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March 25, 2014 9:00 AM, EDT
California Drought Has Salmon Hitching Rides in Trucks
Chip Chipman/Bloomberg News

California will begin hauling 30 million young Chinook salmon hundreds of miles toward the Pacific Ocean in tanker trucks to save the fishing industry after a record drought left rivers too low for migration.

Four climate-controlled trucks, each bearing 130,000 silvery 3-inch smolts, will leave a federal hatchery 180 miles north of San Francisco on March 25, for a three-hour drive to San Pablo Bay, where they will be held in pens to acclimate before release.

Convoys of four to seven trucks daily will make the trip from the federal hatchery for 22 days. In all, 12 million juvenile fish will be taxied from there, along with 18 million raised in four state-owned hatcheries. When released from the pens, the fish will migrate to the ocean and mature. They return to the rivers as an adult to spawn.

“Our 2016 fishing season may be riding on the survival of the fish in these trucks,” said Roger Thomas, chairman of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, an advocacy group based in Petaluma, Calif. “We know that fish trucked around dangers lurking in the rivers and delta survive at much higher rates than those released at the hatcheries.”

While the state usually trucks some of its hatchery fish to the ocean, this year’s haul will be about three times the usual. It costs California taxpayers $1,500 a week to rent the tanker trucks, and the state expects to spend $150,000 on trucking, including fuel costs, said Harry Morse of the state Fish and Wildlife Department.