By Ann McCreary
State fish and wildlife officials rescued almost 2,000 fish last week that were stranded in pools of water as stretches of local rivers go dry in the drought.
About 300 fish — juvenile spring Chinook, steelhead, and bull trout — were rescued and relocated from the upper Twisp River near Poplar Flats campground. Approximately 1,500 fish that were isolated in pools in the Methow River north of Mazama Junction were also captured and released further downstream, said Charlie Snow, a fish biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) in Twisp.
“It’s hard to say what the magnitude of the problem is,” Snow said. He said he expects that WDFW staff will be conducting more rescue missions in coming weeks.
The stretches of river where fish were found stranded typically go dry near the end of the season, but this summer’s drought is creating dry riverbeds much earlier than normal, Snow said.
The stranded fish are caught by net or by hand and transported downstream. The fish found at Poplar Flats “were on the verge of dying” after being trapped in a dwindling pool of water, Snow said.
“To find a wet pool we had to go about a quarter of a mile downriver,” he said.
Methow River streamflow measured in Mazama was only 16 percent of normal for the date on Monday (Aug. 17) and the Methow River in Winthrop was 40 percent of normal for the date, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey.
Throughout the state, rivers and streams are running at historic lows, with almost half at their lowest level in 64 years of recordkeeping, according to the state Department of Ecology.
The low flows will make spawning challenging for spring Chinook salmon that are now returning to the Methow Valley to spawn.
“We’re starting to see a lot of redds being constructed. People will see a lot of fish spawning in really shallow water,” Snow said.
A “hoot owl” restriction on fishing remains in place for rivers in the Methow Valley, prohibiting fishing from 2 p.m.-midnight to relieve stress on fish already struggling with low water flows and high water temperatures.