Friday, January 4, 2013

Fish rescue below Magic Reservoir called impractical

F&G had considered it

Express Staff Writer

Conservationists and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game considered a fish rescue operation for trout recently washed downstream from a rapid water drawdown at Magic Reservoir, but ultimately concluded that catching the fish and moving them elsewhere was not practical.

“We wanted to do some fish recovery down there, but the water was just too high and now it’s frozen over,” said Scott Boettcher, executive director of Hailey-based Wood River Land Trust.

Boettcher and other conservationists are concerned that the rapid drawdown of water from Magic Reservoir in October and November washed rainbow and brown trout away from a thriving fishery in the Big Wood River below the reservoir and carried them downstream where they’ll be stranded and possibly die this winter. The drawdown, where ultimately about 40,000 acre-feet of water was released, was necessitated by the need to repair a leaky hydraulic oil line at the Magic Dam hydroelectric plant.

The first three miles of the Big Wood River below the reservoir contain numerous deep holes that Fish and Game biologists believe will permit most of the fish still there to survive the winter. However, below that, water can be diverted into the Richfield Canal or allowed to continue down the historic river channel, neither of which typically has a constant stream flow throughout the winter.

Ed Northen, president of the Hemingway Chapter of Trout Unlimited, an organization that annually conducts fish rescue operations in the canals that feed off the Big Wood River above Magic Reservoir, said the drawdown happened so quickly that the organization did not have to time to mobilize a recovery operation.

“We just didn’t have a network in place for a rescue like that,” Northen said. “What occurred is regrettable, but hopefully it’s a one-time circumstance.”

Doug Megargle, regional fisheries manager for Fish and Game, noted that there are some large holes in the Big Wood River historic river channel and even in the Richfield Canal, and that some fish washed and stranded there may be able to survive the winter. Megargle said it’s too late in the season to effect a rescue.

He noted that Fish and Game considered a rescue operation but didn’t have the manpower to patrol miles of canal and river channel looking for stranded fish.

“Is it our best [option] to move 200, 300, 400 or 500 fish?” Megargle said. “Pretty soon you have to say that the recovery is more of a feel-good thing rather than an attempt to save the fishery. People hate to hear that, but when we have limited resources we have to consider what’s the best way to spend your fishing-license dollars.”

Terry Smith:


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