Fundraiser to aid dwindling Lake Sammamish kokanee

March 13, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

The message from groups toiling to save a fish species from extinction is simple and stark: SOS, for Save Our Salmon.

Kokanee S.O.S. is a planned fundraiser organized by Coho Café and Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery to aid the diminishing Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon population. The restaurant and the nonprofit organization are planning a March 23 fundraiser to benefit kokanee restoration efforts.

“This possible extinction is literally happening right in our own backyard and if a community as educated and affluent as King County cannot turn this critical situation around, then I’m not sure there is hope for any people to protect a dwindling and important resource,” said Heather VanDorn, Coho Café Catering manager.

(Coho Café Catering is the latest venture from the popular Issaquah restaurant.)

“I have a tremendous amount of faith in our community and know that with a bit of education and a lot of care, we have the ability to protect the Lake Sammamish kokanee from extinction,” VanDorn added.

How to help

Kokanee S.O.S. fundraiser

  • 6 p.m. March 23
  • Issaquah Salmon Hatchery Watershed Science Center
  • 125 W. Sunset Way
  • Purchase tickets at Coho Café, 6130 E. Lake Sammamish Parkway S.E., Suite A, or by calling 391-4040.

Proceeds from ticket sales and a silent wine auction benefit the kokanee supplementation program.

In the program, experts deploy along creek banks throughout the season to collect fish in creeks near the lake and spawn the salmon at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery. Then, hatchery employees and FISH members spawn the fish and tend to the eggs until tiny fry can be released into local creeks.

The kokanee spawning program includes the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, King County and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Despite the broad participation, the program — considered as a stopgap measure for kokanee survival — operates on a limited budget.

“This salmon population is a unique and historical community asset, and it will live or die by the care of the community,” said David St. John, Lake Sammamish Kokanee Work Group coordinator and chairman. “We are always searching for ways to grow the contributions of local people and businesses in support of our conservation mission. We’ve been successful with several early actions and want more people to share in new, bigger successes.”

The once-abundant kokanee declined in recent decades, perhaps due to construction near creeks, increased predators, disease or changes in water quality.

In recent years, the number of salmon in the late-fall and early-winter run has dwindled to fewer than 1,000 in some seasons. The fish return to only a handful of creeks — Ebright, Laughing Jacobs and Lewis — to spawn.

Despite the challenges, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officials declined last year to list the species as endangered.

The agency determined the Lake Sammamish kokanee population did not meet the definition of a “listable entity” under the “distinct population segment” policy.

Officials said the species offered no evidence of a “special significance to the well-being of the species throughout its range,” and therefore did not qualify for Endangered Species Act protection. Similar kokanee thrive in other waterways around the globe.

The fundraiser at the Watershed Science Center on the hatchery grounds is meant to offer the fish species another chance at renewal.

“It is our hope that this benefit will be the impetus for others in the community to get involved in this cause and act to make a difference in the future of the Lake Sammamish kokanee,” said Peter Cummings, Coho Café general manager.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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