WHO SAYS THERE’S no good news? The Lower Elwha Klallam Ceremonial and Subsistence Fishery will open for coho salmon on the Elwha this October. It’s been a long time coming.
The first reference to Elwha salmon occurred in 1790, when the Spanish Captain Manuel Quimper purchased salmon, “of a hundred pounds,” from the Klallam off the mouth of the river.
Within a few years of this purchase, Spain retreated south.
In 1846, President Polk used the slogan, “Manifest Destiny,” to bluff the British North, while luring hordes of European invaders into Oregon Territory with the Donation Land Act of 1850. This gave a white male citizen 320 acres of Native American land. Native Americans were ineligible since they were not American Citizens until 1924.
In 1855, Washington Territory’s Gov. Isaac Stevens, who was also the Indian Agent and Northern Pacific Railroad surveyor, negotiated the Point No Point Treaty. The Klallam surrendered 438,430 acres of their land in exchange for, among other considerations, the right to fish in their accustomed places.
The Klallam were accustomed to fishing the Elwha. It was dammed in 1913, six miles from the mouth of the river with no provision for fish passage. The dam blocked access to 90 percent of the salmon spawning and rearing habitat in the Elwha.
In 1974, the Boldt Decision affirmed the Tribe’s right to catch half of the harvestable salmon. By the new millenia, there were so few fish in the Elwha that giving the tribes half the harvestable salmon was like giving them half the harvestable buffalo on the Great Plains.
In 2011, the Elwha River Ecosystem Restoration Project began removing the Aldwell and Glines Canyon dams.
The Klallam Tribe, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Olympic National Park suspended all fishing on the Elwha. In addition, NOAA and the National Marine Fisheries Service approved a massive salmon restoration plan that involved a “life boat hatchery” on nearby Morse Creek to ensure the Elwha chinook survival in case they were endangered by the dam removal.
The cooperative plan would have jump-started salmon recovery efforts by airlifting adult chinook, fingerlings, fry and fertilized eggs into the pristine habitat above the dam removal project until the salmon could return on their own.
In addition, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe built a hatchery to enhance coho, chum, pink salmon and steelhead runs.
Pink salmon were estimated to comprise a majority of the historic run of 400,000 salmon predicted to return to the restored Elwha after dam removal — ignoring the fact that not one other undammed river anywhere in the Pacific Northwest has restored its historic salmon run numbers.
Now the bad news.
The Elwha Restoration Plan was not followed. Anti-fish hatchery extremists claimed these hatchery fish were “domesticated,” ignoring the fact that these fish survived the same migration to the ocean and back as their so-called “native” cohorts — which aren’t “native” at all since salmon production on the Elwha has been dominated by hatcheries since 1914.
The Morse Creek chinook hatchery was eliminated.
The Lower Elwha hatchery is operating at a fraction of its potential, despite the fact that both pink and chum salmon are missing from the Elwha.
Then came the more recent news that two rockslides have blocked the upper Elwha from salmon migration for five of the last 10 years since dam removal.
After $350 million was spent removing the dams, the National Park Service is “monitoring” the situation instead of doing anything about it.
Once again, the tribes have been cheated out of their legacy and the rest of us will not be fishing the Elwha any time soon.
Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.
He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via email@example.com.