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Kokanee salmon offspring flown to King County from Orcas Island in conservation effort

On Wednesday the Snoqualmie Tribe, King County and Long Live the Kings welcomed a plane carrying Kokanee eggs spawned at a site on Orcas Island.

KING COUNTY, Wash. — On Wednesday, King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, the Snoqualmie Tribe, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and nonprofit Long Live the Kings welcomed a small airplane to the King County International Airport, carrying the offspring of Kokanee salmon that biologists flew to an Orcas Island hatchery two years ago.

"That provides protection from the elements that might be in Lake Sammamish like high temperatures, low dissolved oxygen, predators, and disease," said Lucas Hall with Long Live the Kings, a nonprofit based in Seattle that works to restore wild salmon and steelhead and protects sustainable fisheries in the Pacific Northwest. "By having these clean, healthy fish come back to the environment, they're able to boost the wild run and they're also a backup so if one year we just don't see any Kokanee come back, we'll have a backup of Kokanee at the Orcas Island facility."

Snoqualmie Tribe Councilmember Bill Sweet said restoring the population, which has dwindled in recent years and only has begun to increase after emergency action, is crucial. 

"We're always told, when they're gone, we're gone," Sweet said. "Then you don't have the staple to live on."

King County Executive Dow Constantine celebrated the developments for the salmon in recent months. Still, he said, this is just one of many efforts needed to respond as habitats change.

"If you look at this, you see a small example of what our responsibilities are going to be in the future as climate changes," Constantine said. "As the Earth becomes more and more difficult for animals, we are going to have to step up our interventions to save those species, to preserve biodiversity, and King County, of course, is ready here but we're going to need partners around the country and around the world to help."

The effort to restore the Kokanee salmon population has been going on for years, with stream restoration and salmon conservation work. 

A Kokanee workgroup was formed out of concern over the dwindling salmon population over the past 15 years or so. For example, in 2017, fewer than 20 fish returned to all of the creeks in Lake Sammamish, according to previous information provided to KING 5.

Unlike Pacific salmon, Kokanee are freshwater fish. The salmon spawn their eggs in gravel in surrounding creeks, then they go to Lake Sammamish until it's time to return. If the fish can't access the creeks, or spawning conditions are poor, the salmon can't reproduce and their population will begin to decline.