Starting next month, millions of young California salmon could be migrating to the ocean in tanker trucks instead of swimming downstream in the Sacramento River.
On Monday, state and federal wildlife officials announced a plan to move hatchery-raised salmon by truck in the event the state’s ongoing drought makes the Sacramento River and its tributaries inhospitable for the fish. They fear the rivers could become too shallow and warm to sustain salmon trying to migrate to sea on their own.
Shrunken habitat could deplete food supply for the young fish, and make them easier prey for predators. It also would make the water warmer, which can be lethal to salmon.
“The conditions may be so poor as to produce unacceptable levels of mortality for the out-migrating juveniles,” said Bob Clarke, fisheries program supervisor at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Clarke’s agency operates Coleman National Fish Hatchery on Battle Creek, a tributary of the Sacramento River near Red Bluff. It is the largest salmon hatchery in the state, producing about 12 million fall-run Chinook salmon. The hatchery was built to atone for habitat losses caused by construction of Shasta Dam.