Volunteers Save Thousands of Stranded Deschutes River Trout

Thanks to the help of volunteers working with state and federal workers over a three-day period last month, nearly 7,000 fish stranded in a channel of the Deschutes River near Bend, Oregon, lived to see another day. The fish became landlocked in one area of the channel when the Oregon Water Resources Department curtailed flows to coincide with diminished irrigation use and the seasonal replenishing of Wickiup Reservoir.

Last year, the same thing happened, but the stranded fish weren’t as fortunate—about 3,000 died. After a runner discovered the fish kill in a dwindling pool near Deschutes River Trail, a small, hastily-arranged rescue effort succeeded in saving about 500 of those fish.

This year, volunteers were more prepared. Bend Casting Club founder Gabe Parr rallied about 45 people to help haul buckets of fish back to the main channel. State and federal workers used shocking equipment to stun fish, then scooped them up with nets and loaded them into the buckets. Video footage of the effort was posted to YouTube. The water resources agency also dropped flows at a slower rate than in the past, to give scientists time to see how the channel would respond to different water levels.

Brett Hodgson, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist, told The Bulletin that 4,968 of the rescued fish were young rainbow trout less than 6 inches long, and 111 were between 6 and 12 inches. "Clearly that side channel is highly used by [rainbow] trout for spawning and rearing," Hodgson said. "It is definitely important habitat."