Lake Sammamish kokanee fry release starts Earth Day celebration

April 10, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Jessica Leguizamon watches kokanee salmon fry swim away from her Dixie cup into Laughing Jacobs Creek as her sister Sabrina waits her turn and their grandfather Gary Smith looks on during the 2011 release. County environmental scientist Hans Berge makes sure the procedure is done properly. By Greg Farrar

Conservationists plodded along rain-soaked creek banks last autumn to collect mature Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon in a soggy slog and pluck fish from a handful of streams to preserve the fading species.

The groups responsible for the salmon run restoration effort plan to return to Laughing Jacobs Creek on April 19 to release minuscule fry — a sign of success for the local, county, state and federal agencies entwined in the preservation program.

The annual kokanee fry release celebrates the ongoing push to restore the declining kokanee population in Lake Sammamish and launches Earth Day observances in the area. The community is invited to participate and learn about the salmon species — a landlocked cousin of sockeye — and the preservation program.

The release is timed to occur as kokanee fry spawned in the creeks emerge from the gravel on the streambeds.

“The fish that we raise at the hatchery, we try to mimic with as close as we can, the same temperature,” said Hans Berge, a county environmental scientist and a Lake Sammamish kokanee expert. “Of course, temperature governs when they come out of the gravel.”

The scheduled participants in the release include King County Executive Dow Constantine, plus officials from Issaquah, Sammamish, Bellevue and the Snoqualmie Tribe. Organizers also invited representatives from the government agencies involved in the effort and the nonprofit organization Trout Unlimited.

The fry, each a little more than 1 inch in length, should enter the lake as daphnia — microscopic crustaceans and a preferred food source for the salmon — starts to increase.

“It’s kind of a natural bonus that they’re coinciding with lake entry and the production of daphnia,” Berge said. “The food is becoming more and more available as we get sunnier, longer days.”

In the days before the release, hatchery crews start feeding the fry more to prepare them for life in the creeks.

“It’s a combination of trying to maximize performance and minimize domestication from the hatchery effects,” Berge said.

‘Something worth protecting’

If you go

Lake Sammamish kokanee fry release

  • 1-3 p.m. April 19
  • Laughing Jacobs Creek at Hans Jensen Park along East Lake Sammamish Parkway Southeast
  • Parking is available in the park along the road or across East Lake Sammamish Parkway Southeast at the boat launch area. In the event of rain, only the boat launch area is open for parking.
  • Participants should wear boots and dress appropriately for the weather. Organizers do not plan to have restroom facilities onsite.

Still, threats abound in the creeks and the lake, especially birds and other fish — cutthroat trout and sculpin snack on salmon fry.

The release completes a process set in motion months ago on rain-soaked days.

Come autumn, teams deploy along Ebright, Laughing Jacobs and Lewis creeks to collect 3- and 4-year-old fish. Then, Issaquah Salmon Hatchery employees and Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery members spawn the fish at the downtown hatchery and tend to the eggs as the fry mature.

The group collected 65,800 eggs last year and expected about 90 percent to survive.

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

Ongoing threats illustrate the species’ fragility.

In March 2011, a landslide into Ebright Creek entombed the nascent kokanee in the stream.

“We were very fortunate that we had the kokanee that we collected at the hatchery as kind of the insurance policy against things like that,” Berge said. “It is catastrophic, but it could have been a lot worse.”

The species failed to qualify for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act last year.

“I would say that last year’s return was better than expected, but we’re certainly very far away from recovery,” Berge said.

The distant goal is to restore the species so kokanee return to many creeks branching from the lake to spawn each autumn.

“The nice thing is, when we see returns like last year’s return, that’s a sign that there is resilience in the population and there is something worth protecting, that we may be able to get something back out of all of these efforts,” Berge said.

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

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