Freshwater variety of kokanee salmon from Lake Sammamish. File photo

Freshwater variety of kokanee salmon from Lake Sammamish. File photo

Encouraging numbers for kokanee salmon spawn count

Lake Sammamish kokanee aren’t out of the woods by any stretch, but there’s reason to be optimistic about the fate of the little red fish after this year’s spawn count.

It’s estimated that there were around 82 adult kokanee that returned from Lake Sammamish to spawning streams this January. Jim Bower, a fish ecologist with King County, said that doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s a marked improvement from the 19 adults that returned in 2018.

“Salmon populations are basically a numbers game,” Bower said. “You know you’re not going to get 1,000 fish returning from 19 adults, so to have 82 fish return from 19 fish is actually very good.”

Lake Sammamish is home to genetically unique kokanee salmon, which spend their entire lives in freshwater streams and the lake. It usually takes three years for the salmon to reach maturity and return to the streams they were born in to spawn.

The 2018 return was the worst ever recorded at the lake, and raised serious concerns of extinction. It spurred an expansive partnership between the county, tribes, the state and local organizations to save the fish. There are more than 20 stakeholders or partner organizations that are working to save the fish.

The 82 fish that returned this year are a testament to the success of that partnership, but there’s still a long way to go — in 2013, there were more than 18,000 kokanee that returned to spawn.

The fish took a severe hit between 2014 and 2016, when hot summer temperatures drove fish deeper into the lake and into areas without enough oxygen for them to survive. The results were disastrous for the kokanee. These conditions, known as a “squeeze,” happen occasionally in the lake, but usually not so many summers in a row.

Heat-stressed fish are also more vulnerable to disease, predators and parasites.

A number of strategies have been deployed to help the fish — culverts have been removed, fish sperm has been frozen and a captive breeding program on Orcas Island has seen young fish, called fry, flown up to be raised in safety.

“These fish are going to tell us what’s working and what’s not,” said David St. John, policy advisor for the county’s Department of Natural Resources and Parks.

The hope is that next winter, the returning salmon count will be even higher and keep climbing from there.

Historically there were up to three runs of kokanee in the lake, beginning in September and stretching through December. The early two runs went extinct in the 2000s.

Locals can help the salmon by not letting fertilizers drain into Lake Sammamish — and by keeping as much land as possible unpaved to allow more water to seep into the groundwater system and cool the lake.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@kirklandreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.kirklandreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in News

Kirkland City Councilmember Neal Black.
Neal Black seeks re-election to Kirkland City Council

Councilmember Neal Black announced that he is running for re-election to the… Continue reading

Ryan James Fine Arts Kirkland Urban (photo credit: Ryan James Fine Arts)
Ryan James Fine Arts to showcase Milan Heger’s “Duality,” series

“Duality,” showcase will include a chance to meet the artist on April 18.

Cedar Creek culvert (photo credit: Stantec)
City of Kirkland, private partners team up to upgrade Cedar Creek culvert

Culvert under 100th Avenue Northeast intended to reduce flooding and provide fish habitat.

Photo via Pexels
King County residents needed for first respiratory study using Apple watches

UW study to help find if devices can detect early warning signs of acute respiratory infections, such as COVID-19 and flu.

Photo courtesy of Johnson and Johnson (jnj.com)
Johnson & Johnson vaccine halted in Washington over side effect

Following federal guidance, Washington health care providers are temporarily pausing Johnson &… Continue reading

File Photo
High court ruling spurs effort to retool state’s drug laws

Meanwhile, the Blake decision has gotten people out jail, charges dismissed and possibly clemency for some.

Public Health – Seattle & King County staff administering COVID-19 vaccine to a local emergency responder. COURTESY PHOTO, Public Health-Seattle & King County
Starting April 15, everyone 16 and older is eligible for a vaccine

Gov. Inslee said an expected increase in vaccine supply enables the state to open eligibility.

A CVS pharmacist prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at Village Green Retirement Campus in Federal Way on Jan. 26. Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing
Phase Finder for vaccine eligibility to be eliminated March 31

Eligibility verification via Phase Finder no longer required for appointments, vaccinations beginning this week.

Courtesy photo
Issaquah School District settles negligence lawsuit for $4.25 million

The lawsuit alleged the district covered for a now-convicted child molester while he was a teacher.

Kindergarten and first grade students line up outside of Panther Lake Elementary in Federal Way on March 15. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror
Inslee: K-12 schools can reduce COVID social distancing

The governor reduced social distancing requirements for K-12 classrooms from 6 feet to 3 feet.

Sound Publishing file photo
More people can get the COVID vaccine on March 31, but supply is still limited

The number of people eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine is set… Continue reading