- Over the last decade, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) has documented a precipitous decline in the Crooked River redband trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) population, prompting this study to address potential factors contributing to the decline. There are two main goals to this project: (1) identify potential factors contributing to the reduction of the redband trout population in the Crooked River fishery and (2) provide management recommendations to all of the agencies responsible for managing the Crooked River that might effect a change in the redband trout population trend.
This thesis had three objectives: (1) evaluate the movement patterns of redband trout and mountain whitefish in the Crooked River below Bowman Dam, (2) monitor total dissolved gas levels (TDG) in the Crooked River to evaluate the incidence of supersaturated water and gas bubble disease in redband trout and mountain whitefish and (3) implement a more comprehensive population estimate survey to document both redband trout and mountain whitefish population densities.
Prior to this study, limited data existed on the distribution and movement patterns of redband trout and mountain whitefish in the Crooked River below Bowman Dam. Based on the results from the 2-year telemetry study, redband trout and mountain whitefish population exhibit a resident life history strategy and stay in the Wild and Scenic Section of the Crooked River below Bowman Dam. Two potential explanations for the observed population decline were plausible: the decline was actually a decline, or the fish moved to other sections of the Crooked River downstream of Bowman Dam. The telemetery study showed that redband trout and mountain whitefish stay within this section of river, thereby providing evidence against the explanation that the observed population decline was a result of movement of fish to other sections of river.
The total dissolved gas study demonstrated that gas saturation levels become elevated enough to cause gas bubble disease in the Crooked River below Bowman Dam. The gas saturation in the Crooked River is equivalent or higher than levels shown to produce gas bubble disease (GBD) in fishes. When flows exceed 600 cfs, the total dissolved gas saturation exceeds the maximum Oregon Department of Environmental Quality mandated level of 110% gas saturation in the Crooked River. Flows in excess of 600cfs are common during spring runoff events below Bowman Dam. From 1989-2009, flows exceeded 600 cfs in 13 of the 21 years and 1000 cfs in 10 of the 21 years. The past population effects of high flows and supersaturated waters on redband trout and mountain whitefish are difficult to quantify, but based on the hydrograph and the saturation curve, the years when gas bubble disease might have been present in fish can be predicted. Given the strong linear relationship between TDG and stream average daily discharge (r2 = 0.93), discharge itself can be used as a predictive tool for assessing TDG levels in the river. Based on the flow data from the USBOR gauging station and the gas saturation curve for the wild and scenic section of the Crooked River generated here, gas bubble disease was probably present in fish in 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2004.
The redband trout population density has varied considerably from year to year, with a peak observed in 1994 and the lowest point observed in 2006. A large increase in the number of redband trout per km occurred between 1993 and 1994, indicating that the density of fish can increase substantially in one year. The decline in redband trout density from 1994 to 2006 appears to be more gradual than the increase in density observed from 1993 to 1994. Since 2006, the redband trout population density appears to be increasing based on qualitative patterns.
One interesting finding was that in 2007, the mountain whitefish density was estimated to be 7 times greater than the redband trout population, in 2008 it was estimated to be 4 times greater, but in 2009, the mountain whitefish density was only marginally higher than the redband trout population. In the three years of this study, there appears to be a shift in the relative abundance of redband trout and mountain whitefish directly below Bowman Dam. The reduction in the mountain whitefish population density from 2007 to 2008 was not expected based on angler accounts of the increase in mountain whitefish population densities.