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Kokanee salmon Lake Sammamish
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King County takes emergency action to save kokanee salmon


In May 2018, orders were issued to save Lake Sammamish’s near-extinct kokanee salmon population. Now, after extensive research, King County has a plan in place.

RELATED: Emergency action ordered to aid Eastside salmon

King County Executive Dow Constantine included $12.5 million in the county’s recently-approved two-year budget for 36 projects that will take down barriers to 150 miles of salmon habitat.

That will include the planting of thousands of trees and shrubs to shade and cover salmon habitat, educational measures to reduce stormwater pollution, a partnership with the Issaquah Hatchery to secure the remaining kokanee salmon population, and rebuilding various culverts to create larger spaces for salmon swimming upstream.

You can see the work being done on culverts in a recent video posted by King County below:

King County will act on recommendations from an alliance of tribal and local governments and agencies, landowners, and residents of the watershed:

  • Trapping the salmon for breeding at local hatcheries.
  • Using latest technology to save the unique genetic structure of Lake Sammamish kokanee
  • Releasing more young salmon into the lake in the fall of 2019 after water temperatures cool and oxygen levels rise.
  • Reintroducing kokanee to more area streams and creeks in the watershed. This will hopefully help maintain fish populations should one creek fail.
  • Studying the issue to provide strategic action to address underlying factors.

This comes after what the county has described as a “sudden, alarming decline in returning salmon.” Lake Sammamish’s remaining kokanee are suddenly close to extinction according to King County, while two other varieties are already extinct.

A count in early-2018 yielded 20 kokanee in Lake Sammamish during their run when they spawn. That’s a stark comparison to just five years ago, when 18,000 kokanee were counted.

“The native kokanee salmon are important to our ecosystem, to our culture, to our history – and we are taking every action we can to rescue them from the brink of extinction,” said Executive Constantine in a news release.

Salmon struggles

The decrease in Washington state’s salmon populations has hit the ecosystem hard of late. Chinook salmon are currently classified as endangered. That in turn has hurt the orca population, who have suddenly been low on their primary food source.

That wasn’t helped much, when during a recent storm, strong winds caused a power outage at a state hatchery, killing 6.2 million chinook salmon fry being kept in incubators. 507,000 of the chinook salmon killed were meant to help feed local orcas.

Meanwhile, coho salmon in the Pacific Ocean could find themselves in serious trouble, thanks to the absorption of carbon emissions. A recent study from the University of Washington found that the acidification of the ocean could hurt the coho’s sense of smell enough to severely limit their ability to navigate and find food.

As for the kokanee, that population is quite literally irreplaceable. According to county officials, local kokanee are the last known variety of the species left in Lake Sammamish, bearing a unique genetic signature that’s helped them adapt to the lake and its surrounding streams.

RELATED: Seattle market to stop selling chinook to help orcas

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