MATT SCHUBERT’S OUTDOORS: Lake Sutherland closed to fishing?

LAKE SUTHERLAND IS many things to many people: Water skiing wonderland, sun-bathing sweet spot, Fourth of July fireworks freakfest.

More than anything else, however, it is regarded as having the premiere kokanee fishery on the North Olympic Peninsula.

But that may change by 2012, when the massive Elwha River Restoration project — centered around the removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams — takes hold.

Sutherland, which drains into the Elwha via Indian Creek, could very well be included in a five-year fishing moratorium on the Elwha River watershed starting sometime between October 2011 and February 2012.

The closure would allow the 361-acre lake’s resident kokanee (landlocked sockeye) to potentially migrate out to the ocean and return as spawning salmon, state Fish and Wildlife biologist Mike Gross said.

“[There are] hopes that the kokanee population would give rise to an anadromous variety, being the sockeye salmon, which is rumored to have been there in the past before the dams,” Gross said.

Federal, state and tribal fishery managers have agreed to a proposal that would close fishing on the Elwha for five years after the dams are removed, Gross said.

The “conservation measure” would give returning salmon a chance to recolonize the upper portions of the river.

The inclusion of Lake Sutherland and its kokanee would be an extension of that policy.

“We do get a few sockeye showing up every year in the river, and they may be a result of some of those kokanee yearlings [getting past the dam],” Gross said.

“With that hope, Lake Sutherland was included in that proposal.

“However, that closure is something that the public is going to have an opportunity to comment on.”

Despite the fact that the public comment period on the proposal hasn’t even started, several protests have already come in to Fish and Wildlife about the possible closure, Gross said.

That’s not surprising — Sutherland is one of the more popular year-round fishing lakes on the Peninsula.

Bob Aunspach of Swain’s General Store in Port Angeles said the closure could put a serious dent in the store’s fishing tackle sales.

The lake is stocked annually with rainbow trout plants. Resident kokanee are also a very popular target.

Aunspach argues that the lake could open seasonally, when potential sockeye aren’t spawning, and still achieve the same goal.

“There are arguments that might say that we’ve got a healthy kokanee population in there now, and [we could] still fish on them and have that same thing occur,” Gross said.

“The only response to that is that you would have a few more fish [reproducing] if we didn’t.”

A public meeting on the issue is expected to be held somewhere on the Peninsula in the next six to eight weeks, regional fish program manager Ron Warren said.

He could not give a specific date since one has yet to be agreed to by all of the parties involved.

There will be a public comment period once the proposal is released, with the state Fish and Wildlife Commission expected to take action after the arguments have been evaluated.

“All of the tributaries that will be affected by the dam draw down will be discussed [at the meeting],” Warren said.

“I hope to come up there to the Port Angeles and to have the meeting, and make sure that people understand at least our initial proposals and solicit public input.

“Often times, they are the ones who are on the water more than we are.”

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Matt Schubert is the outdoors and sports columnist for the Peninsula Daily News. His column regularly appears on Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at matt.schubert@peninsuladailynews.com.

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