Slide Show

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tale of 2 rivers: Elwha and Queets

Queets River

To study the effects of the Elwha dams removal it might be helpful to look at the Queets River. 
Fall on the Elwha River
The head waters of these rivers were known as “Terra Incognita” until the U.S. Army sent Lt. Joseph P. O’Neil and his mule trains to climb the Olympics and bring back a map.
A member of O’Neil’s expedition, Pvt. Harry Fisher became lost after climbing Mount Olympus on Sept. 20, 1890, and wandered down the Queets River. 
Fisher reported that the Queets was like “a camp in Barnum’s menagerie as far as sleep was concerned.”  Between the thrashing of the salmon in the river and the breaking of brush by the large animals hunting the salmon he had a hard time sleeping. 
On Sept. 26, Fisher was hailed by an Indian, also named Fisher who offered the lost private a canoe ride downriver. 
Fisher described floating the Queets in the cedar canoe watching his new friend hitting fish 20 or 30 feet away with a forked spear. After spearing six large salmon he quit fishing.  
Fisher describes his “staunch friend” watching the many splashing salmon with “Pride, as a farmer would his cattle.” 
He mentioned a weir that was built across the river to intercept the salmon. 
Queets silver salmon.
A recent float down the Queets River revealed a far different world than the one described by Pvt. Fisher. 
There are no homesteads or fish drying racks. There are no V-shaped ripples in water four feet deep made by giant king salmon swimming upriver in uncounted hordes. 
There were no dead spawners on the shore that used to feed the trees, the fish and birds. 
There is no dam on the Queets. Its pristine habitat is protected within a national park. 
What happened to the Queets salmon that made them as rare as the Elwhas? 
Maybe it’s the nylon. Nylon pollution can negatively affect fish through every portion of their lives.      
Salmon pair up to dig a nest in the gravel. The nest is called a redd.
The government loves to count redds as a way of predicting future imaginary fish runs.  Once identified as a shallow depression of freshly turned gravel, redd surveyors put nylon ribbons in the redds. 
Fish routinely abandon redds treated in this manner. Redd surveyors love flagging the streamside bushes with plastic ribbons. This provides a free streamside guide to any lowlife that wants to snag the spawners off their beds. 
Once the baby fish hatch they face many dangers in their life’s journey starting with, the smolt traps. A smolt is a baby fish that’s migrating downstream to the ocean. A smolt trap can block the entire width of a small stream. 
This stops the upstream spring migration of steelhead and sea-run cutthroat. It allows any fish migrating downstream to get into the smolt trap and eat the smolts. 
Otters and bears love smolt traps. Floods can wash the smolt traps up in the woods. If they survive the smolt trap, the fish have a chance to make their way to the open ocean where the real danger lies.
The bottom of the ocean has been plowed by the trawl fleet that kills the bait fish salmon need to survive. Then there are miles of drift nets, purse seine nets, ocean gill nets and landing nets of the sportsman and commercial trollers. 
The surviving fish that return to our rivers face more nylon, the maze of tribal gill nets. The fish that survive the gill nets are targeted by sport anglers who will fish them back upstream to their redds. 
I certainly hope someone is studying the problem. 

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