Elwha River sees largest run of chinook salmon in decades

PORT ANGELES — The largest run of chinook salmon in decades returned to the Elwha River this fall, according to officials with the Olympic National Park.

Fish are streaming into stretches of the Elwha River and its tributaries that were formerly blocked by the Elwha Dam, park officials said Friday on its website.

The Elwha Dam, one of two dams on the river, stood for nearly a century before it came down in 2012.

Removal of the remaining 210-foot tall Glines Canyon Dam resumed last month after nearly a year hold to give officials time to fix problems at new water-treatment facilities built as part of the $325 million river restoration project.

During a one-day survey in September, biologists counted 1,741 adult chinook and mapped 763 reds between the remnants of the Glines Canyon Dam and the river mouth. About 75 percent of those were spotted upstream of the former Elwha Dam site, park officials said.

The biologists navigated over 13 miles of the Elwha River and tributaries, walking and snorkeling to find living and dead salmon along the river from Glines Canyon Dam to the river mouth. They also surveyed lower portions of three river tributaries, including Indian Creek, Hughes Creek and Little River.

Results from the survey indicate this year’s chinook return is one of the strongest since 1992, according to park officials.

Dam removal is scheduled to be complete in 2014.

With the two dams removed, the glacier-fed Elwha River is expected to flow freely as it courses from the Olympic Mountains to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Salmon and other fish that mature in the ocean and return to rivers to spawn will once again have access to more than 70 miles of spawning and rearing habitat, much of it within the protected boundaries of Olympic National Park.

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