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The drought in California is so bad that the state is loading almost 17 million hatchery salmon into trucks for a ride to the coast in a massive effort to help the species.
Typically, Chinook salmon spawn in rivers and then migrate to the ocean as juveniles, eventually swimming back up rivers to lay their eggs. But this year, the West is experiencing on of the worst droughts in history, with California Governor Gavin Newsom declaring it an emergency in April.
The once-cool and deep riverways salmon have historically traveled are now in some places hot, cracked stretches of dirt. And to make sure that salmon get to the ocean, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife will use 146 trucks to carry the fish up to 100 miles from their hatcheries to the San Francisco Bay and other water areas, according to a release by the agency. They are being let loose at different times of day to avoid a feeding frenzy by lurking seabirds.
“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,” Jason Julienne, a salmon hatchery supervisor, said in a statement.
Salmon have been transported this way before. In 2014 the state transported 30 million salmon from hatcheries into the Pacific, and have continued the initiative throughout the years at varying levels of magnitude. All of this is in an effort to help the struggling species (as well as the fishing industry) in the worsening climate. The commercial and recreational salmon fishing industry also rakes in $900 million for the state of California annually, according to the CDFW.
In the past, the species have been threatened by other human-induced phenomena—one of the most severe being damming of rivers throughout the state and country.
Salmon are a “keystone species,” one that has a domino-like effect on other organisms in an ecosystem. If salmon go, so does everything else. Animals from birds to bears rely on the fish for food and nourishment.
But, some environmental activists are positive about what efforts like this transportation project mean for the species.
“Well, actually, in the short term, this gives us hope,” said local fish and wildlife conservation activists John McManus to CBS News. “And we’re happy that they’re moving these fish. But it’s also a very sad testament to what’s happening with our rivers in the middle of this state,” McManus said.