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Partnership celebrates decade of work to restore Sammamish watershed kokanee salmon

Summary

Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon restoration partners were joined today in the Sammamish watershed by the head of Trout Unlimited, elementary school students and Girl and Boy Scouts to learn about this unique species, and what it will take to prevent its extinction.

Story

With a decade of coordinated conservation and kokanee_2017_vegetation_plantingrestoration efforts in the books, members of the Lake Sammamish Kokanee Work Group gathered today along Issaquah Creek and reaffirmed their commitment to continuing a coordinated, multi-faceted approach for restoring the unique native fish’s numbers to healthy levels throughout the watershed.

Assembled in Issaquah’s Confluence Park, representatives of the Kokanee Work Group were joined by students on a science field trip from Blackwell Elementary (Sammamish), Medina Academy (Bellevue) and Issaquah Valley Elementary (Issaquah), and by local Scouts, who participated in habitat enhancement work along Issaquah Creek and learned about Lake Sammamish kokanee restoration work, and the ecology of the watershed.

Also in attendance for the kokanee celebration was Chris Wood – president and CEO of Trout Unlimited, one of the nation’s leading fisheries habitat conservation and restoration organizations.

Usually one highlight of this annual event is the release of kokanee fry in the creek.  However, because of an extremely small number of adult spawning kokanee salmon during the 2016-17 spawning season, no juvenile fish were available to release at the kokanee celebration.

Biologists counted precious few salmon nests where fertilized kokanee eggs were incubating during the most recent spawning season. Once hatched, young kokanee salmon migrate downstream into Lake Sammamish, where they spend three or four years feeding and growing, before returning to the stream where they hatched to spawn, then die.

A key component of the Kokanee Work Group’s restoration efforts has been and will continue to be a kokanee supplementation program at the Issaquah State Salmon Hatchery, where adult kokanee that are gathered from the handful of streams where natural spawning occurs are taken to the hatchery and spawned artificially to increase survival rates.

The hatchery program is funded primarily by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and implemented with the support of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and King County. Streamside landowners pitch in by helping find adult fish that return to spawn 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 goal is by 2021 to restore and re-establish access to enough habitat to ensure the long-term health of the population without a hatchery.

A new tool at the Kokanee Work Group’s disposal is remote site incubators with fertilized kokanee eggs from the hatchery supplementation program inside that are placed along streams. The group tested them without eggs this past year and is making changes to ensure they are working effectively to hold eggs as soon as this fall, on Idylwood Creek in Redmond and Zackuse Creek in Sammamish.

Stream water is piped into and from the remote site incubators while the kokanee eggs inside mature and hatch. Young kokanee that are ready to leave this artificial nest swim down the pipe that returns water to the stream, and the fish continue their life cycle.
  
Twinned with these efforts to supplement kokanee numbers is crucial ongoing habitat restoration work throughout the watershed.

This includes replacing fish-blocking culverts with structures that allow adult fish to move into upstream spawning areas, and juvenile kokanee salmon to move downstream into Lake Sammamish to mature. Removing barriers blocking access to spawning habitat is critical to the success of the kokanee recovery effort.  A current culvert project by the City of Sammamish and King County on Zackuse Creek will restore access for spawning kokanee in time for the fall 2018 spawning run.

Additional habitat restoration work has occurred in a number of areas within the watershed, including planting native vegetation along creeks to help provide shade, stabilize streambanks, and improve the overall ecological health of a waterway.

The Kokanee Work Group members include King County, the USFWS, WDFW, Washington State Parks, the cities of Sammamish, Issaquah, Bellevue and Redmond, the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe, Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, Friends of Lake Sammamish State Park, Save Lake Sammamish, Friends of Pine Lake, Trout Unlimited, Mountains to Sound Greenway, community groups and kokanee recovery advocates.