Millions of Salmon Migrating ... by Truck

California's drought makes normal annual rite too risky

By Newser Editors and Wire Services

Posted Jun 16, 2014 2:00 PM CDT

(Newser) – In drought-stricken California, young Chinook salmon are hitting the road, not the river, to get to the Pacific Ocean. Millions of six-month-old smolts are hitching rides in tanker trucks because California's historic drought has depleted rivers and streams, making the annual migration to the ocean too dangerous for juvenile salmon. "The drought conditions have caused lower flows in the rivers, warmer water temperatures, and the fish that would normally be swimming down the rivers would be very susceptible to predation and thermal stress," explains a fishery biologist with the Fishery Foundation of California.

California has been trucking hatchery-raised salmon for years to bypass river dams and giant pumps that funnel water to Southern California and Central Valley farms. But this year state and federal wildlife agencies are trucking nearly 27 million smolts, about 50% more than normal, because of the drought, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Trucking the smolts ensures a large number will survive and grow to be the California king salmon prized by fishermen and seafood lovers. But skipping the river journey means the migratory fish won't know how to swim home to spawn in three years. The commercial and recreational fishing industries have been pushing for the expanded trucking program to increase the chances of a decent salmon season in 2016, when the smolts released this year will be adults.

In this photo taken Friday, May 9, 2014, young Chinook salmon move through a plastic pipe as they are loaded into a tanker truck at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery in Rancho Cordova, Calif.   (Rich Pedroncelli)
Young salmon that have been transported by tanker truck from the Coleman National Fish hatchery are loaded into a floating net suspended on a pontoon barge at Mare Island, Calif.   (Rich Pedroncelli)
Young salmon that have been transported by tanker truck from the Coleman National Fish hatchery are loaded into a floating net suspended on a pontoon barge at Mare Island, Calif.   (Rich Pedroncelli)
In this photo taken Thursday, April 24, 2014, a young Chinook salmon, called a smolt, is displayed before it is among the more than 750,000 released in San Pablo Bay near Vallejo, Calif.   (Rich Pedroncelli)
A barge bearing floating nets holding as many as 750,000 young Chinook salmon, called smolts, moves down the Napa River before the smolts were released in San Pablo Bay near Vallejo, Calif.   (Rich Pedroncelli)
Andy Heap, left, and Brian Rodman herd young Chinook salmon down a holding tank where they were loaded into a tanker truck at the California Department of Fish and Game's Nimbus Fish Hatchery.   (Rich Pedroncelli)
Brian Rodman uses a screen to herd Chinook salmon down a holding tank to be piped into a tanker truck at the California Department of Fish and Game's Nimbus Fish Hatchery in Rancho Cordova, Calif.   (Rich Pedroncelli)
In this photo taken Thursday, April 24, 2014, nets are suspended on a pontoon barge that will be loaded with young Chinook salmon at Mare Island, Calif.   (Rich Pedroncelli)
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