By Greg Fitz
Across the world, advocates for dam breaching, free-flowing waters and river restoration are celebrating the news that the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe has been able to fish for coho salmon for the first time since two large dams blocking the Elwha River were removed a decade ago. The small ceremonial and subsistence fishery held in October is testament to the power of rivers to heal and evidence that the Tribe’s efforts to restore salmon in their home watershed is working.
When the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams came down, it was the largest dam removal project in history. Coho, other salmon populations and steelhead had been prevented from reaching over ninety miles of exceptional habitat protected upstream within the boundaries of the Olympic National Park for a century.
In the years leading up to dam removal, and in the decade since the dams fell, the Tribe has been working with partners to rebuild habitat, reintroduce salmon and closely monitor fish numbers. In recent years, they’ve been counting the fish returning with a sonar system low in the watershed. This data has shown a steady increase in both hatchery and wild coho populations. This fall, approximately 7,000 coho were forecast to return, a threshold that allowed fishery managers to proceed with a small, short fishery targeting a harvest of 400 coho.
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