Baby salmon in California will make trip to ocean -- by truck

RIO VISTA, Calif. - California's been dry for going on three years.

And that's interfering with one of nature's wonders - the annual migration of salmon from streams and rivers to the Pacific.

But it turns out, the fish won't have to make the journey alone.
California's long drought is threatening the annual migration of salmon CBS News

At the Coleman fish hatchery on the upper Sacramento River, the first of 12 million baby salmon were loaded into trucks this morning.

California's long drought has left the river so low that for the first time in two decades the hatchery can't release the fish raised right at the hatchery.

They'll be carried more than 200 miles downriver where they'll have an easier time reaching the ocean.

The Sacramento River is so low that salmon could have difficulty reaching the Pacific Ocean CBS News
John McManus leads the Golden Gate Salmon Association which urged the federal government to truck the fish.

"Survival will be much, much higher than if those fish were released into the drought-stricken river where the hatchery is," McManus said. "In fact some estimates suggest that the survival will be up to 18 times higher than if the fish were released at the hatchery."

California drought threatens coho salmon with extinction
At the end of their journey by truck the young salmon are released into pens where they'll spend a few hours getting accustomed to the river. Then they will swim on to the ocean just over 60 miles away.

How will McManus know whether the effort has been a success?

"These fish actually have coded wire tags implanted in them," he said. "When they come back as adults those tags will be recovered, and we will know what the survival is, as a result of recovering these tags."

Over the next three weeks dozens of truckloads will make the same journey. It's seen as essential to the $1.4 billion fishing industry in California. Captain John Atkinson runs a charter fishing boat out of San Francisco Bay.

"Salmon is our bread and butter," Atkinson said. "That's our main money maker."

Captain John Atkinson CBS
If a salmon is put in a truck, will it know where its home is?

"They know," Atkinson said. "They know. They're a lot smarter than we are."

Sometimes nature just needs a lift.

  • John Blackstone
    John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.