▶️ End of irrigation season prompts annual fish rescue from Deschutes River

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Hundreds of volunteers are rescuing thousands of fish stranded in a side channel of the Deschutes River upstream from Bend. The annual fish rescue is a collaborative effort by several organizations, all made possible by volunteers. And there’s still time to help.

The Deschutes River fish rescue happens every year when the irrigation season winds down and the river flows drop leaving the Lava Island side channel high and dry. Volunteers can help capture fish with nets as biologists stun them with electro-shockers.

Another volunteer role — and one heck of a cross-training workout — is to carry five-gallon buckets of captured fish about half a mile along the Deschutes River Trail to a fish identification station. That’s where a third volunteer role of identifying and counting the fish is performed.

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At every step of the way are volunteers who care about the river giving back to the community.

“I fish the whole Deschutes River from Little Lava Lake all the way down to town throughout the year,” said Rich Winiarski from Bend, who was volunteering to count the captured fish. “I enjoy this river.”

Volunteers have saved about 1,000 rainbow and brown trout a day the first two days of this year’s rescue effort.

“We’ve figured out the timing of when certain sections start to go dry so we know where to focus our efforts, so we can get to every single section of the side channel and be most effective,” said Ben Briscoe, Mt. Hood Environmental field biologist.

In a perfect world, the fish rescue would not be necessary. But until increased year-round flows promised in the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan come to fruition, volunteers will be needed to help capture, carry and count trout rescued from this side channel.

“The irrigation districts have agreements in place that within five years, hopefully this problem will not be happening every year,” said Kate Fitzpatrick, Deschutes River Conservancy executive director. “This is an interim measure to save fish while we are working on the long-term water management solutions.”

This year’s rescue effort has been extended to a fourth day. If you’d like to volunteer to help, visit the Deschutes River Conservancy website.

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