Getting 31 million smelt, or baby salmon, from fisheries to the Delta, where they have a better chance of surviving this drought, takes a herculean effort.
The Golden Gate Salmon Association says the survival rate of the fish could be 18 percent higher if they are moved, rather than if they swim upstream.
It will take the state and federal governments eight to 10 weeks to truck the fish to Rio Vista. It will take 240 semi tanker trucks at a cost of more than $800,000, which is considered a minimal cost for saving the more than 1.5 billion dollar salmon fishing industry.
“Many coastal communities – Bodega Bay, Half Moon Bay, Fort Brag would be ghost towns. There would be no fishing. We would be closed,” Victor Gonella, with the Golden Gate Salmon Association, told FOX40.
The problem with releasing the fish into the rivers is that the smelt are horrible swimmers. They drift down our rivers with the current but with less water, they old move slower making them easily preyed upon. On top of that, the river’s and Delta conditions are bad. It is believed 95 percent would die trying to make it to the ocean.
“The conditions are projected to deteriorate in the Delta and at the time the state and federal hatcheries would be releasing those fish, the time they’d take to move down through the system, they would have been drawn into the interior Delta and the south Delta and the survival is not good,” said Stafford Lehr, with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Trucking the fish to the Delta isn’t without risk. While the fish will have a better chance of survival, they will also have a great risk of not returning to the correct river to spawn.
“We are hoping we are still in the stem of the Sacramento River, so they will find their way back where they need to go,” said Victor Gonella.
These fish were trucked more than 250 miles from the Cullaman Hatchery in Anderson to Rio Vista, where they were released. In three years, tags on the fish will tell us whether the fish were able to find their way home.
Tuesday, 400,000 fish were released into pens where they will be protected from predators for a couple of hours while they assimilate to the new water conditions. Then, they will be towed out into the river and released hoping they will return in 2016 as adult salmon.