In the Midst of Another Drought, California Trucks Millions of Salmon to the Pacific Ocean

Image: Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory/Flickr

by Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

As the Guardian reported, California is now in its second year of drought after a winter with little precipitation and it is the state’s fourth-driest year on record, especially in the northern two-thirds of the state, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

Because of drought conditions, the state’s salmon being raised in Central California’s salmon hatcheries are not able to use their normal spawning waterways as they’re too low and warm. This means that state officials will use trucks to transport over 16 million salmon to San Pablo, San Francisco, Half Moon, and Monterey bays.

Why This Matters: California is home to 31 distinct species of salmon, yet due to a variety of stressors (notably drought), many of those species are at serious risk.

In addition to creating fire risk and limiting water for agriculture, drought can also be fatal for salmon. For California’s chinook salmon, drought compounds threats to their habitats, as they need cold water to survive, but dams have blocked their journeys to the frigid tributaries of the Sacramento River. To maintain California’s salmon population, trucking them to the ocean is the most effective option.


Fish out of Water: Over 16.8 million salmon from four Central Valley hatcheries will be trucked to the coast, and it will take 146 truckloads to get the fish to their release sites.

The state’s limited access to water has put the fishing industry and the farming industry at odds with each other. Fish advocates are urging fewer dams and higher water levels, while farmers say that these dams are necessary to sustain their crops. Working through this impasse will be crucial to ensuring that California’s salmon thrive.

But for now, the trucking operation will keep the chinook salmon alive. North Central Region Hatchery Supervisor Jason Julienne said in a statement: “Trucking young salmon to downstream release sites has proven to be one of the best ways to increase survival to the ocean during dry conditions.”

Chinook On the Line: In the northern part of the state, the Pacific Fishery Management Council has recommended the closure of the commercial chinook fishery between the Oregon border and the Fort Bragg area —the California Klamath Management Zone — due to low fall salmon returns forecasted for the Klamath River.

As the Wild Rivers Outpost wrote, This recommendation comes after the Yurok Tribe released a statement critical of a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation plan for the Klamath River basin, saying it provides “bare-minimum flows for imperiled Klamath salmon and sucker fish populations.”

While the Klamath River will soon see the removal of four dams that threaten the population of the river’s salmon, drought conditions are creating immediate threats to the fishery necessitating its closure.


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