Kokanee release celebrates species recovery

April 30, 2013

By Peter Clark

Marking the fourth year of a successful effort, The Kokanee Work Group, along with the cities of Issaquah and Sammamish, held its annual kokanee fry release last week with the help of area fourth-graders.

On a sunny and mild April 26, a group of students from Elizabeth Blackwell Elementary School placed several hundred young kokanee salmon into their home waters of Ebright Creek. The concentrated effort to save the species, which lives most of its life in Lake Sammamish, celebrated the results of a recovery after the fish had hovered on the edge of extinction.

By Peter Clark King County Executive Dow Constantine (left) and mayor Ava Frisinger release kokanee salmon fry from their plastic cups into Ebright Creek April 26, during the annual celebration of the continuing restoration effort for the endangered species.

By Peter Clark
King County Executive Dow Constantine (left) and mayor Ava Frisinger release kokanee salmon fry from their plastic cups into Ebright Creek April 26, during the annual celebration of the continuing restoration effort for the endangered species.

Sammamish Mayor Tom Odell praised the citizens who have come together to help the native fish.

“We are here to celebrate success,” he said. “We’ve already put several thousand into the stream and we’re going to put several thousand more.”

The kokanee, which return to local streams in order to spawn, came close to extinction because of rapid development in the area, according to Grace Reamer, a volunteer with Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery. Hastily built culverts and choked streams invaded the habitat and found the fish dying out quickly, she said.

The celebration also took place in recognition of Wally Pereyra, on his property along the creek. After putting in about $175,000 of his own money to rebuild the strangling culverts, he was able to help restore the natural habitat.

As students and volunteers lowered small fry into the creek, members of the Snoqualmie Tribe performed “The Rabbit Song” to send the fish along their way.

King County Council Executive Dow Constantine attended the event and expressed the county’s exuberance over the recovery effort’s success.

“Today, we are able to celebrate the fact that we are moving them away from that brink,” he said. “Today, we have reason to be optimistic. We can achieve those goals.”

The Kokanee Work Group was founded four years ago. Through cooperation with the state-owned Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, more than 10,000 adult kokanee spawned in several streams in the Sammamish watershed last winter, according to a release from the city. Four years ago, that number was less than 100, Reamer said.

Issaquah Mayor Ava Frisinger, who is also president of the Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, shared her joy that the city could be a part of such a dramatic population upswing.

“Issaquah is delighted to be a part of this effort and the Kokanee Work Group,” she said. “We supported the listing of these fish as an endangered species, and I am proud of the role that Issaquah has been a part of in that recovery.”

Among all of the salmon-shaped fish and activities for the children, there was also encouragement to maintain the efforts to protect the kokanee.

“We need to build community support on this to keep up the momentum,” Odell said.

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