Where have all the kokanee salmon gone?

July 17, 2012

Dallas Cross

For 5 million years, an ancient class of salmon has been swimming in lakes and streams once connected to the Pacific Ocean. They are kokanee, a small species of freshwater salmon.

Kokanee live in Lake Sammamish and spawn in its creeks. Their scientific name is Oncorhynchus nerka. It is a combination of hooked-nose in Latin together with a complex, Latin-Polish name for red salmon. They share the nerka name with their ancestral, but genetically distinct, sockeye salmon. The name, kokanee, comes from the Okanagan-Salish language and means red fish.

Lake Sammamish kokanee embrace their red fish name when they return in November through January to their birth creeks to spawn. In the lake, they are mostly silver with small scales, not spotted like trout, and have a distinctively forked tail. At spawning time, the bodies of males turn a bright red with green heads and a hooked nose. The females’ bodies turn red with a faint green stripe.

Spawning pairs seek gravel beds in the same streams where they were hatched. In these streams, they move gravel around making redds in which the female lays eggs to be fertilized by the ever-attendant male. The eggs incubate in the gravel redds for three to four months during which an alevin with an egg sac forms. Alevin then absorb the sac and mature into kokanee fry. The fry wait for a stream temperature of about 52 degrees and a dark night to leave their gravel beds and make a run downstream to the lake.

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Lake Sammamish kokanee fry release starts Earth Day celebration

April 10, 2012

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.

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Kokanee fundraiser nets almost $10,000 for preservation

April 3, 2012

Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon supporters raised almost $10,000 last month to protect the disappearing fish species.

Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery and Coho Café organized a March 16 fundraiser to net dollars for a kokanee restoration program.

The sold-out event raised funds from ticket sales for a reception at the Watershed Science Center on the hatchery grounds and a silent wine auction benefit.

Matt Baerwalde, a Snoqualmie Nation representative, presented a $5,000 check to FISH Executive Director Jane Kuechle for the kokanee spawning program.

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Federal government declines to list Lake Sammamish kokanee as endangered

October 4, 2011

Population is in decline, but local stock is not ‘distinct’ from other kokanee

Federal officials decided dwindling Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon do not qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act, prompting a chorus of disapproval from local officials.

The species’ decline concerned U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officials, but did not merit the fish being listed under the act. The agency announced the decision Oct. 3.

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. Kokanee return to only a handful of creeks — Ebright, Laughing Jacobs and Lewis — to spawn. Scientists estimated the total 2010 run at 58 fish, including the 40 kokanee spawned at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery in a last-ditch effort to save the species.

The decision came after the agency spent four years to review the Lake Sammamish stock’s health.

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Trout Unlimited meeting is Sept. 14 in Issaquah

August 30, 2011

The public is invited to the Sept. 14 meeting of the Bellevue-Issaquah Chapter of Trout Unlimited. The meeting is at 7 p.m. at the Issaquah Brewhouse, 35 W. Sunset Way.

Dave McCoy, a Trout Unlimited member and owner of Emerald Water Anglers, is the featured speaker. He will show photo slides to reveal fly fishing opportunities in Western Washington.

There is no price for admission.

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Trout Unlimited hosts fly-casting clinic at Beaver Lake Park

August 2, 2011

The Trout Unlimited Bellevue-Issaquah chapter is holding a fly-casting clinic from 5:30-8 p.m. Aug. 10 at the Beaver Lake Park pavilion. The clinic is free.

At the clinic, beginning anglers may learn basic casting techniques while seasoned anglers can fine-tune their skills or learn new techniques from professional fly casters.

Anglers can bring their own gear or test new casting gear and systems.

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Saltwater fishing for cutthroat trout

June 21, 2011

Most of my cutthroat trout fishing has been in fresh water, so when it was announced that Dan Lemaich, a salty staff member of our local Creekside Angling fly fishing shop, would give a talk about salt water cutthroat trout angling at a Bellevue-Issaquah Trout Unlimited meeting, I marked it on my calendar.

Dallas Cross

Coastal cutthroat trout are somewhat bipolar. Some of them spend their entire lives in fresh water while their siblings mysteriously opt to grow up in fresh water, go to sea and then feed in both fresh and salt water. They all return to spawn in shallow streams. Sea-run cutthroat trout are quite specific to the Northwest Pacific region, from Alaska to Northern California, but are especially abundant in Puget Sound.

For a long time, not much attention was paid to cutthroat trout, and they were below the radar for fish census or management by Washington state fishery officials. In some areas, the cutthroat were mistaken for small steelhead and called “half-pounders” by fishermen. When salmon returns became anemic, more attention was paid and salt-water cutthroat were increasingly sought by sport fishermen.

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What’s in the lake — mud eels?

April 5, 2011

There are recollections in the archives of the Issaquah History Museums from longtime residents about eels in Issaquah Creek. Some tell of using or selling them for fishing bait.

Dallas Cross

Years ago, I watched folks gathering “mud eels” for bait from the flats near the mouth of Issaquah creek. Knowing that plastic worms are good lures for Lake Sammamish bass, I wanted to know more about what the artificial bait might be imitating. Could it be eels?

Upon inquiry, I found that no eels, the elongated fish with a toothy mouth, are in the Lake Sammamish watershed. So, what are these aqueous critters?

The answer was partially provided last April, when I volunteered to trap and count returning kokanee salmon fry for the Bellevue-Issaquah Chapter of Trout Unlimited. On several of our trap pulls, small, snake-like creatures were captured along with the kokanee fry. They looked like eels and I put one in a glass jar to examine and photograph.

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Press Editorial

January 4, 2011

2011 goals: Building on success of 2010

Issaquah reached numerous milestones in 2010.

In the steps to preserve Park Pointe on Tiger Mountain, the city inched closer to a lasting environmental legacy. The bevy of road upgrades offered real transportation solutions and quality-of-life improvements for Issaquah residents.

Though many of the main city issues attracted attention in 2010, the ramifications should continue to be felt in 2011.

Here, then, is our list of our goals — some significant and some small — for the year ahead: Read more

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Concerns about coho salmon persist as hatchery spawns other species

November 30, 2010

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. Read more

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