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Kokanee: The little red fish that could!
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Kokanee salmon are native to the Lake Sammamish and Lake Washington watershed but now spawn in only a few streams that feed into Lake Sammamish. Unlike their larger relative the sockeye salmon, kokanee do not go out to the ocean but spend their entire lifecycle in fresh water. They migrate from streams as inch-long fry and spend three to four years in Lake Sammamish before returning to spawn in the late fall and early winter in their natal streams.

This kokanee population’s habitat once encompassed the lower Cedar River, smaller tributaries to Lake Washington and the Sammamish River, and the Lake Sammamish watershed, but today its range is only Lake Sammamish and primarily three of its tributary streams used for spawning.. This population once numbered in the tens of thousands of fish. Since 2007-2008 the number of returning spawners has dipped below 150 spawners four times. Causes of this decline are currently understood to include altered stormwater flows, past hatchery practices, predation, fishing, passage barriers, and lake temperature and dissolved oxygen levels.

The Lake Sammamish Kokanee Work Group (KWG) is driving the collaborative effort to recover these little red fish. Watershed residents, local jurisdictions, agencies, and NGOs formed the KWG in 2007 to identify the causes of kokanee decline and then develop and implement actions to address them.

Lake Sammamish kokanee streams (click to open pdf):
Lake Sammamish kokanee streams map


Lake Sammamish Kokanee Recovery Strategic Timeline (361 KB Acrobat pdf)

Lake Sammamish Kokanee Workgroup products

Lake Sammamish Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership
Extensive effort to support conservation of fish and wildlife in the Sammamish Basin, and contribute to the quality of life for current residents and future generations.

Kokanee identification
Pictures, drawings and descriptions to help identify landlocked sockeye salmon or kokanee.

Kokanee pictures
Photos of kokanee in tributary creeks of Lake Sammamish in King County, Washington.
Lewis Creek kokanee picture for identification

Kokanee videos
Watch videos of spawning, rearing and reintroduction of kokanee in Lake Sammamish tributaries since 2007.

  • Spring 2015 Video: 6th Annual Lake Sammamish kokanee fry release New!
    Classes from Pine Lake Middle School and Blackwell Elementary in Sammamish and from Campbell Hill Elementary from Renton helped release kokanee salmon fry into Laughing Jacobs Creek.  King County Executive Dow Constantine and a student leader from Pine Lake Middle School speak in this video.
  • Kokanee Cam
    Underwater video of kokanee returning to a stream in the Sammamish Watershed. 

Kokanee studies, reports and documents

Kokanee conservation presentations
Briefing materials presented to regional partners interesting in Lake Sammamish kokanee science, status and conservation efforts.

For questions about Lake Sammamish kokanee, please contact David St. John, government relations administrator, DNRP Water Policy Unit.

Related information

Related agencies

News and announcements

July 25, 2016
External article, KCTS9/ earthFIX
An Urban Refuge Where Humans And Wildlife Coexist

Kokanee QuestKokanee Quest: get outside
Geocaching around Lake Sammamish

Apr. 28, 2016
External article, Issaquah Reporter
Students pour ‘little red fish’ into Issaquah Creek during annual Kokanee Release

Apr. 22, 2016
External report, East of Seattle News
VIDEO: Kokanee release on Issaquah Creek

Jan. 8, 2016
External article, Issaquah-Sammamish Reporter 
Kokanee return: Third highest spawning run in the last two decades

» Archived news and announcements