There is a sense of urgency as black mesh bags filled with adult coho salmon are relayed down a steep hill toward the Elwha River. Standing on the bank, Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe hatchery manager Larry Ward retrieves a bag, unzips it and gently prods out several salmon. Within seconds, the fish make a splash before quickly swimming away, seeking good spawning grounds.
The tribe, with volunteers from state and federal agencies, transferred 50 coho salmon recently from its new hatchery, House of Salmon, to a stretch of river between the Elwha and the Glines Canyon dams, nearly the Highway 101 bridge.
“We are putting these fish in an area that hasn’t had salmon for nearly 100 years,” Ward said. “We plan to track their movements using radio tags but also expect them to start seeding the area.”
The tribe plans to release 600 fish into the river this fall. All the fish will be tagged with spaghetti tags, so they can be identified if harvested. Nearly one-third of the fish also will be outfitted with blue plastic radio tags. The tags will help the tribe track the fish as they seek spawning grounds in nearby tributaries.
The offspring of these salmon are expected to head to the ocean in spring 2013. When dam deconstruction wraps up in 2014, they will be returning to the river as adults. They will be the first salmon to come back after the dams are removed.
Built without fish ladders, the dams have been in place since the early 1900s and prevented fish from moving past the lower 5 miles of the river. During dam removal, work in the river will be put on hold during fish windows, when fish return to the river to spawn. Deconstruction of the dams for 2011 is finished for the year.
The dams are owned by the federal government; the Olympic National Park is spearheading the removal effort. The project to remove the structures and restore the Elwha River ecosystem, estimated at $350 million, is the largest dam removal project to date in the United States.
First Spawning Season at New Hatchery
As of late October, 600 adult coho salmon found their way to the new hatchery, with more expected through December, Ward said. The fish coming back to the new hatchery are a mix of hatchery and natural salmon. All the fish that return to the new hatchery will be moved to the river to spawn in the wild or will be spawned at the hatchery.
No fish have returned to the old hatchery, Ward said, most likely because the tribe isn’t pushing out water from the old facility to attract fish to return there. The new hatchery is pushing out water toward the river to attract fish to come to the facility.
More photos can be viewed at: go.nwifc.org/cohotransfer