April 18, 2011
Release of Lake Sammamish kokanee marks another year of group’s work to restore stock
King County, state, federal and local agencies, plus volunteers, work to restore kokanee through supplementation, habitat protection
Juvenile kokanee salmon – delicate, wriggling slivers of silver – were carefully tipped from buckets into Laughing Jacobs Creek in Issaquah today. The release marked the beginning of their journey to adulthood in the wild and the end of the second season of emergency hatchery supplementation for a critically weak salmon stock that King County and its Lake Sammamish Kokanee Work Group partners hope to rebuild.
“Our effort to boost the struggling Sammamish kokanee population is an essential short-term step, while our long-term goal is to protect and restore the kokanee's habitat so hatchery supplementation is no longer needed,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine, who took part this afternoon in the Earth Week release of 100 juvenile kokanee salmon – the last of approximately 30,000 kokanee released this spring.
The hatchery supplementation program is one component of the overall kokanee recovery project developed by the 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 includes watershed residents and representatives from King County, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the cities of Sammamish, Issaquah, Bellevue and Redmond, Trout Unlimited and kokanee recovery advocates.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enthusiastically supports the partnership with the Work Group to support a locally-directed conservation strategy for Lake Sammamish kokanee that will maintain this fish population for current and future generations,” said USFWS Pacific Regional Director Robyn Thorson.
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.
USFWS’ Quilcene National Fish Hatchery along with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Issaquah Hatchery raised the kokanee eggs collected from adult fish captured in Ebright, Laughing Jacobs and Lewis creeks from October through December 2010. Using two hatcheries reduced the risk associated with keeping all of the hatchery program’s eggs in one place.
Executive Constantine noted that King County’s commitment to rebuilding Lake Sammamish kokanee is evident in several actions:
- King County staff have chaired the Sammamish Kokanee Work Group since its inception back in 2007, helping to coordinate the efforts of local volunteers and agencies, plus the state and federal agencies that are a part of this ongoing recovery effort;
- County staff also conduct spawning ground surveys and collect adult fish for the hatchery supplementation program that the work group has had in place for the last two seasons;
- The County is also developing plans for replacing a culvert on Zaccuse Creek where it flows underneath the East Lake Sammamish Trail. The new culvert will make it easier for fish to move from the lake into the creek and back again; and
- The County recently acquired about 100 acres in the Issaquah Creek headwaters for habitat restoration, and is restoring habitat on additional acreage within Taylor Mountain Forest.
“Restoring Lake Sammamish kokanee is an important effort for King County to preserve this native stock as well as our rich natural heritage,” said King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert, who represents much of the Sammamish Watershed. “As an indicator species, the kokanee give us insight into the health of the lake and the surrounding watershed. I am encouraged by the response involving fabulous teamwork with interagency cooperation and the assistance of watershed residents on recovery projects that address species population as well as habitat.”
“Salmon are a treasured part of our community, but they won’t be around for us and our children to enjoy if we don’t act as effective stewards of our watersheds,” said Issaquah Mayor Ava Frisinger. “We have learned a lot about what salmon need to thrive, including cool, clean water, healthy habitats and access to spawning grounds, and we must act now to ensure that our kokanee have all that they need so that their numbers can grow.”
Kokanee salmon are close relatives of sockeye salmon. They differ from sockeye mostly by virtue of their freshwater-only life cycle – they enter Lake Sammamish soon after emerging from the stream or lakeshore gravel, and reside in the lake for three years before returning to their home stream or shoreline to spawn and die. They also are roughly half the size of sockeye that go to the ocean for several years prior to making their spawning run.
The Lake Sammamish kokanee population is one of only two native to the Puget Sound basin. Historically it likely numbered in the tens of thousands and ranged around the Lake Washington watershed.
Extensive surveys of the spawning grounds this past fall and early winter indicated that the 2010-11 spawning run is one of the smallest in a decade or more, making the emergency supplementation program all the more important to the ongoing survival of Lake Sammamish kokanee.
The hatchery program is funded primarily by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and implemented with the support of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and King County. Streamside landowners pitch in by helping find the returning fish in the fall and winter. Through the Kokanee Work Group, cities around the lake helped fund the use of pure well water from Darigold to incubate, hatch and rear juvenile kokanee until their release back into the wild.
Learn more about Lake Sammamish kokanee at: http://www.kingcounty.gov/environment/animalsAndPlants/salmon-and-trout/kokanee.aspx.
Video: Kokanee release
Kokanee in King County, Washington
Salmon and trout topics
King County Water and Land Resources