Researchers scour Yakima for cool pools to save fish

Researchers survey the path of the Yakima River, recording the cooler spots that would help Sockeye survive their migration in the future.

Credit: Courtesy DOE
Researchers survey the path of the Yakima River, recording the cooler spots that would help Sockeye survive their migration in the future.



According to the Department of Ecology, fish recently reintroduced into the Yakima River are in a fight for their lives.

Summer heat has turned some pools in the low flow-through into hot tubs, as far as sockeye are concerned.

Reintroduced to the Yakima River by the Yakama Nation, the sockeye are pausing their migration, said Ecology’s communications specialist Joye Redfield-Wilder.

According to Redfield-Wilder, the Sockeye are waiting at the mouth of the river for temperature conditions to improve.

Redfield-Wilder said temperatures in the 73-77-degree range are considered lethal for Sockeye.

“Survival of late spring smolts is also influence by rapid water warming, especially in drought years,” Redfield-Wilder said.

Redfield-Wider said that as river flows declined, and air temperatures hovered at 100 degrees, water temperatures near Prosser mirrored those on coastal Hawaii.

“Warm water is becoming all too common in the summer months.” Redfield-Wilder said. “So much so, that we have teams floating the river to document refuges of cooler water.”

Those are places where fish can hang out to avoid the heat. These safe havens may prove crucial to fish survival.

Led by folks with the Benton Conservation District, Yakama Nation, and U.S. Geological Survey, the goal is to profile these cooler as and gain data for the lower 100 miles of the Yakima River. Funded by Ecology, the survey will help us protect these sites and meet environmental enhancement objectives of the Yakima River Basin Integrated Plan.

Redfield-Wilder reported that for 12 days this July (2018), average daily river temperatures at Prosser were above 80 degrees. Historically, the monthly mean temperature for July at Prosser is 69.3 degrees, she said.

Over the last four years, the rise in river temperatures is notable. Twenty of the 30 warmest river temperatures recorded since 1990 at Prosser were from the years 2015 to 2018.



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