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Kokanee salmon population rising in Lake Sammamish

Last year the local Kokanee salmon population climbed to more than 2,000 fish.

ISSAQUAH, Wash. — With its distinct reddish color, the Kokanee, a freshwater salmon, are making a comeback though experts admit they don’t exactly know why. Last year the local population climbed to more than 2,000 fish.

“It was more fish this past year than the last five years combined,” said Perry Falcone, the Kokanee Recovery Manager for the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks.

The population spike was dramatic after reaching a historic low.

“What we had in the last five years was the lowest we’ve seen on record and I think it got down to fewer than 20 fish in 2017," Falcone said. "A very dire situation for Kokanee here in Lake Sammamish."

Wednesday was an example of a human intervention designed to bolster the numbers of fish with a long and storied history in the Pacific Northwest, especially to the Snoqualmie Tribe. 

“We survived off this land off these fish year-round and here we are,"  said Christopher Castleberry, a Snoqualmie Tribal Council Member. "Without that who knows?"

Tribal members blessed a batch of 150 baby salmon before introducing them back into Lake Sammamish. The baby salmon or “fry” as they are called are purposefully reintroduced at dusk to give them a fighting chance. 

The goal is to get the population of Kokanee Salmon to the point where it is self-sustaining.

The Kokanee have covered a lot of land in their young lives. These fish are the same fish that, as eggs, were transported to a hatchery in King County last winter by airplane. By the end of October, more than 8,000 young Kokanee salmon will be returned to Lake Sammamish.

Their parents were wild Kokanee Salmon that were removed from the wild and cared for in a controlled environment on Orcas Island.

A tremendous amount of work has gone in to keep the native fish population from becoming a part of history.

“Proud to do the work of our peoples that have been here before me,” Castleberry said. “I think that just knowing that it helped us, we need to help them and I would feel like a little part of myself was lost with that. If there was something I could do to maintain and increase those numbers, I’m going to do that. And until that day I’m going to keep fighting."

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