Drought-stricken California trucks its salmon to the sea


For 17 million salmon in California there’s been a drastic change of plan.

Extreme drought here means the rivers are too warm for the salmon to survive.

Come spring, the young fish – called Smolts – would usually be released from the Nimbus Fish Hatchery into the American River.

Instead, California State is loading them up onto trucks

and releasing them into the sea from San Francisco Bay.

Harry Morse is the spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"Today we're trucking about 670,000 young salmon, called Smolt, from the hatchery up over 100 miles away around the Sacramento River. We have very low water conditions, we have high temperatures, and under those situations, a high percentage of the young fish would not make it all the way out here to the ocean so they could start their natural cycle."

It’s an emergency step not taken since the last major drought in 2014.

Droughts in California are becoming more frequent and more intense as climate change continues,

threatening the state's already tenuous supply of water for wildlife, farmers and urban areas.

[Jason Julienne, senior environmental scientist supervisor, California Department of Fish and Wildlife:] "So this is a response to the drought conditions that we're currently experiencing here in California. We had low amounts of rain, low amounts of snow, and that has created conditions in our reservoirs where we have really low storage. And with that low storage, we typically experience higher than average river temperatures and lower flows. And those are conditions for juvenile Chinook salmon that create low survival. And we are taking our hatchery raised fish and moving them to bay release sites to increase survival by reducing the amount of time that they're spending in those poor river conditions."

Even without drought and climate change, salmon and other fish

were struggling to survive on the West Coast,

as water projects such as dams and reservoirs inhibit their ability to migrate to the sea and back,

a natural part of their life cycle that can take about three years.

[Jason Julienne, senior environmental scientist supervisor, California Department of Fish and Wildlife:] "Every year we evaluate the number of salmon that are returning to our rivers. You know, there's oscillations in those numbers. It appears that we're on a downward trend. But we're hoping that the actions that we take today are going to increase the numbers of fish that are going to be returning as adults and returning to our rivers."

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