While full-fledged, basinwide recovery of native Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon might not be here yet, the City of Issaquah and other partners of the Lake Sammamish Kokanee Work Group have good reason to celebrate the recent and remarkable turnaround in kokanee salmon numbers.
“The tremendous return of adult fish to the spawning grounds indicates that our hatchery and critical habitat improvement work has us on the right path toward salmon recovery,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine, who took part in an Earth Week release of juvenile kokanee salmon on Friday, April 26, 2013.
More than 10,000 adult kokanee – a portion of them the result of the work group’s hatchery enhancement efforts – spawned in several streams within the Sammamish watershed during the winter of 2012-13.
And this spring, a silvery torrent of juvenile kokanee have emerged from their gravel nests and are moving downstream to Lake Sammamish, where they will grow for several years before returning to their stream of birth to spawn and repeat the life cycle.
On April 26, Kokanee Work Group members were joined by Blackwell Elementary School students in releasing hundreds of young kokanee into Ebright Creek on land owned by Wally Pereyra, a longtime supporter of the restoration work.
The Ebright Creek location for this celebration was appropriate because of the work that Pereyra and Kokanee Work Group members performed last year.
The group worked with Pereyra to replace a small, undersized culvert with a roomier one on his property, opening up a long swath of excellent spawning habitat just in time for the 2012-13 spawning season.
In stark contrast to past years when very few kokanee could navigate the old culvert and return to the upper portion of Ebright Creek where habitat conditions are good, thousands of kokanee moved through the larger culvert this past winter and deposited eggs in hundreds of nests in the stream bottom.
"The kokanee has been part of the heritage of our city since its inception,” Sammamish Mayor Tom Odell said. “The city is an active partner with the other members of the Kokanee Work Group in the effort to restore the population of this genetically unique species which is found only within the Lake Sammamish watershed. We are committed to its survival and will keep working to ensure the annual runs continue to rebuild."
“Thanks to the efforts of the Lake Sammamish Kokanee Work Group, the lake’s tributaries are once again supporting the little red fish,” Issaquah Mayor Ava Frisinger said. “Salmon recovery knows no jurisdictional boundaries, and together we have achieved more than we believed possible.”
The fry released during today’s event were reared in the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Issaquah Salmon Hatchery as part of a supplementation project that is coordinated by the Lake Sammamish Kokanee Work Group, which was established in 2007 to prevent the extinction of Lake Sammamish kokanee and bring them back to robust health.
The work group is comprised of King County, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the cities of Sammamish, Issaquah, Bellevue and Redmond, the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe, Trout Unlimited and kokanee recovery advocates.
Work Group members designed the supplementation program with the goal of increasing kokanee survival and ultimately increasing future numbers of adult kokanee spawning in the Lake Sammamish watershed.
The hatchery program is funded primarily by the USFWS, and implemented with the support of WDFW and King County. Streamside landowners pitch in by helping find the returning fish in the fall and winter.
The hatchery program is intended to serve as a temporary tool for recovery, ensuring that kokanee population numbers are stable or increasing as critical habitat improvements are completed. The work group’s ultimate goal is to restore by 2021, enough habitat to ensure the long term health of the population without a hatchery.