Kokanee salmon still spawning | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Kokanee salmon still spawning

Take a whiff. It smells like bad seafood. Take a look. It’s very cool.

This year, about 35,000 to 40,000 kokanee salmon will spawn and die at the South Shore by the first week of November, said a U.S. Forest Service naturalist.

The spawning sometimes involves 60,000 fish, so this year is about average. The kokanee stop eating before they leave Lake Tahoe and swim up a creek to spawn. The malnutrition turns the silvery blue salmon bright red as they fight with each other while selecting a mate.

The fish end up in the shallows of Taylor Creek, which stretches more than a mile from Fallen Leaf Lake to Lake Tahoe. It is the last place they ever go, because they all go there at age 3 or 4 with a purpose: to lay and fertilize thousands of eggs before they die.

“It has been about average (run) except for the coloring — tans, greens, yellow, brown and bright reds,” said Gay Eitel, a U.S. Forest Service naturalist. “About 50 percent are living and 50 percent are dead. For about a week or more we should have an adequate number of live fish.”

Mallard ducks and other wildlife love the creek because it’s full of stuff they like to eat: eggs and dead fish. The decomposing parts even become food for tiny kokanee, which are born between January and March.

“There’s a pretty healthy ecosystem working out here,” Eitel said. “The fish are surviving nicely and the animals dependent on the fish are doing OK.”

Kokanee are descendants of sockeye salmon, fish that look like kokanees but are much larger and live in oceans. Biologists at the North Shore introduced kokanee to Lake Tahoe in the 1940s.

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com

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