Federal grants aim to improve fish passage in region

Funding part of nationwide effort

PORT ANGELES — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has given groups on the North Olympic Peninsula $18.7 million to remove barriers and replace culverts to improve fish passage and infrastructure in the region.

NOAA is funding 10 projects across the state and 36 projects across the nation, totaling $38.9 million in grants for fish barrier removal.

The primary Peninsula beneficiaries of the funding — which was championed by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Mountlake Terrace, and U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor — will be the Quillayute, Quinault and Hoh tribes, although proponents said there also will be impacts on the public as well as reservation infrastructure.

“These first projects from the NOAA’s Restoring Fish Passage Through Barrier Removal Program will jump start salmon recovery on the Olympic Peninsula by removing salmon-blocking culverts and other stream obstructions,” Cantwell said in a press release.

“Barriers like obsolete dams and impassable culverts prevent salmon from migrating to their spawning grounds in the Quillayute, Quinault and Lower Chehalis watersheds,” she added.

Said Kilmer: “Through these awards, the federal government is moving to restore fish passages and provide critical access to upstream habitat.

“That’s critically important if we’re going to recover the salmon populations that are so vital to our region’s economy, culture and way of life,” he added.

The majority of the grant, $10.4 million, is going toward replacing culverts in the Quillayute and Quinault watersheds. The aim is to improve access for native migratory salmon to their historic spawning areas.

The Wild Salmon Center has partnered with Coast Salmon Partnership, Trout Unlimited and the Quileute, Quinault and Hoh tribes to design, permit and remove nine culverts on county and tribal reserve roads.

This project, along with others, is part of the Coldwater Connection Campaign, an effort by multiple agencies to reconnect 125 miles of salmon and steelhead streams along Washington’s coastal areas, which will increase tribal capacity for fish passage restoration.

“We thank the entire Pacific Northwest delegation, especially Senator Cantwell and Representative Kilmer, for securing generational federal investments that can change the trajectory of salmon and orca recovery in the Pacific Northwest,” said Guido Rahr, CEO of Wild Salmon Center, in the release.

“We are at a critical juncture for these species and the tribes, economies, ecosystems and local communities that depend on them throughout the region. This investment builds resilience in our communities and our watersheds, ensuring that wild salmon and steelhead can access cold water needed to thrive in the face of a changing climate.”

The second largest chunk of the grant was given to Trout Unlimited, a little over $7 million that will go toward replacing eight fish passage barriers on the Peninsula, opening more than seven miles of spawning habitat for the salmon.

In these areas, the culverts will be replaced with structures that fish are able to swim through rather than get trapped in and will overall improve the resilience of salmon populations and transportation infrastructure.

The NOAA funding also will support hiring staff and support capacity building with the Hoh Tribe.

“Trout Unlimited’s ongoing partnership with NOAA is helping us recover critical populations of salmon, steelhead and trout and building resilience against the growing impacts of climate change for fish and communities,” said Chris Wood, President and CEO of Trout Unlimited.

The remaining $1.23 million was granted to the City of Hoquiam to pursue a feasibility study on removing the Hoquiam River Dam which would create 13 miles of habitat for Chinook and Coho salmon and steelhead trout.

“These first projects will make real progress in salmon recovery, including boosting stocks important to Southern Resident orcas and coastal ecosystems, as well as commercial, recreational and Tribal fishing communities,” Cantwell said.

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