Tribe to fish Elwha this fall

Second fishery since dam removal limited to 400 cohos

PORT ANGELES — The Lower Elwha Kallam Tribe will hold a limited fishery on the Elwha River this fall, the tribe’s second fishery since dams on the river were removed more than a decade ago.

The fishery will run from late September to early October, according to Olympic National Park, with fishing limited to adult coho salmon on the lower three miles of the Elwha River.

The tribe held its first fishery since the dams were removed last October, the first ceremonial and subsistence fishery in more than 100 years.

“What we learned is that families were missing from the rivers,” said Frances Charles, chairwoman for the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe. “Being able to have that day in October to be able to see families with their children learning how to fish for the first time in their lives, that was something taken to the heart. That was what we had heard from elders, that we as people, we as Klallam people, were missing from the river and here we are today.”

The timing of this fishery is designed to minimize impacts to non-target salmonid species, particularly federally listed Chinook and steelhead, the national park said, and recreational and commercial fishing will resume when there is broad distribution of spawning adults above the former dam sites.

In an email, Lower Elwha Natural Resources Director Matt Beirne said the tribe is seeing positive data on fish recovery, even in the short time the dams have been down.

“Steelhead are recolonizing the watershed and naturally spawning in such numbers that, in accordance with the fish recovery plans, the Tribe’s hatchery program was able to dramatically reduce its egg take for hatchery supplementation,” Beirne said.

“Coho has had similar success thanks to the Tribe’s hatchery program and early efforts to outplant adults above the Elwha dam in the middle tributaries.”

Like last year, the fishery will be limited to 400 salmon, with tribal fisheries biologists and enforcement officers on site to monitor for regulations compliance and ensure impacts to non-target species are minimized. Last year’s fishery harvested 177 coho, the national park said.

“Our Natural Resources staff intensively monitored last year’s fishery — with hands on nearly every fish — collecting very good data,” Beirne said. “Our fishery started a bit late last year, after about half the fish were estimated to have passed, so we plan to start the fishery a couple weeks earlier this year.”

This year’s fishery is set to begin Sept. 26, rather than last year’s Oct. 8.

Data biologists collect from this fishery will be used to develop future commercial and recreational fisheries for coho and other salmon species.

Elwha River fish recovery monitoring is a long-term, cooperative effort involving the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, Olympic National Park, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Each year, project partners evaluate spawner abundance, distribution and juvenile production throughout the river system using a variety of tools including sonar, redd surveys, snorkel surveys, tangle net surveys and smolt trapping.


Reporter Peter Segall can be reached by email at

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