By Matt Weiser
More than 12 million juvenile hatchery salmon will get a truck trip downstream starting Tuesday to avoid the harmful effects of drought on the Sacramento River.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the plan Friday, confirming a proposal first reported March 10 by The Bee. There’s been no rain in California since then, so the agency decided to carry out the plan.
Spokesman Steve Martarano said it will take 22 days to transport all the fish in tanker trucks from Coleman National Hatchery near Red Bluff. 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 of its own, so it will borrow five additional trucks 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 threes stops along the nearly 300-mile journey to check on the health of their salmon 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 new water temperature and chemistry downstream. After this adjustment period, they’ll be released to complete their migration to the Pacific Ocean on their own.
The agencies decided on the trucking plan because habitat in the Sacramento river has been compromised by drought. The river 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.
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 as adults.
Martarano said there’s a chance not all the fish will end up being trucked if the weather changes.