The Kokanee Are Back!

The first official observation of returning kokanee was recorded on Monday, November 6th on Laughing Jacobs Creek – 3 fish and 2 redds! If you are  out and about and spot kokanee in any of our creeks please contact Dave Kyle at Trout Unlimited at 707-407-6773 or dkyle@tu.org.  Such observations help us understand what is going on with the run and can inform decisions about surveys and collection for the supplementation program. Kokanee salmon are native to the Lake Sammamish and Lake Washington watershed but now spawn in only a few streams that feed into Lake Sammamish. Unlike their larger relative the sockeye salmon, kokanee do not go out to the ocean but spend their entire lifecycle in freshwater. They migrate from streams as inch-long fry and spend three to four years in Lake Sammamish before returning to spawn in the late fall and early winter in their natal streams.

This kokanee population’s habitat once encompassed the lower Cedar River, smaller tributaries to Lake Washington and the Sammamish River, and the Lake Sammamish watershed, but today its range is only Lake Sammamish and primarily three of its tributary streams used for spawning.. This population once numbered in the tens of thousands of fish. Since 2007-2008 the number of returning spawners has dipped below 150 spawners four times. Causes of this decline are currently understood to include altered stormwater flows, past hatchery practices, predation, fishing, passage barriers, and lake temperature and dissolved oxygen levels.

The Lake Sammamish Kokanee Work Group (KWG) is driving the collaborative effort to recover these little red fish. Watershed residents, local jurisdictions, agencies, and NGOs formed the KWG in 2007 to identify the causes of kokanee decline and then develop and implement actions to address them.