About the Elwha Dam Removal

Posted 7/21/2011

Commentary by Marv Chastain

(This piece was written in response to a commentary printed in the Peninsula Daily News)

The Piece by Will Atlas, Kurt Beardslee and Rich Simms in the July 20 Peninsula Daily News exhibits their ignorance of biology, geography and hydraulics. They claim the destruction of the Elwha Dams and lakes will somehow open up 90 miles of "protected river for spawning fish". Where is that 90 miles of river? They seem unaware that only a short distance above Lake Mills, the river becomes too steep even for salmon (Salmon can jump but they can't fly).

Moreover, Salmon spawn in quiet water where they can find fine gravel to lay their eggs - not in rushing torrents. While there are certainly some spots where the river is quiet enough for spawning, the predominant spawning ground on the river has always been the quiet lower river. That lower five miles of river may not ever again become the great spawning ground it is now. If the junk from behind the dams is too great for the river to flush easily, it will change course.

When a dam much smaller than either of the Elwha Dams was removed in the Mad river in California in 1970, the river mouth moved some three miles up the coastline, thanks to the load of collected silt released. Who's knows if or to what extent the Elwha will do the same.

They pretend that the salmon spawning was all but destroyed by the dams. Actually, I have 1960s home video from the family of Ernie Brannon (then manager of the Dungeness hatchery) that shows him just wading out into a river full of fish and gaffing the big ones he wanted for eggs. Elwha salmon populations began serious degradation at the same time they did in all Pacific Northwest rivers after the Bolt decision opened up virtually unlimited netting of the rivers by the tribes. Salmon are prodigiously prolific. One Chinook salmon will lay about 4000 eggs. When a salmon who has survived four (or more) years in the Pacific, dodging all the hi-tech fishing gear from all around the world and government protected fish-eating critters, finds her way back to the native river and is netted before she can spawn, it's not just one fish that is killed, but maybe 4000.

They refer to the fish as "Non-native". So just where are they native of? Just because a fish is born in a hatchery does not mean it is any different from one born in a river (DNA remains the same). What it feeds on can make a difference, but if it goes out and spends years in the ocean it is no different than the fish that originated in the river. They only way to tell the difference is if the adipose fin is clipped (by human effort) Fish from tribal hatcheries without the tell-tale fin clipping cannot be distinguished from river spawned. An irishman born in Dublin is no different physically from one born in New York.

In Alaska, they locate hatcheries on non-salmon supporting streams so that there is not much competition between the wild spawned salmon and the hatchery fish. Washington State could and should do the same.

This piece of fantasy ignores the facts of the day. The ocean if full of boats with hi-tech gear (including drift nets) to find and catch the fish. The ocean is also over loaded with protected seals, sea lions and protected birds that feed on fish. The Elwha project ignores those facts because the goal is not fish but the removal of humans, (industry) and man-made structures and conversion of the Olympic Peninsula to a huge wild animal park.