State and tribal fisheries managers today announced an agreement to suspend all fisheries on the Quillayute River system until the west side of the Olympic Peninsula receives enough rain to ease low-water conditions that have prevented normal movement of salmon upstream to spawn.
Co-managers will meet to determine when these conditions have been alleviated.
Effective 12:01 a.m. Sunday (Oct. 27), all sport fisheries will close until further notice on tributaries to the Quillayute River System, which include the Bogachiel, Calawah, Dickey and Sol Duc rivers. The closure applies to all types of fishing, regardless of species.
For its part in the agreement, the Quileute Tribe will suspend its commercial and subsistence fisheries on the Quillayute River until state and tribal fisheries managers agree that water levels have risen high enough to allow salmon to pass upstream to the spawning grounds.
Jeff Koenings, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said state and tribal fisheries managers agreed that closing the entire river system to fishing was the best way to protect vulnerable Chinook salmon affected by the low-water conditions.
"That's why we're called fishery `co-managers,'" Koenings said. "Both the state and the tribe have a responsibility to manage these fish in a way that will sustain the runs in future years, and that's just what we're doing."
"Based on the best available information from our evaluation of catch numbers and river conditions, the Quileute Natural Resources Committee came up with a closure recommendation and acted on it," said Mel Moon, director of Quileute Natural Resources.
Although the U.S. Geological Survey does not keep real-time stream-flow data on the Quillayute River, flows on the nearby Hoh River are down to about half of last year's levels, Koenings said. Many fish on area rivers are trapped below riffles just a few inches deep, he said.
"This isn't the time to make their lives any more difficult," Koenings said.
Since Oct. 19, non-tribal anglers have been prohibited from fishing on the Quillayute River, from the mouth to the confluence of the Sol Duc and Bogachiel rivers. In addition, several rivers have been closed for the retention of chinook by non-tribal fishers, including the Bogachiel, Calawah, Dickey, Sol Duc and Hoh rivers.
"The Quileute Tribe has also been watching the river conditions and the weather forecast," said Moon. "The most recent forecast showed continued dry weather. While subsistence fishing is very important to the tribal members, the Quileute Natural Resources Department has been watching conditions closely and agreed that continued dry weather would be grounds for closure."
Today's agreement will prohibit all types of fishing on the Quillayute River and its tributaries, providing maximum protection for the fish on those rivers, Koenings said.
"This is the right thing to do on the Quillayute River system, and we'll be re-examining fisheries on other area rivers as well," Koenings said. "If these dry conditions persist, anglers should be watching for potential emergency actions in other areas to protect Northwest salmon runs."
On the other hand, Koenings said the co-managers may agree to ease fishing restrictions if stream conditions return to normal and the agreed protection measures work as intended.
"This is what in-season management is all about - responding to circumstances that were not anticipated before the season when fishing regulations were first put in place," Koenings said. Both he and Moon agreed that their joint actions "put the fish first."