SACRAMENTO — On a sunny morning in the state capital, Mike McHenry, a fisherman out of Pillar Point Harbor in San Mateo County, guided his boat to a dock on the Sacramento River and readied its 10,000-gallon hold for some special cargo.
Once the captain had filled the tank with river water, a team of state Fish and Wildlife biologists and technicians aimed a 100-foot tube into the belly of McHenry’s 64-foot boat, the Merva W. About 100,000 baby salmon gushed out of a truck into the hold.
In about 10 minutes the vessel was teeming with fish, their speckled backs presenting various shades of greens, browns and yellows. Soon after, McHenry would steer his boat 109 miles to Fort Baker, just east of the Golden Gate Bridge, completing the latest phase of a groundbreaking experiment involving one of California’s most vital and popular fish, the Chinook salmon.
“Can you imagine what a trip that is?” said McHenry, peering down at the skittering smolts, which would be shot into the bay 24 hours later. “And they’re just beginning their journey.”
What happens to these fish once they reach adulthood and make their fall spawning run is the subject of an unusual collaborative study, proposed by commercial fishermen and aided by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The state keeps the Central Valley salmon population alive by hatching millions of fish in captivity, then releasing them into nearby rivers or trucking them to San Pablo Bay. But each of these methods has a drawback.
Most juvenile salmon that are released into the river don’t make it to the ocean, thanks to natural predation and man-made obstacles, while those dumped right into the bay miss out on a key developmental milestone.
This study analyzes whether shipping them to the bay in tanks circulating with river water is a more effective method of releasing them. The theory is that exposing them to the Sacramento River, allowing them to “smell” it, will optimize their remarkable homing instinct.
The experiment could have a major impact on how hatcheries release salmon in the Sacramento River system, one of two prime breeding grounds in the state. It could also boost the fortunes of the hard-luck salmon themselves.
Read the full story at the San Mateo County Times>>