OLYMPIA – With removal of two major dams on the Elwha River set to begin next year, state fishery managers will hold a public meeting Dec. 15 in Port Angeles to discuss plans for a fishing moratorium to speed restoration of native salmon and trout populations throughout the watershed.
The public meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. at the Peninsula College Campus, 1502 East Lauridsen Blvd., in Room M-125 of the Information Technology Building Room in Port Angeles.
At the meeting, resource managers from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will outline a proposal to close fishing on the Elwha River and its tributaries for five years, starting next fall. The fishing moratorium may also extend to Lake Sutherland, which could play an important role in rebuilding sockeye runs once the dams are removed.
Ron Warren, regional WDFW fish manager, said a fishing moratorium would help to protect fish runs during dam removal and maximize the number of fish available to spawn in the Elwha River watershed.
“Once those dams are gone, we’ll have a tremendous opportunity to rebuild fish runs that have been blocked from the upper river for the past century,” Warren said. “A fishing moratorium would support that goal, but we want to talk to area residents before we formally propose a plan to the commission.”
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, which sets policy for WDFW, will hold a public hearing on the proposed fishing moratorium at its Jan. 7-8 meeting in Olympia. The commission will consider adoption of the proposal at a meeting scheduled Feb. 4-5. Agendas for both meetings will be available on the commission’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/meetings/2010/.
Written comments on the proposal will be accepted through Dec. 31. Comments may be submitted to WDFW Rules Coordinator Lori Preuss at Lori.Preuss@dfw.wa.gov or 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501.
The National Park Service, which manages Olympic National Park, and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe have already endorsed a five-year fishing moratorium for the fisheries they manage in the watershed.
The first fishing closures on the Elwha River are scheduled for next November, when demolition crews begin removing the 108-foot Elwha Dam and the 210-foot Glines Canyon Dam from the river. Scheduled for completion in 2014, that project – the largest dam removal in U.S. history – will open up more than 70 miles of spawning and rearing habitat to salmon and trout upriver from the lower dam’s current location.
The Elwha River is one of the only rivers in the Pacific Northwest to contain all five species of Pacific salmon, as well as steelhead, cutthroat and bull trout. However, the average number of fish returning to the watershed has declined to about 3,000 – less than 1 percent of the 392,000 observed annually in the early part of the 20th century.
“All fishery managers involved in this project are committed to restoring native fish runs to historic levels,” Warren said. “In the near term, that means getting as many fish upriver to spawn as possible.”