More than 12 million juvenile hatchery salmon will get a truck trip downstream starting Monday to help them circumvent the harmful effects of drought on the Sacramento River.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the plan Friday, as a way of bolstering survival rates for the fish. The Sacramento River, compromised by California’s persistent drought, is too low to provide adequate food and protection from predators, potentially jeopardizing a crop of fish that supports the state’s commercial and recreational salmon fishing industries.
Agency spokesman Steve Martarano said it will take 22 days to transport all the fish in tanker trucks from Coleman National Hatchery near Red Bluff. The first salmon will be trucked in a trial run on Monday, with additional shipments continuing Tuesday, if all goes well. Each delivery will deposit the fish back into the Sacramento River near Rio Vista.
Each truck holds about 2,800 gallons of water and 130,000 salmon smolts – juveniles 4 to 6 inches long – and is climate-controlled to maintain a water temperature between 55 and 60 degrees.
The agency owns only two such trucks, so it will borrow five from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The state agency also plans to truck its salmon production from four hatcheries, including Nimbus Hatchery on the American River, starting April 4.
“It’s got to be a joint operation because of the use of the trucks,” Martarano said. “There’s a whole schedule in place that’s really complicated.”
The trucks will make three stops along the nearly 300-mile journey to check on the health of their cargo and make sure water conditions remain acceptable, Martarano said.
The fish will be released back into the Sacramento River at Rio Vista. They will be placed into floating net pens for a few hours to protect them from predators while they adjust to the water temperature and chemistry downstream. After this adjustment period, they’ll be released to complete their migration to the Pacific Ocean on their own.
Wildlife officials prefer to release salmon into the river near where they were born so they can imprint on that location and find their way back in three to four years when it’s time to spawn as adults. Trucking the fish could mean fewer of them find their way back to the right location.
Martarano said there’s a chance not all the fish will end up being trucked if the weather changes.