Jimmycomelately Creek—Tribal Members Aid in Salmon Recovery to Bring Back Traditional Fishing

November 2015

A creek on the north Olympic Peninsula of Washington known for its unique name, Jimmycomelately, now also boasts a successful story of salmon recovery. In 1999, the year that NOAA Fisheries listed summer-run chum salmon under the Endangered Species Act, biologists counted only seven spawning adults traveling up the creek. Over the last few years, spawning adult chum salmon returning to Jimmycomelately have averaged 4,600 per year.

Zack Hovis, a volunteer who put in many hours at the hatchery run by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, proudly holds up a male chum salmon during this year's adult spawning run. Photo: Dave Shreffler

What made the difference for fish? It was an enormous effort by volunteers, government agencies, and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe to restore the creek habitat. The Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe traditionally hunted and fished on the creek and the bay that it flows into and was the driving force behind the creek’s restoration to support salmon.

The history of Jimmycomelately Creek and Sequim Bay is one of economically-driven development that included logging, railroad construction, a mill, and building of roads.  Beginning in the 18th century, adjacent wetlands were drained, filled and diked to support these industries in the bustling settlement known as Blyn. The creek itself was relocated, channelized, and constricted by roads to accommodate farming that at the same time cut off prime spawning habitat for salmon.

When a restoration team came together in 2002, there was a lot of work to be done. Although the logging company and mill no longer existed, the wetlands and creek could not support spawning habitat for salmon. The restoration proceeded in four stages—realigning the creek channel to the historical character of the creek, restoring the estuary by removing the fill and dikes, replacing a bridge that allowed for better creek flow and fish migration, and diverting the existing creek flow to match the realigned creek. 

In 1999, state and tribal leaders began temporarily supplementing the creek with native stock summer chum from a hatchery upstream. This step was deemed critical to build the nearly extinct summer chum salmon population back up to self-sustaining levels. The newly restored habitat provided a suitable place for these salmon to spawn.

The hatchery program operated through 2011, and at its largest output produced 90,000 juvenile salmon for release into the creek. All fish from the hatchery received a unique mark that allowed tribal and state biologists to identify the number of salmon from the hatchery that returned as adults. In 2002, about 80% of the returning adult summer chum salmon originated from the hatchery. By 2013, two years after the hatchery program was terminated, the population was beginning to rebound on its own as hoped, when biologists observed that approximately 70% of the returning adult fish were unmarked.

The name of the creek “Jimmycomelately,” was a term used by tribal members and early settlers to describe newcomers who were not prepared for pioneer life on the Olympic Peninsula. This was a time when chum salmon on the creek were plentiful and tribal members could harvest enough fish to feed their entire community. Future generations may be able to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors once again if the salmon continue to bounce back.