Kokanee salmon are returning to Moran Creek

An underwater look at a kokanee salmon. Kokanee are basically sockeye salmon

The Fish Hatchery in Moran State Park had a busy night last week.

Hatchery staff helped sixty-two pairs of kokanee salmon spawn in one evening at Moran Creek.

“This is the first kokanee hatchery spawning. It’s the first time sufficient numbers of kokanee have returned so that eggs could be collected for the hatchery; and, left for the natural spawning process.,” said Michel Vekved, of Friends of Moran, in a recent press release.

Fish Hatchery operations have taken place at Cascade Lake intermittently since the 1960s. Nearly 72,000 gallons of water travel from Moran Creek through the hatchery and into Cascade lake in a 24 hour period. In 2007 the structure next to Moran Creek was converted into the current hatchery. Friends of Moran raised funding for the structure including tanks, rearing troughs, plumbing components, viewing tank and more. The hatchery is accessible for viewing by park visitors.

In 2009 there was a record number of kokanee, which are basically sockeye salmon, which over time have evolved to be fresh water fish, in Moran Creek.  It was estimated that the creek had between 300-400 kokanee. Last year only 17 fish were found in the creek.

“There were so few that we let them spawn naturally, but we could see there was evidence of spawning,” said Mike O’Connell, a fish biologist for Long Live the Kings, who is on an annual contract to work at the Moran hatchery. Long Live the Kings is an organization dedicated helping to restoring wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest.

This year, O’Connell estimates there are probably several hundred fish at the creek.

The spawning process involves hatchery staff combining the male sperm with the female eggs and washing it with cold water to help solidify the process. Vekved estimates that three pounds of salmon eggs were collected. The eggs are placed into the troughs inside the hatchery where they will grow and be monitored by park staff and volunteers. There will also be eggs raised at the Long Live the Kings’ Glenwood Hatchery, also on Orcas, which will later be released into Cascade Lake.

Over the past couple years, Long Live the Kings has received 150,000 kokanee eggs from Whatcom and raised them on their Glenwood site. In the last few years they have reared fry to a larger size to ensure better survival rate. According to O’Connell, Fish and Wildlife  used to stock Cascade, but discontinued the practice five years ago. After the program disappeared fishing opportunities also decreased.

“Now that Long Live the Kings has tried to take over stocking we are seeing the fruits of that labor there is better fishing and adults [salmon] are returning,” said O’Connell.

Kokanee are still grouping together and swimming up Moran Creek. Visitors can carefully walk along the creek to see the spawning process and kokanee life cycle.

For more info about Long Live the Kings, visit www.lltk.org/. For info on the Moran hatchery visit friendsofmoran.comprojects.