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Fish Already Returning to Elwha River after Dam Removal

In September 2011, the largest dam removal in U.S. history began on the Elwha River in Washington—home to all five species of Pacific salmon. Just a few short months after the 108-foot tall Elwha Dam was removed, fish have already begun to return to their restored habitat.

Part of the restoration process includes releasing tagged fish into the river above the lower dam. This will jump start the recolonization of the habitat, which had been cut off from migratory salmon for almost a hundred years. So far, we’ve released about 60 steelhead and 600 salmon into the river upstream of the former dam site. These fish have already begun to spawn.

We have also seen the return of wild, un-tagged fish—that found their own way up the river without our help—which means that they sense that the river is open again. While out monitoring the river, NOAA scientists spotted several un-tagged steelhead. One was a robust 35 inches, bigger than any of the fish tagged and released.

This encouraging news confirms what we suspected: once the barriers are removed from the Elwha, fish can recolonize the river without assistance and at a faster pace than we anticipated.

Posted July 30, 2012