Bon voyage, little kokanee!

Almost 2,500 kokanee fry bid a fond farewell to the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery on Oct. 26 as they started their new journey to Lake Sammamish. The lake’s threatened kokanee population, whose numbers have dwindled to just a few hundred in recent years, will get a boost from this new batch of fry which were incubated and raised at the Issaquah hatchery from eggs collected in late 2019.

The hatchery rearing program is part of the recovery efforts of the Kokanee Work Group, an alliance of federal, state, county and local agencies, tribes and non-profit organizations dedicated to ensuring the survival of Lake Sammamish’s “little red fish.” The effort has conducted annual fry release programs, including educational components for local students, for the last 10 years to raise awareness about the plight of these native fish, threatened by environmental challenges due to urbanization. This year, with the hatchery closed and students attending virtual classes, a public celebration was not possible.

In the past, fry were released at very early stages of development, when they were only about one inch long. In this second year, the hatchery retained and fed the fry for a longer period, until they reached 5-6 inches in length, continuing an experiment to determine if larger size, and cooler waters, help to prevent predation by other fish in the lake that may be depleting the population.

Officials from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the King County Department of Natural Resources used buckets to transport the squirming kokanee fry from the hatchery incubation building into a waiting truck outfitted with a large covered tub of water. The eggs were collected from fish in Lewis Creek, at the south end of Lake Sammamish, so their progeny were transported back to Lewis Creek for release, and they were expected to migrate quickly to Lake Sammamish. There, they will grow and mature before returning to the stream to spawn at 3 or 4 years old. Bon voyage, little kokanee!