Deschutes River Conservancy organizes yearly fall fish rescue, saving 100s of stranded fish

Date:
October 19, 2021
Deschutes River Conservancy organizes yearly fall fish rescue, saving 100s of stranded fish

Every year, Central Oregon irrigation districts reduce the river flow in the Upper Deschutes River from Wickiup Reservoir to Bend to prepare for the following irrigation season, which creates collateral damage, in the form of hundreds of fish stranded in side channels.“When they do that, this side channel here at Lava Island Falls gets cut off from the river flow and fish get stranded in the side channel,” Deschutes River Conservancy Executive Director Kate Fitzpatrick said Tuesday.To remedy the problem, the conservancy and partners, including many volunteers, are once again relocating stranded fish as the river level drops in the Upper Deschutes from Wickiup Reservoir, a fish rescue that has been occurring each fall for the past several years.The collaboration of the groups are focusing on help for the native redband trout, but they’re also rescuing native whitefish, sculpin, kokanee and non-native brown trout.“The salvage has been going on for about eight years, but the problem has been decades,” Fitzpatrick said.Although their efforts have proven to be an important nursery for juvenile redband trout and native fish, it’s only a Band-Aid solution.“We’re working really closely with a lot of partners.” Fitzpatrick said. “Our irrigation district partners are doing a lot of aggressive canal piping right now, which allows water to be restored in the river.”The organization is also carrying out farm efficiency and water marketing projects, to get the flows back in balance.“It’s a really good conservation effort to try and save some really nice trout,” Mt. Hood Conservancy field biologist Ben Briscoe said. “We get about several thousand trout out of this side channel every year.”To capture the fish, Mt. Hood Environmental uses electro-fishing equipment, which stuns the fish and draws them toward the electricity, making them easier to net.Last year, the Deschutes River Conservancy said they rescued a record 16,000 fish over the course of three days.Set up at Lava Island Falls, the group rescued 800 fish Monday and were on a roll Tuesday. Based on how low the water flow was Tuesday, they predicted it would be the last day of this year's rescue.However, they are always looking for more volunteers in future rescues. You can find details on the conservancy's Facebook page.By Bola Gbadebo

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