They migrated to the ocean, where they swam, fed and grew strong and large.
Now the adult salmon are reproducing and dying at home in the two fresh waterways that border the Sequim-to-Blyn area, the Dungeness River and Jimmycomelately Creek.
Summer chum salmon call the "Jimmy" home. Chinook salmon return to the Dungeness.
Both of these salmon species are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe have been working cooperatively on projects to increase the number of fish returning to each river.
Those who have been involved for more than a decade, including Cheri Scalf with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Scott Chitwood with the tribe, are excited to see things moving forward with salmon restoration, although results are not always the best, at least for one of the two species.
For more than six years the tribe and the state participated in a program intended to enhance the returns of chinook salmon to the Dungeness River. Managers counted fewer than 80 fish returning to the river in 1999.
In addition to habitat restoration projects, the team incubated a stock of eggs to place in the river to artificially enhance the chinook's run.
While the number significantly increased during the years of the project, what organizers feared - that the fish would not sustain themselves after artificial propagation ended - is beginning to be the case.
"We were able to produce quite a few for the years that we participated in the captive stock program," Chitwood said. "But as soon at the program reached an end point, we saw the number drop off."
This year, volunteers have counted just more than a couple of hundred chinook, which they trap, count and either let go or keep for the hatchery.
"We still work with the state on a small-scale hatchery program to help maintain the population," Chitwood said. "Possibly one of the reasons the chinook returns have not met the success we were hoping for is due to scale."
The Dungeness River is much larger than Jimmycomelately Creek. Chitwood said that while habitat restoration has taken place in the river, there is still much to be done to give the chinook a better chance to survive on their own.
In recent years, the tribe built logjams in the river, irrigators worked on water conservation and the county and state purchased property at the river's mouth to return its estuary to a natural state.
"These things take time; we are looking forward to future improvements to habitat that could bring the issue of scale down to where their numbers begin to naturally increase," Chitwood said. "Because when you compare it to the Jimmy(comelately), which was smaller and easier to establish a natural habitat, you can see the issue of scale can make that much of a difference."
The tribe has done several habitat restoration projects on the creek, especially near its mouth where the summer chum generally spawn.
The artificial enhancement of the summer chum will last a few years longer than the chinook project, which is why organizers feel there is a good chance of success at helping the species propagate itself.
"Numbers have been up and down since we started the program, but overall we are seeking an increase since only seven fish returned in 1999," said Scalf.
"This is the first year, however, that we will see returns from adults spawning in the restored channel of the Jimmy(comelately)."
While the counts of trapped fish will continue for another week or so, early numbers show the best return since 2005.
Scalf said her volunteers are seeing an increase in both brood stock and natural stock returns, something she attributes to the project and improved habitat.
"There are things out of our control, like fish harvest and ocean conditions," Scalf said. "But we hope the EPA will help with some of that."
The summer chum propagation will end after 2010. Until then, volunteers will continue to catch the returning adults in the early fall, pull 35 of each gender for artificial propagation, leave the rest in the river for natural propagation and release the captive-stock smolts in the spring.
The process was done earlier in Salmon Creek, that flows into Discovery Bay, which now has an all-natural self-sustaining return.
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