Adopt-a-Kokanee project helps endangered salmon

November 19, 2008

By Stephanie Small

The gray wolf. The spotted owl. The Kokanee salmon?

If things aren’t done to improve the Kokanee salmon’s habitat, it will soon join the list of endangered species in Washington state.This is why the Bellevue/Issaquah chapter of Trout Unlimited is working on a new project to scientifically track the Kokanee salmon in Lake Sammamish to learn more about this unique-to-the-area fish.

The project entails the adoption of Kokanee salmon by private donors. For a donation of $300, participants receive a picture of their fish and the opportunity to name it, as well as updates about the activity of the fish.

Mark Taylor, state council president of the Bellevue/Issaquah Trout Unlimited chapter, as well as head of the tracking project, said he hopes that putting tracking devices on fish will help scientists and researchers learn more about the life of the Kokanee.

“The biggest mystery is what’s going on during the life of a Kokanee salmon,” he said. “We don’t know much of anything about how they live their lives, other than that their numbers are dangerously low.”

So low, in fact, that Taylor, along with Joanna Buehler, of Save Lake Sammamish, have filed a petition with the State Fish and Wildlife Service to get the Kokanee salmon on the endangered species list. According to Taylor, only 140 fish came back last year to spawn, a staggering decrease from the 10,000 to 20,000 recorded in previous years.

“The decrease in numbers is due in large part to the fact that all the salmon spawned last year before the floods,” Taylor said.

Almost all the fish eggs were washed away and killed. Taylor and his team collected fewer than 200 salmon fry last year, and didn’t catch one fry from before the flood.

The tagging project should help scientists learn what makes the Kokanee salmon the only salmon able to live in Lake Sammamish. Buehler said she hopes that by learning more about the fish, such as what they eat, what eats them and where in the lake they live, it will help improve the knowledge of not only the salmon but also of the lake. 

“It is up to the community as a whole to look after the treasure that is Lake Sammamish,” she said.

Many opportunities are available for people wanting to get involved. The most basic include thinking about what’s really going into the lake and affecting the fish, as well as removing noxious weeds and replacing them with native plants. Other ideas might appeal to young and the old alike.

Kate Brunette, a student at Issaquah High School, became involved by starting a chapter of the Roots & Shoots Club with fellow student Maria Schandl. 

The goals of the group started by environmentalist Jane Goodall are to promote care for the animals, the community and the environment. Brunette and Schandl are doing just that by planning a native plant-restoration project along the banks of Lake Sammamish, as well as along the creeks where the salmon spawn. 

“Plants along the river banks prevent erosion, which creates a better spawning ground for the fish and a better environment for the eggs,” Brunette said.

Because of the flooding that occurred last year, the planting will not start until spring. Any way Brunette can help, though, is important for the future of the salmon.

“A salmon run on the Issaquah Creek has already gone extinct, and I really don’t want the same thing to happen in Lake Sammamish,” she said.

This is a point Taylor and Buehler agree on. Whatever involvement, some is better than none, for without change, a species will be lost forever.

“These are truly our fish,” Taylor said. “If these fish die, there will be no more Kokanee.”


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Stephanie Small is a student in the University Of Washington Department Of Communication News Laboratory.

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