A partnership coordinated by King County successfully flew the offspring of native Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon from an Orcas Island hatchery back to their home watershed, completing one of several emergency actions they’re taking to prevent the possible extinction of the unique landlocked salmon.
King County Executive Dow Constantine today welcomed a small airplane carrying the last of nearly 12,000 offspring of Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon that biologists flew to an Orcas Island hatchery two years ago. It completes one of several emergency actions that King County and partners are taking to help ensure the survival of the unique native species.
Transferring the juvenile salmon to the island hatchery protected them from potentially hazardous conditions in Lake Sammamish – including high temperatures, low oxygen levels, disease, and voracious non-native predators – that contributed to a sudden, alarming decline in the kokanee population.
There have been positive developments for the kokanee in recent months. Biologists this past fall observed more than 2,000 adult kokanee returning from Lake Sammamish to spawn in tributary creeks, more than the total number of returning spawners they have observed over the past five years combined.
“By land, sea, and now air, we are delivering on the promise we made to help ensure the survival of a native salmon species that is important to our habitat and our history,” said Executive Constantine. “Flying kokanee to an island hatchery and safely returning their offspring requires ingenuity and resourcefulness. This successful mission shows that our staff and partners have both.”
The Lake Sammamish Kokanee Work Group partnered with LightHawk, a nationwide nonprofit organization that offers small aircraft flights and volunteer pilots to advance conservation efforts that require fast, safe transport. Long Live the Kings offered their hatchery on Orcas Island to help with the recovery effort following a sudden, alarming decline in the number of spawners returning to Lake Sammamish streams.
The fertilized eggs will be released in egg boxes or raised as juveniles at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s hatchery in Issaquah and will be released later. The majority of the eggs will end up as juvenile kokanee in Lake Sammamish.
Taking emergency and long-range actions after an alarming decline in returning salmon
Executive Constantine in May 2018 announced that the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks would work with partners to enact a wide range of actions to prevent the possible extinction of the native freshwater kokanee salmon after a dramatic decline in spawners returning to streams around Lake Sammamish. County, state, and federal biologists counted fewer than 20 kokanee during the 2017 return, five years after they counted more than 18,000.
Based on recommendations by the Lake Sammamish Kokanee Work Group – an alliance of tribal and local governments, state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, landowners, and residents of the watershed – King County and partners are:
- Using specially designed traps to capture returning spawners for the hatchery program
- Releasing young salmon into Lake Sammamish during the fall, after the lake’s temperature cooled and oxygen levels rose
- Reintroducing kokanee salmon to additional creeks in the watershed using egg boxes, reducing the risk that a flood or drought in a single creek will wipe out the entire run
- Leading technical work to understand and guide strategic actions to address the underlying factors that are threatening the kokanee population, for example replacing culverts that are blocking access to significant spawning area
The Lake Sammamish Kokanee Work Group active membership includes the Snoqualmie Tribe, each of the five local jurisdictions in the Lake Sammamish watershed, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington State Parks, Trout Unlimited, Mid-Sound Fisheries Enhancement Group, Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, Friends of Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, Save Lake Sammamish, Friends of Pine Lake, Friends of Lake Sammamish State Park, and residents who live in the watershed.
- Lake Sammamish Work Group
- VIDEO: Delivering on a promise: Taking action to save native kokanee salmon
- TRACKS: An interactive map showing the progress we're making to protect and restore King County's natural environment
By land, sea, and now air, we are delivering on the promise we made to help ensure the survival of a native salmon species that is important to our habitat and our history. Flying kokanee to an island hatchery and safely returning their offspring requires ingenuity and resourcefulness. This successful mission shows that our staff and partners have both.
For more information, contact:
Doug Williams, Department of Natural Resources and Parks, 206-477-4543