Efforts to restore the kokanee population in Lake Sammamish appear to be paying off.

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A once-troubled Lake Sammamish kokanee population took a leap in the right direction with an uptick of fish returns to creeks this fall.

Ebright Creek, southeast of the lake, is one center of interest after grant funding on private property replaced an outdated culvert that had blocked fish migration.

It’s the first time in almost 70 years kokanee are freely moving into this prime habitat owned by Wally Pereyra. It is surrounded by big cedar trees, lots of ground cover and plenty of creekside shade.

“The result is, a bumper crop of kokanee (more than 500 counted in Ebright) now have unfettered access to the finest spawning habitat left in the watershed,” said Doug Williams of the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks. “We’re seeing amazing results.”

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Kokanee are small, landlocked sockeye salmon, usually measuring 10 to 18 inches. Kokanee in Sammamish spawn August through December.

Lake Sammamish kokanee are one of five native populations left in the state, and used to number in the tens of thousands. The other four watersheds are Baker, Whatcom, Wenatchee and Chelan.

In recent years, fall and winter kokanee numbers dwindled to less than 1,000, with a low of 50 in 2008.

Kokanee also spawn along the shores of Laughing Jacobs, Issaquah, Tibitts, Vasa, Pine Lake and Lewis creeks.

Sammamish kokanee have been thinned by urbanization and development as well as water quality, disease, predation and competition with other fish.

Since early 2000, many organizations have worked to revitalize the troubled fish, eventually forming the Lake Sammamish Kokanee Work Group.

Mark Taylor, former president of the Bellevue-Issaquah Chapter of Trout Unlimited (TU), was one of the first to start working to rebuilt kokanee stock.

Among others offering support were TU, Issaquah and other nearby cities, state Fish and Wildlife, Save Lake Sammamish, Snoqualmie Tribe, local Boy Scout troops, Issaquah High School Roots and Shoots Club, King County Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

“This whole thing has come together well with all the parties, and everyone is diligently working together despite funding cutbacks,” said Rick Farmer, president of the Bellevue-Issaquah Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “TU is committed to the environment and wild fish coldwater conservation efforts, but we also want to establish a good kokanee fishery again in our own backyard.

“We’ll take it one step at a time on knowing where we get the biggest bang for the buck. Once we get a certain place established, then we’ll go on to next.”

Groups are also working on a kokanee supplementation program, and hatchery work to assure greater fish survival.

Darigold recently donated well water for the Issaquah Hatchery. Well water creates a consistent temperature and quality similar to wild habitat, and reduces the cost of purifying it. It also allows biologists to recognize if an individual adult kokanee came from the hatchery program, thus determining if the supplementation program is working. This is expected to save the hatchery about $50,000 over the program’s anticipated life span through 2021. In the past, nearby cities have paid for the water that enables this marking process to happen.

Other projects include trapping and counting migrating kokanee fry, and acoustic tagging of adult kokanee to track movements.

“There are a lot of programs for the kokanee that have been a positive boost, but we still know that you can’t build Rome in a day,” Farmer said.

Razor clam update

The next series of coastal razor clam digs beginning Dec. 28 have been approved, and more dates are set for January and February. This includes a popular New Year’s Eve dig that in past year has drawn about 20,000 diggers to coastal beaches.

Dates: Dec. 28 at Twin Harbors (low tide is minus-0.3 feet at 6:42 p.m.); Dec. 29 (-0.3 at 7:15 p.m.) at Twin Harbors, Long Beach and Mocrocks; and Dec. 30-31 (-0.2 at 7:47 p.m. and 0.0 at 8:20 p.m.) at Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks and Copalis. Digging is allowed after noon each day.

Other tentative dates: Jan. 8-9, Jan. 13-14, Feb. 7 and Feb. 11-12 at Twin Harbors; Jan. 10 at Twin Harbors, Long Beach and Copalis; Jan. 11-12, Jan. 26 and Feb. 8-9 at Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Copalis and Mocrocks; and Jan. 25, Jan. 27, Feb. 10 and Feb. 23-24 at Long Beach and Twin Harbors. Final approval is usually announced about a week before each opening.

Mark Yuasa: 206-464-8780 or myuasa@seattletimes.com

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