Biologists this week helped 54,000 Northern California salmon become San Joaquin River inhabitants — launching the river's largest experiment to rejuvenate a long-dead salmon run.
As part of the nearly 5-year-old San Joaquin restoration project, half of the juvenile fish will be released today for a long, dangerous swim to the Pacific Ocean. The other half will be released Friday.
The fish are tagged so survivors can be identified in a few years on the return trip to the San Joaquin for spawning.
"This is a big step for the project," said biologist John Netto of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "We're coordinating the right window of opportunity to get the fish down the river."
The San Joaquin's first large-scale reintroduction of spring-run salmon faces hurdles — the driest season in decades, a long truck trip from Friant Dam to the confluence with the Merced River and potentially lethal warm water.
The salmon restoration is part of a 2006 agreement that ended a long-running environmental lawsuit. Environmentalists sought to reconnect a 60-mile section of dried-out river with the ocean six decades after Friant Dam was built.