Cali Drought Leads to “Extreme Measures” for Hatchery Salmon

The biggest fish-lift (as in airlifting fish) in the California’s history is underway. Roughly 30 million young hatchery salmon are ready to be released into the state’s waterways, but the seemingly never-ending drought there has made rivers to shallow or too warm for the fish to survive. So, to save the salmon, state and federal wildlife agencies have joined forces for a massive undertaking.

Breaker Breaker, We Got Ourselves A (Fish) Convoy

“This is a massive effort statewide on multiple systems,” said California Department of Fish and Wildlife chief of fisheries Stafford Lehr of the fish-lift project, which began in February. “We’re going to unprecedented drought [so] we’re forced to extreme measures.”

Chinook California salmon are currently listed as a “species of concern” on federal Endangered Species lists. The species is critical to the region’s ecology and economy. In 2014, another year marred by lengthy drought and heavy water use by cities and agriculture, 95 percent of California’s winter-run Chinook died. This time around, officials aren’t taking chances.



A fleet of 35,000-gallon tanker trucks has been ferrying baby salmon from hatcheries to the Pacific Ocean. Every day, thousands of fish embark on a one-way road trip to the ocean. All five major government hatcheries for fall-run Chinook California salmon in the state’s Central Valley are involved in the effort.

Similar Efforts for Other Fishes

Operation Truckloads O’ Salmon isn’t California’s only significant ongoing fish-saving project. The drought has had a similar effect on other fish species, as well. Plans are already in the making for a similar, but far smaller-scale, fish-lift later in the summer, this one to rescue steelhead trout.

Thousands of endangered California coastal coho salmon have been rescued by conservationists near Lagunitas, in Marin County. Fish trapped in slowly dwindling pools where tributary rivers once flowed to the coast are scooped up by bucket and heaved into the ocean.

Some native fishes have been relocated to nearby hatcheries from dwindling rivers and pools. There, the fish are fed and tended to. They will remain there until the drought abates and their natural habitats are once again habitable.

Photo credit: CaliforniaDFW / Foter / CC BY