Kokanee fry released into Ebright Creek

May 4, 2010

By J.B. Wogan

When Wally Pereyra was a fisheries biologist, his first project was rehabbing trout in a stream in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

By the time he moved to his current farmland on the Sammamish Plateau in 1973, he was “imprinted with stream ecology,” he said.

“The stream is a major part of the farm that I moved into,” he said. “The kokanee were a part of the landscape in the fall.”

A hodgepodge of elected officials, government scientists, school children and citizen volunteers met April 21 on Pereyra’s property to release some 200 Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon fry into Ebright Creek.

Ray Mullen, of the Snoqualmie Tribe, banged a ceremonial drum while the fry were dumped from three coolers into the creek on an overcast spring day. Most people in attendance wore boots to trudge through the spongy terrain around the creek.

“I feel like we’re taking a step toward recovery today, instead of steps toward extinction,” said David St. John, chairman of the Lake Sammamish Kokanee Work Group.

The fry released April 21 were part of a larger group of 37,000 fry released into Ebright, Laughing Jacobs and Lewis creeks in April.

Carver Johnson, Cormac St. John and Ben St. John (from left), all 4, observe a cooler of kokanee salmon fry at Ebright Creek. By J.B. Wogan

St. John said members of the work group plucked adult kokanee from the Lake Sammamish tributaries, extracted their eggs and spawned them at local hatcheries.

Kokanee salmon are close relatives of sockeye salmon, though they only reside in freshwater. 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.

The Lake Sammamish kokanee population is one of only two native to the Puget Sound basin. Experts believe tens of thousands of kokanee ranged around the Lake Washington watershed in the past, according to a King County press release.

In the past few years, spawning runs have averaged in the low hundreds, with spawning confined to just a few streams, the release said.

Pereyra said he thinks increased runoff from new development has limited the kokanee’s ability to spawn. Some spawning areas aren’t available to them anymore and even in Lake Sammamish, the space with appropriate oxygen levels is smaller than it used to be, he said.

At the release, Sammamish Mayor Don Gerend said citizens made a special effort to get local governments involved in helping repopulate the kokanee.

“We’ve adopted the little red fish and everything we can do to help them is what we’re after here,” Gerend said.

It’s the work of local residents like Pereyra that have created a sense of hope around rehabilitating the kokanee from the brink of extinction, according to St. John.

He said residents were e-mailing him in the early hours of the morning, notifying him that kokanee were migrating upstream and he could pick them up.

“That real-time community presence out here looking for these fish and protecting what we have, I mean that made a difference this year,” he said.

J.B. Wogan: 392-6434, ext. 247, or jbwogan@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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