By BROOKE SNAVELY
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
Every fall, a side channel of the Deschutes River near Lava Island Falls goes dry when irrigation season ends and river levels drop.
And every year, a dedicated group of volunteers and wildlife stewards work to rescue the fish left behind.
“I think what makes this fish rescue so special is how we’ve been able to pull together all these different stakeholders and so many diverse groups and talk about what are our shared goals with this,” said Samantha Bango, an intern with the North Unit Irrigation District and Raise the Deschutes.
About 100 volunteers are participating in this year’s fish rescue.
Some volunteer as “scoopers,” gathering the fish, which are then temporarily stunned by electroshocking equipment before being placed in buckets.
Another hearty batch of volunteers carry the fish in aerated buckets nearly a mile over rough terrain to the main river channel.
The fish are counted before they are released.
“It’s a lot of fun and we get to pay back all those fish who we didn’t catch many times over,” said volunteer Roger Fox.
Annually about 8,000 fish are saved during the rescue.
This year, project managers started a new effort to encourage the fish to move downstream and back into the main channel.
“We started upstream and just sort of walking down the channel, we largely had our professionals do this,” said Project Manager Lisa Wyndham. “Tried to push as many fish as we could downstream so they just naturally end up back in the larger channel of the Deschutes.”
That could reduce the number of stranded fish, but, the effectiveness of the change won’t be known until after the four-day rescue effort is complete.