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Emergency action planned for kokanee salmon

Kokanee salmon returned to spawn in alarmingly low numbers this year.
Kokanee salmon.

Emergency action is planned to save a special kind of salmon native to the Lake Sammamish watershed.

Kokanee salmon, often called the little red fish, returned to spawn in alarmingly low numbers this year. Just five years after 18,000 returned, less than 20 were counted.

"We must take concerted action right now to save the iconic kokanee from extinction," said King County Executive Dow Constantine.

The emergency action will include using specially designed traps to capture returning spawners for the hatchery, freezing male kokanee semen for future use, waiting longer to release the fish into Lake Sammamish as well as releasing kokanee into additional creeks in the watershed.

Wally Pereyra, a self-professed kokanee enthusiast, has spent years restoring Ebright Creek, which runs through his property and is critical habitat for the salmon. This year, only 3 returned to spawn there.

"The kokanee, that's part of my DNA. I'm very very unhappy that the run has dwindled to the point we now run the risk of this run becoming extinct," Pereyra said.

Officials blame several tough seasons for salmon in recent years, with higher temperatures, low oxygen levels in Lake Sammamish and drought drying up creeks.

"They're culturally and socially very significant to this area. They're important to a lot of people and they're important ecologically. They're a genetically distinct stock which is pretty rare to have," said fish ecologist Jim Bower. "They're holding on and we want to make sure they're holding on for a long time."

For more information on how to help kokanee visit the King County website.

Kokanee salmon report

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