to harvest in treaty and sport fisheries during extreme low-flow conditions,” Wagner said.

“Park staff, state staff and tribal people who have visited the rivers have said [they are] really low,” she explained.

For instance, the Hoh River near Forks was running at 329 cubic feet per second Friday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

“They need triple that for salmon migration,” Wagner said.

The long-term median flow is 1,550 cfs, according to the USGS.

“To put it into perspective, in the last 57-year record, the lowest ever was 290 cfs,” Wagner said.

The state said the section of the Bogachiel River downstream of Wilson’s boat launch and upstream of the U.S. Highway 101 bridge will be closed to all fishing while the section between Highway 101 and Wilson’s boat ramp will be closed only to salmon retention while remaining open to fishing for trout and hatchery summer steelhead.

The Calawah River upstream of the Highway 101 bridge will be closed to all fishing, but the section of the river downstream of the bridge will be closed only to salmon retention, Fish and Wildlife said. Fishing for trout and hatchery summer steelhead will be allowed in that portion of the river.

“Unusually low river flows in recent weeks have created difficult migrating conditions for returning salmon, impeding their movement upstream,” Fish and Wildlife said.

“The closure is intended to protect these fish until flow conditions change sufficiently to enable normal salmon migration and the attainment of escapement goals.

“These rivers will reopen when flows have normalized sufficiently to allow consistent, unimpeded migration,”Fish and Wildlife said.

According to the USGS river gauges, flows are low in all rivers in the Olympic Peninsula river basins, even in those that will not be closed Monday.

The Calawah River near Forks was running at 56.3 cfs on Friday while the mean flow is 452 cfs. The Quinault River at Quinault Lake was running at 395 cfs while the mean flow is 1,440 cfs. The Hoko River near Sekiu was 27.9 cfs while the mean flow is 220 cfs. The Queets River near Clearwater was at 444 cfs while the mean flow is 2,000 cfs.

The Elwha River at McDonald Bridge was 377 cfs while the mean flow is 583. Recreational and commercial fishing is prohibited in the Elwha River through June 1, 2019, to allow the river to repopulate after dams were removed between 2011 and 2014.

In Jefferson County, the Big Quilcene River below the diversion near Quilcene was at 27.7 cfs while the mean flow is 35 cfs, according to USGS gauges, and the Duckabush River near Brinnon was at 50.6 cfs while the mean flow is 140 cfs.

The Dungeness River near Sequim was measured at 108 cfs, while the mean flow is 150 cfs.

Mike Gross, District 16 fish biologist with Fish and Wildlife, was not available for comment Friday. However, he said earlier in the week that the Dungeness would open Monday for fishing.

“The flows are low, but we have rain coming next week, so our intention is to open it up on Monday,” he said.

The Dungeness will be open from the river mouth up to the hatchery intake pipe at river mile 11.3 from Monday through Nov. 30. Anglers will have the opportunity to catch four hatchery coho each day of a minimum 12 inches in length.

The river will open for trout and other game fish from the hatchery intake pipe up to the forks at Dungeness Campground from Monday through Jan. 31.

For more information, see wdfw.wa.gov or www.nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/fishing.htm.

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Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at lleach@peninsuladailynews.com.

Sports reporter Michael Carman contributed to this report.