By Matt Schubert
Peninsula Daily News
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The commission, which sets policy for the state Department of Fish & Wildlife, voted unanimously Friday to partially exclude the popular freshwater trout and kokanee salmon fishery from a five-year fishing moratorium on the Elwha River watershed.
Sutherland, which now allows fishing year-around, will now only be open part of the year.
The lake will close to fishing after Oct. 31 and reopen from then on from the last Saturday in April through October beginning next year.
The Elwha and the rest of its tributaries will close to all angling year-round beginning this fall.
Becca Yucha of Port Angeles -- the lone North Olympic Peninsula resident to speak at Friday's meeting -- said, "I'm just so glad I get to go back to people and tell them, 'We won.'"
Yucha helped solicit 624 signatures on a petition asking the state to keep Sutherland open.
"This is exactly how it should work. [Fish and Wildlife] had a proposal, the public didn't like that, they spoke up, they were listened to, and the agency compromised."
The fishing moratorium is intended to protect anadromous fish runs -- salmon and steelhead -- during and after the removal of two dams on the Elwha River, which will begin in September.
The $26.9 million tear-down of the 108-foot Elwha dam and 210-foot Glines Canyon Dam is scheduled to take three years.
It's part of the federal government's $351.4 million Elwha River Restoration Project, the goal of which is to restore a salmon run that dwindled from 400,000 fish before the dams were built to 3,000.
A proposal submitted for public comment in November originally included Sutherland in the fishing moratorium because of its connection to the watershed via Indian Creek and its potential as a sockeye salmon breeding ground.
Kokanee are landlocked salmon.
Hundreds voiced their opposition to Sutherland's inclusion to commissioners and state fishery managers through letters, e-mails and oral comments made during a public meeting in Port Angeles in December.
In response, the commission instructed Fish & Wildlife Regional Fish Manager Ron Warren to construct an amendment allowing for a seasonal fishery at Sutherland.
The limited season on Sutherland that Warren returned with Friday afternoon received the approval of all seven commissioners.
"I think we've done an excellent job of trying to meet the public more than halfway from where we were," said Fish and Wildlife Commission Vice Chairman Gary Douvia of Kettle Falls.
"It appears to me that we put together our best solution."
In an effort to protect anadramous populations, anglers will be able to keep only trout that are 6 inches to 18 inches in size from Sutherland. There will also be a daily limit of five trout.
The lake's kokanee are considered trout under state regulation.
"I think the agency staff have presented a good compromise here," said Chairwoman Miranda Wecker of Naselle.
"It keeps the lake open at the most important time for the fishers, and I think it's a pretty reasonable compromise.
"We did not want to see the lake closed entirely, but [there's] a very exciting prospect of returning runs to the Elwha, which is a fabulous system that's been underutilized."
Warren met with Elwha River restoration co-managers from the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe and Olympic National Park in late January to discuss Sutherland specifically.
While park representatives signed off on the idea of allowing a seasonal fishery at Sutherland, Warren told the commission, tribal biologists voiced concerns about how much the lake was monitored by the state.
Warren said that problem could be alleviated by citizen groups, who could count the number of fish caught and fishing boats on the water.
"[The original proposal] was the most conservative position the agency could take. This is a move away from that. It is allowing some fishing opportunity," Warren said.
"Yes, there are some impacts on those [fish] just having the activity, but we think that this was a really good balance in offering opportunity while protecting resources and allowing the restorations to occur."
The regulations in regard to Sutherland will not take effect until the new license year begins May 1.
"It would have been great if they had just said, 'Sure, leave it open year-round and continue chumming and do what you're going to do,'" Yucha said.
"But it's a compromise, and I think that it serves their restoration goal, and it serves our desire to continue to be able fish.
"There are always going to be people who aren't satisfied, but for me and I think the majority of the people I've talked to, anything but full closure was acceptable."
Sports reporter Matt Schubert can be reached at 360-417-3526 or at email@example.com.