Fisheries Workshop Highlights

The 25th annual Pelton Round Butte Fisheries Workshop was the past two days.  I have been going for years and, as usual, it was an overwhelming amount of information.  I plan to follow up with some of the presenters to get a better understanding of their data and hope to have more detailed posts soon.  In the meantime, here’s a quick list of the highlights from my perspective.

Reintroduction Roadmap: The effort to reintroduce anadromous fish into the upper Deschutes basin above the PRB complex is overseen by the “Fish Committee” whose members include Portland General Electric, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, a number of government agencies, and a few NGOs.  Over the past year they have been working on a “reintroduction roadmap”, a high level set of objectives and strategies for attaining them.  This was the first, and I think most important, presentation at the workshop.  It may be hard to believe but such a document has never existed.  It’s a huge improvement to have something in writing that expresses what changes are needed and how they might be implemented in order to have successful implementation.  My experience in the past is that these have all been conversations that people had but rarely formalized.  PGE committed to putting this document on their web site soon.

Lower Deschutes Fishery Status: This annual presentation by ODFW has essentially been unchanged for years, which is excellent news.  Trout have been surveyed in the lower Deschutes since the 1970s and there has been no negative impact from the operation of the Selective Water Withdrawal tower.  If anything, fish are larger and more abundant now, which is to be expected given the more natural temperature profile of the river.  I will post more on this soon along with a copy of ODFW’s presentation.

Lower Deschutes Water Quality: My initial impressions were correct.  I asked the study’s author to confirm that agricultural runoff (excess water) is the primary source of pollution in the Crooked River, which he did.  I will post more on this as well.  Factoid: it takes 3 days for water released from Lake Billy Chinook to make it to the Columbia, which is about the same amount of time that most smolts take.

Anadromous Adult Returns: There is no way to get around it, adult returns of upper basin origin fish are dismal.  There is absolutely no good news here.  It is also true that adult anadromous fish returns in the entire Columbia Basin are seriously depressed, so much so that the Round Butte Hatchery will not even meet their brood stock goals.  More on this soon.

Juvenile Out Migration: This is an area where adaptive management has shown success.  The smolt acclimation program appears to be working as all hatchery reared smolts are no longer racing out of the system as soon as they are planted.  Nighttime SWW operation continues to be a real benefit as smolts prefer to migrate at night.  Good river flows from large snowpack is also a huge factor, unfortunately this is outside of PGE/CTWS’ control.  Of course this begs the question: if large numbers of smolts are moving out, where are the adult returns?  The consistent answer is “ocean conditions”.  In other words, smolts make it to the ocean only to starve to death due to the collapse of the ocean food web from high temperatures.  Until this changes there is little hope for anadromous fish recovery anywhere in the Columbia basin.

Crooked River Conservation Partnership: The Crooked River Watershed Council is working on restoring wetlands in a large reach of the Crooked River around Prineville.  This work has the potential to help filter out pollutants as well as establish cooler water in places that could benefit both resident fish and anadromous fish on their way to spawning grounds.

Opal Springs: The fish ladder over the dam at the bottom of the Crooked River will be operational in November.  This has the potential to be of significance as the majority of returning chinook and steelhead adults attempt to go up the Crooked only to be blocked by Opal Springs Dam.