Concerns about coho salmon persist as hatchery spawns other species

November 30, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Jed Varney (left) and John Kugen spawn a Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon last month at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery. Contributed

Lake Sammamish kokanee conservation program continues

The small coho salmon run has left the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery about 750,000 eggs short.

The inexplicable shortfall means the hatchery must truck in coho eggs from the Wallace Creek Hatchery in Sultan in order to meet the 1.2 million-egg goal for the year.

Biologists remain puzzled about the decline in coho, but poor ocean conditions could be a factor in the drop-off.

Teams at the Issaquah hatchery had trapped 475 coho — and did not allow any fish to pass upstream to spawn — by late November. The number represents a fraction of the fish the hatchery spawns during a normal coho run.

“Any that we can get our hands on, we’re going to spawn,” Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery Executive Director Gestin Suttle said.

Hatchery Supervisor Darin Combs said some straggler coho could reach the hatchery in early December.

“I’m not real optimistic that we’re going to see much more,” he said. “Sometimes, you’ll see a late portion of a run, so that’s why we’ll continue to trap, just in case they do show up.”

The coho decline dominated the season at the downtown Issaquah hatchery, but the hatchery recorded strong chinook salmon returns. The nascent program to repopulate Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon has been a success so far.

The hatchery harvested more than 2 million chinook eggs and allowed about 1,100 fish upstream from the hatchery to spawn in Issaquah Creek.

The robust chinook return prompted the Muckleshoot Tribe to use gill nets to harvest 550 chinook from Lake Sammamish throughout the fall. The tribe has treaty rights to harvest the fish.

The kokanee program has received special attention because the fish — a landlocked form of sockeye salmon — is seen as in decline.

Environmentalists, local governments and the Snoqualmie Tribe petitioned in 2007 to list Lake Sammamish kokanee as endangered. The federal Department of the Interior has yet to decide on the request.

King County launched a conservation program last year to boost the kokanee population. Biologists comb Lake Sammamish tributary creeks — Ebright, Laughing Jacobs and Lewis — to search for fish during the fall run. Teams rush kokanee to the hatchery if a fish is discovered in a tributary creek.

The kokanee discoveries also mean a cause for celebration. Suttle recalled a kokanee hen, or female, surrounded by people snapping photos at the hatchery last month.

Biologists had harvested kokanee from Ebright and Laughing Jacobs creeks — but none from Lewis Creek — by late November. The kokanee spawning effort should stretch into January.

Biologists plan to truck in creek water in order for immature fish to “imprint” on a home stream and return to the waterway later to spawn.

Plans call for some kokanee eggs to be trucked to the Quilcene National Fish Hatchery on the Olympic Peninsula.

Despite the accomplishments, biologists remain concerned about the coho decline. State Department of Fish and Wildlife Fish Biologist Aaron Bosworth said spawning wild coho could help the number rebound after the decline in hatchery fish.

“Hopefully the wild fish will have a decent run,” he said. “I’m sure it won’t be great or banner or anything, but maybe it will be slightly better than the hatchery part.”

Salmon by the numbers

Chinook salmon

  • 3,099 fish
  • 2.4 million eggs harvested
  • Goal: 2.1 million eggs

Coho salmon

  • 475 fish
  • 455,000 eggs harvested
  • Goal: 1.2 million eggs

Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon

  • 28 fish
  • 9,562 eggs harvested
  • Goal: 110,000 eggs

Source: Issaquah Salmon Hatchery. The data is current through Nov. 29.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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One Response to “Concerns about coho salmon persist as hatchery spawns other species”

  1. Join leaders to release threatened kokanee salmon : The Issaquah Press – News, Sports, Classifieds in Issaquah, WA on April 16th, 2011 9:07 am

    […] collected kokanee from Lake Sammamish tributaries last fall and then spawned the salmon at the Issaquah […]

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