May 6, 2008
Lake Sammamish salmon recovery to get boost
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans investigation of kokanee stock’s crash
Work to save struggling kokanee salmon in Lake Sammamish got a strong boost today after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced that it will consider these local, landlocked salmon for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The announcement comes on the heels of the worst spawning return of Lake Sammamish kokanee in a decade – a return that was so low that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife had to delay an emergency supplementation program for a lack of fish. The situation has given a new sense of urgency to those already mobilized to save these fish.
"We are pleased with the decision to consider kokanee for protection, and this is an important step toward fixing the problems these fish face," said King County Executive Ron Sims. "We welcome the expertise that the Fish and Wildlife Service brings to the question of what is happening to our fish, and we are hopeful that they become a partner in our ongoing efforts to save the stock."
Joining King County and Trout Unlimited in the petition to USFWS were the City of Issaquah, the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe, People for Puget Sound, Wild Fish Conservancy and Save Lake Sammamish.
The investigation into pinpointing causes for the kokanee decline is ongoing. Some potential suspects range from degraded habitat conditions, or changes in stream flow patterns – both due to land development and loss of native vegetation. Climate change, water quality and the food web in the lake itself are also potential suspects.
However beneficial the involvement of USFWS might turn out to be, the local community isn’t waiting for the listing process to play out before taking action.
Last year, a collection of local governments, non-profit groups, citizens, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife organized the Lake Sammamish Kokanee Work Group to identify and prioritize actions that would benefit kokanee.
While the investigation of the population’s decline continues, work group members have been taking actions vital to kokanee recovery, including:
- King County has made improvements to fish passage on streams that flow beneath the East Lake Sammamish Trail;
- The City of Issaquah has made improvements to habitat along Lewis Creek, while the City of Sammamish has been doing similar work on Zaccuse Creek;
- Trout Unlimited has been operating a kokanee fry trap that provides managers with an accurate count of fish production on Lewis Creek;
- WDFW staff have performed spawner surveys and are working with biologists to develop protocols for a kokanee supplementation program, which would be housed at the Issaquah Hatchery.
This work is ongoing, with an analysis of the causes of kokanee decline due in July. After that, the Work Group will use the results to identify what is needed in the near and long term to reverse the decline, and to support on the ground actions.
“The collaborative effort we started last year is fundamental to our success,” said Mark Taylor, President of the Washington State Council of Trout Unlimited. “None of us can save these fish on our own, and our efforts will be more effective the better we coordinate and the more we base them on good science. This ESA review by Fish and Wildlife should help in this effort.”
The 143 fish observed in the spawning streams this past winter was the lowest recorded since 1999-2000, and just 3 percent of the number that was seen in 2003, the year the parents of these fish returned to spawn.
More than 80 percent of the fish counted during spawning surveys were found prior to the flooding on Dec. 3, 2007. Fears the storms would decimate the production from surviving fish were largely confirmed by recent trapping efforts to help count the offspring of last fall’s spawners. Just over 100 kokanee have been counted to date, well below the 1,000-plus fish observed last spring.
Sims noted that the effort to save Lake Sammamish kokanee fits in well with the overall ecosystem restoration work that is being done by the Puget Sound Partnership.
"The Partnership’s mission to save the Puget Sound extends throughout the Sound’s watershed, and Lake Sammamish is an important piece," he said. "Anything that improves the health of Lake Sammamish, its tributaries and its native fish and wildlife populations undoubtedly benefits the Puget Sound watershed as a whole."
“This broad-based, collaborative effort holds the key to the recovery of Lake Sammamish kokanee,” said Jeff Koenings, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “The department is committed to this group effort and we look forward to continuing our involvement in the recovery of this struggling fish population.”
Salmon and Trout Topics