By SPENCER PAULEY
THE CENTER SQUARE STAFF REPORTER
(The Center Square) — The Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon population has increased, according to scientists.
Biologists observed more than 2,000 adult kokanee salmon returning from Lake Sammamish to spawn in creeks last fall. According to King County, that’s more than the total number of salmon they saw over the past five years combined.
And King County Executive Dow Constantine wants credit.
“Four years ago we committed to taking immediate action to help ensure the survival of these iconic fish by mobilizing our combined resources and applying the latest science and technology and today we are delivering on that shared vision,” Mr. Constantine said in a statement.
“This inspiring work by our staff and partners is producing promising results for a native salmon species that is important to our region’s habitat and history.”
In 2018, the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks was tasked with enacting recommendations from the Lake Sammamish Kokanee Work Group to address the possible extinction of the native freshwater kokanee salmon.
King County recently made efforts to improve the population by flying nearly 12,000 kokanee salmon eggs from an Orcas Island hatchery back to Lake Sammamish.
Transferring the juvenile salmon to the island hatchery and back was meant to protect them from potentially hazardous conditions in Lake Sammamish after experts found high temperatures, low oxygen levels, disease and non-native predators.
The King County Wastewater Treatment Division’s Waterworks Grant Program recently awarded $71,500 to the city of Kirkland for their water restoration treatment to improve water quality for the local salmon.
King County is also competing for federal funding from a section of the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill that is dedicated toward providing $1 billion for projects that address culverts that block salmon migration.
The recommendations King County is following come from the Lake Sammamish Kokanee Work Group, an alliance of tribal and local governments, Washington state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, local landowners and residents of the watershed.
Some of the work the alliance are doing are using traps to capture a small portion of returning kokanee salmon for the hatchery program; releasing juvenile salmon into Lake Sammamish during the fall; using cryopreservation technology to protect the genetic stock of Lake Sammamish kokanee; and reintroducing kokanee salmon to additional creeks in the watershed using egg boxes, which reduces the risk that a flood or drought in a single creek will wipe out the entire run.
“We are excited that our science-based salmon recovery efforts are paying off with a strong kokanee return in 2021,” Issaquah City Councilmember Victoria Hunt said. “This kokanee partnership is central to the city’s identity, our thriving economy and our healthy environment, and it helps a culturally important native fish species come back from the brink of extinction”
The kokanee salmon breeding season, or salmon run, occurring in November and December is the focus of conservation efforts by the county.
The salmon run that historically occurred in late August and September on Issaquah Creek was driven to extinction between the 1970s and early 2000s.
The run that historically occurred in October and November in the Sammamish River and Lake Washington streams was believed to be extinct as well, but recent investigations may have located a remnant of that population, according to the county.