Salmon fry found, spawning taking place in upper Elwha River

For the first time in nearly 100 years, coho salmon fry have reached the upper Elwha River, above the site where the fish-blocking Elwha Dam once stood.

To encourage spawning above the dam, nearly 300 adult coho were transferred last fall from the lower river to Indian Creek and Little River, tributaries located between the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams.

Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe project biologist Ray Moses tracks signals coming from radio-tagged steelhead in Little River. Click on the photo for more pictures.

The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe collaborated with Olympic National Park, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to complete the transfers.

Salmon have not made it past the dams since the early 20th Century, when the dams were built without fish ladders. Since September 2011, the dams have been slowly deconstructed as part of the internationally recognized river restoration project.

“Given that we released 70 females and 70 males last fall in Little River, having 65 egg nests is a pretty good return,” said Ray Moses, tribal project biologist.

Tribal staff have counted more than 2,400 fry emerging from Little River. The fry will stay in the river until spring 2013, when they will migrate to the ocean. In Indian Creek, the park has been snorkel surveying for fry.

“Seeing the fish spawn above the former Elwha Dam site is pretty historic and a good testament to how good the habitat is up here,” said Mike McHenry, the tribe’s habitat program manager.

The tribe is also tracking the river’s native late winter steelhead. These fish returned to the lower river in March. More than two dozen were tagged with radio transponders and spaghetti tags. They were then transported to Little River to take advantage of the good spawning habitat, such as shallow pools of water for refuge and feeding. So far, tribal staff has seen eight steelhead egg nests in Little River.