Lake Sammamish kokanee return to local streams in full force
By KEVIN ENDEJAN
Issaquah Reporter Assistant editor
November 30, 2012 · Updated 10:26 AM
When Wally Pereyra says he’s never seen anything like it before, take note.
The Sammamish resident has lived along Ebright Creek — a feeder to Lake Sammamish — just shy of 40 years. In that time, he said he’s never seen so many brightly colored kokanee salmon splash their way up the adjacent waterway to spawn.
“This is the biggest run I’ve ever seen, by far,” said Pereyra, noting that in one day volunteers counted 1,100 kokanee in the stream. “I think the total is going to be several thousand.”
David St. John, an administrator with King County’s Department of Natural Resources and Parks, shares Pereyra’s enthusiasm, but remains cautiously optimistic.
“I never use the words ‘great,’ ‘good,’ ‘well’ or any of that, I just say we’re doing better because there is a long way for us to go,” he said. “This is a good sign. We think something good is happening, something is going right.”
St. John said the first signal things were different this year came with an early run. The kokanee, which typically start spawning in mid- to late-November, began to run the last week of October — the earliest he’s ever seen in 15 years of monitoring the species. And it wasn’t just a few kokanee here or there — the feeder streams have remained thick with the bright red fish.
“There really hasn’t been a drop off,” St. John said.
Typically only three streams — Ebright Creek, Laughing Jacobs Creek and Lewis Creek — have a significant number of fish spawn, but this year a new stream, Pine Lake Creek, started to see heavy numbers.
While there’s no way for St. John to pinpoint the exact reason for the surge, he said it could be due to ideal lake conditions or the heavy rains that came at the end of October.
He also has a hunch that the increase has a lot to do with the Issaquah Hatchery’s supplementation program — a project that started four years ago to prevent extinction of the native land-locked fish.
“If they came back this year, they would have been in the lake for three years and they’re usually four-year fish,” said St. John, noting the goal is to keep the hatchery program running for up to 12 years until the fish population has stabilized.
Whatever the cause of this fall’s fish explosion, St. John said the timing couldn’t have been better.
Pereyra recently fixed a major blockage on Ebright Creek, removing a 70-year-old cement culvert. The structure only had a 20-inch pipe running through it, allowing for only a lucky few fish to make it through and get full use of the creek.
This past summer, Pereyra had the culvert taken out, replacing it with a brand new 40,000-pound structure that allows the fish to comfortably swim upstream. Pereyra fully funded the project, he estimated at $175,000.
“When the kokanee started coming up, they didn’t even stop and wave a fin or anything,” he said, laughing.
In an effort to keep the fish population growing, Pereyra recently purchased property adjacent to his that includes Zaccuse Creek — another stream he hopes can be reintroduced to spawning kokanee. When he bought his home in 1973, it only included 6.5 acres. Now Pereyra owns 25 acres that he has dedicated to improving fish habitat.
“I just think it’s such a wonderful asset to the city of Sammamish to have these fish coming back like this,” he said.
Numbers of this year’s Lake Sammamish kokanee run won’t be official until April, according to St. John. There’s little question, however, they will be the largest returns seen in quite some time — something he said wouldn’t be possible without neighbors of the surrounding creeks like Pereyra.
“I don’t think we could do this without folks from the community,” St. John said. “I don’t think it’s sustainable.”
A male and female kokanee pair up for spawning in Ebright Creek (Photo by Roger Tabor, USFWS).
Kokanee salmon work their way up Ebright Creek earlier in the week.
Wally Pereyra stands in front of the new 40,000 pound culvert he had installed over Ebright Creek this past summer.