Rescuers save Deschutes River fish

October 25, 2014
Rescuers save Deschutes River fish

“I wasn’t expecting this much support to be out here on a day like today,' Gabe Parr, founder of the Bend Casting Club, said as he ate a sandwich during a lunch break in a steady drizzle.

The club, which started in 2010 as an offshoot of Trout Unlimited, organized the volunteer portion of the rescue.

About 20 volunteers helped six Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife workers, four U.S. Forest Service workers and one U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worker with the rescue between Lava Island Falls and Meadow Picnic Area. The state and federal employees used electro-shock backpacks to stun fish and nets to scoop them into buckets. Volunteers then passed the buckets, which were equipped with aerators to keep oxygen levels up, to the main stem of the Deschutes River.

The rescue effort resulted in more than 1,300 fish making it back into the river, according to Parr. In all they saved 1,000 juvenile rainbow trout, 61 kokanee, seven brown trout, 20 white fish and about 300 sculpin.

As the waters in the side channel continue to dwindle, a second rescue effort likely will happen early next week, said Erik Moberly, assistant district biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The rescue this year comes in response to a fish kill last October, when about 3,000 fish were found dead.

A runner spotted the fish kill while running along the nearby Deschutes River Trail. She led an impromptu rescue, saving about 500 fish. The effort this year involved more people and planning ahead.

“Last year we didn’t get on scene until there was one pool left,' Moberly said.

The scale of the rescue isn’t the only difference this year. Working with irrigation districts, the Oregon Water Resources Department changed the way it adjusts flows down the Deschutes River.

Last year the department quickly cut flows down the river as it went from delivering water to growers to storing water upstream in Wickiup Reservoir. This year the department slowly stepped down the flows, allowing state and federal scientists to collect data on when the side channel stopped receiving water from the river and fish could potentially become stranded.

This happens when flows along the river are below about 700 cubic feet per second, said Kyle Gorman, region manager for the Oregon Water Resources Department.

Gorman helped the volunteers heft buckets full of fish Friday.

Among the volunteers undeterred by the rainy day was Dan Anthon, head guide for the Fly Fisher’s Place in Sisters. He said he guides on the river and wants to make sure there are fish there for future generations.

“We have a vested interest,' he said. “We want the fishery to survive.'

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,

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