Native kokanee fry released in historic ceremony

April 19, 2011

By Laura Geggel

Seventy-five kokanee fry swam in a small camping cooler by Laughing Jacobs Creek, unaware they were surrounded by federal, state, county and city administrators, as well as concerned citizens — all people intent on helping the native salmon survive in the wild.

The Issaquah Salmon Hatchery teamed up with the Lake Sammamish Kokanee Work Group and dignitaries from the city all the way to the federal level for the second annual kokanee fry release at Hans Jensen Park on April 18.

Last year, the group released the kokanee at Ebright Creek in Sammamish, and next year the release will be celebrated at Lewis Creek in Issaquah.

Jessica Leguizamon, 10, watches kokanee salmon fry swim away from her Dixie cup into Laughing Jacobs Creek as her sister Sabrina, 5, waits her turn and their grandfather, Gary Smith, looks on. County environmental scientist Hans Berge makes sure the release is done properly. By Greg Farrar

“This fry release is a critical part of our kokanee recovery and restoration efforts,” David St. John, Department of Natural Resources government relations administrator, said.

He outlined the group’s goals: preventing kokanee extinction and restoring a diverse and native habitat for the salmon.

“In our last run there was probably 100 fish, so we’re at low numbers, extremely low numbers,” St. John said.

A normal run for kokanee usually extends into the hundreds or thousands, he said in a later phone interview.

Sammamish Mayor Don Gerend commended hatchery’s program, reminding his audience of a mud slide in the Ebright Creek basin in March that “muddied the waters and perhaps washed out some of the redds,” he said, referring to the kokanee’s nests.

By having the hatchery raise and release kokanee — the landlocked cousin of the sockeye salmon — the fish have a second chance at survival.

Darin Combs, Issaquah Salmon Hatchery manager, explained how the spawning projects worked. The hatchery found adult fish in three local creeks — Ebright, Laughing Jacobs and Lewis — and brought them to spawn at the hatchery Nov. 17. In order to imprint the young kokanee, the hatchery used water from each fish’s native creek.

Darigold sold water to four cities — Issaquah, Sammamish, Bellevue and Redmond — so hatchery staff could thermally mark the 14,500 kokanee for tracking purposes.

When the kokanee eggs hatched early, the hatchery kept them incubated, giving them more time to grow in size and strength.

“They’ve grown tremendously,” Combs said. “They’ve tripled in size.”

Jessica Leguizamon, a 10-year-old from Bellevue, came to the ceremony with her family and released two of the small fry into the creek.

“It feels really good to help an endangered species,” she said. “Now I know there’s at least two more fish in the water.”

High praise and hard work

Issaquah Mayor Ava Frisinger called salmon “iconic” in the Pacific Northwest.

“We know that the disruption of small tributaries to these other small streams is something that is very damaging to them, so we’re working very hard collectively as communities to make sure that we can keep these fish from going extinct,” she said.

King County Executive Dow Constantine said the hatchery’s spawning program was pivotal to helping the kokanee survive, but said it was not a long-term answer.

“It is not the substitute for habitat protection and recovery, but it’s an essential step,” he said.

The Lake Sammamish Kokanee Work Group is working to help the kokanee thrive in their native waters. Since 2007, watershed residents and representatives from King County, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the cities of Sammamish, Issaquah, Bellevue and Redmond, Trout Unlimited and kokanee recovery advocates have worked together to help the fish.

The work group counts the number of kokanee and surveys their spawning grounds. As a result of their work, King County has developed plans to replace a culvert on Zaccuse Creek where it flows underneath the East Lake Sammamish Trail, an obstacle that prevents kokanee from swimming past it.

In other good news, the county recently acquired about 100 acres in the Issaquah Creek headwaters and within the Taylor Mountain Forest for habitat restoration. Although no kokanee live in Issaquah Creek currently, the restoration project may bring them back.

These projects will not only help the kokanee, but also other fish, wildlife, and the people who live near creeks, streams or Lake Sammamish.

“Healthy forests, healthy streams, healthy lakes are things that we all want for ourselves and our children,” Constantine said. “They are essential to our quality of life.”

Supporting another successful run of kokanee means a lot not only to local citizen groups, such as Friends of Pine Lake, but also to American Indians. Matt Baerwalde, a representative of the Snoqualmie Tribe, said the tribe relied on the kokanee run for sustenance, historically.

“The intertwined histories of the little red fish of Lake Sammamish and the Snoqualmie Tribe go back an awfully long time, and some could argue that there are some certain parallels in those histories,” he said.

Other speakers included Grace Reamer, who works with King County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, and Brad Thompson with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or

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