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Calif. drought has migrating salmon hitching truck rides
Herald and News 3/26/14
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California began hauling 30 million young Chinook salmon hundreds of miles toward the Pacific Ocean in tanker trucks to save the fishing industry after a record drought left rivers too low for migration.
Three climate-controlled trucks, each bearing 130,000 silvery three-inch smolts, left a federal hatchery 180 miles north of San Francisco Tuesday for a sloshy, three-hour drive to San Pablo Bay, where they are held in netted pens to acclimate before release. Officials had said they might need as many as four vehicles.
“Water conditions, because of the drought, are going to be horrible for the fish,” said Harry Morse of the state Fish and Wildlife Department. “Depending on how far those fish have to go, the longer they must travel through the system, the higher the losses.”
The fish taxi is the latest in a series of emergency steps that state and federal authorities are rushing into place as reservoirs ebb one-third below normal and farmers idle thousands of acres. Gov. Jerry Brown has called for a voluntary 20 percent cut in water use and many areas have declared mandatory restrictions. More than 800 wildfires have broken out since Jan. 1, three times more than usual, according to state records, and smog in Los Angeles is worse without winter rains to clear the air.
California’s 38 million people endured the driest year on record last year. The most-populous state has only about a quarter of the average amount of water in mountain snow that melts in the spring to fill lakes and rivers.
The hatchery fish that typically migrate through the Sacramento River Delta to the sea are key to the state’s $1.5 billion commercial and recreational fishing industry, according to the Nature Conservancy. Fish released now will be part of the population that can be harvested in a few years.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council, which helps set
fishing seasons, predicted earlier this month that more than
630,000 fall-run Chinook salmon from the delta are in the
Pacific Ocean now. That’s less than last year but more than
enough for a normal commercial fishing season, the council said.
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