Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe’s steelhead program winding down

While the Elwha River’s two fish-blocking dams are coming down, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe’s native steelhead broodstock program is winding down too.

Since 2005, the tribe has been collecting steelhead fry from the lower river to safeguard the native run as the Elwha and Glines Canyons dams came down. The Elwha dam was removed in March 2012; the Glines Canyon dam is expected to be removed by summer 2013.

The tribe’s hatchery crew tagged its most recent group of 800 juvenile steelhead with quarter-inch long black and copper tags in August and took tissue samples. The tags and tissue samples allow biologists to study steelhead family genetics, important for when spawning the fish later.

A PITT tag is inserted into a native steelhead at the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe hatchery. For more photos of the tagging, click on the picture.

The fish were collected as fry in fall 2011 and reared to juvenile stage during winter and spring. They will be kept in the hatchery until they are four years old, in 2015, when they will be spawned. The offspring will be released into the river in 2017 and are expected to come back to the river as adults in 2019 or 2020.

“These offspring spring will be considered unique because they will come back after the impacts of river restoration have been minimized and will be able to take advantage of the upper watershed that hasn’t been access by ocean-going fish in a century,” said Larry Ward, the tribe’s hatchery manager.