Two fish populations in Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish could be gaining the upper hand on survival. A glimmer of hope in Lake Washington...

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Two fish populations in Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish could be gaining the upper hand on survival.

A glimmer of hope in Lake Washington began more than a year ago when the permanent Cedar River Hatchery began producing sockeye to boost a run that has come under hard times.

Last summer an unexpected return of 145,815 sockeye (45,871 was the preseason forecast) raised optimism.

Fisheries officials are hopeful their young offspring produced in the hatchery and released this winter and spring just might turn the corner on hopelessness.

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“The last of the (20 million) sockeye fry have been released from the hatchery,” said Paul Faulds, the Seattle Public Utilities Landsburg mitigation manager. “Flows in the Cedar cooperated this (fall and winter), and we only had a few storm events that would have caused a minor amount of scour.”

Many are banking on the possibility of a fishery in 2016, if the outmigrating juvenile sockeye survive their time in the lake and ocean.

In the meantime, this summer’s sockeye forecast of 99,866 (65,909 are wild fish) is predicted to fall short of the 350,000 spawning goal, but fishery managers are looking forward to what might be a bright outlook.

“The large 3-year-old component (of adult sockeye) last season has given some hope that the run (this summer) will be larger,” Faulds said.

State fisheries, tribal and other fish managers are also looking at perhaps lowering the spawning goal that some say is inflated. The push is to reduce it between 300,000 and 250,000. Negotiations are under way, and resource managers aren’t yet ready to announce anything new.

The last time a sport and tribal fishery happened in Lake Washington was 2006, when 470,000 sockeye returned. That allowed an 18-day sport fishery and was a good economy boost for related businesses.

Other sport fisheries occurred in 1996, 2000, 2002 and 2004.

Fishery co-managers will begin monitoring salmon counts next month at the Ballard Locks fish ladder viewing window.

A little further east, the Lake Sammamish kokanee seem to be on the road to recovery.

“We had a banner year (in 2012-13) for spawners,” said Rick Farmer, the Bellevue-Issaquah Chapter of Trout Unlimited president. “It was just like night and day as far as returns go over past years.”

The adult kokanee return this past fall and winter was 5,420 for Lewis Creek and 6,694 for Ebright Creek. That is remarkably better than past years when 536 kokanee returned in 2012 to Lewis (only four returned in 2011), and 313 in Ebright (27 in 2011).

Their young offspring in both creeks have also appeared to wax the odds.

“It looks like this could be the earliest and largest return of fry to the lake, and is poised to surpass any count since we started in 2007,” Farmer said. “We are very heartened by the results.”

The juvenile fry count at Ebright was 6,324 through May 10, and at Lewis there were 954 through April 6.

“That Lewis fry figure doesn’t include the rest of April and May, so I expect more of a big load from there too,” said Farmer.

The largest fry count was 6,885 in 2010, and this season’s final numbers should be made by mid-June.

Many are crediting the kokanee rebound to a fish-supplementation program, improved water quality, no major storm events this past winter and major improvements to fish habitat.

Grant funding on private property owned by Wally Pereyra replaced an undersized decades-old culvert that once blocked upstream fish migration at Ebright. This was the first time in almost 70 years that kokanee were able to roam freely to this prime habitat area.

Groups involved with habitat improvement are now working with Pereyra on Eden “Zuccuse” Creek located just north of Ebright.

Kokanee are a landlocked sockeye salmon that are much smaller — usually averaging 10 to 18 inches — than their counterparts that migrate to the ocean. They usually spawn in Sammamish from August to December, and are one of the only local places to host a wild freshwater population.

The Sammamish kokanee are one of six native populations left in the state, and used to host a population of tens of thousands.

Under current fishing rules all Lake Sammamish kokanee must be released.

Mark Yuasa: 206-464-8780 or