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Millions Of Chinook Salmon Released Into Northern California Waterways

ANDERSON  (CBS SF) -- For the first time in years there's enough water in Northern California rivers to safely release salmon, and it's all thanks to El Nino.

Some of the salmon will be tracked as they make their way to the ocean.

The federal government is funding the release of millions of Baby Chinook salmon into Battle Creek at the Coleman Federal Hatchery outside Red Bluff.

Brett Galyean, deputy project leader at Coleman Federal Hatchery, said, "It's a big day. It's the first time in two years that we were able to release all the fish on station."

This year there's finally enough water in the river

Galyean said,  "because of the drought the last two years, the environmental conditions in the Sacramento River -- warm water, low flow -- caused us to truck fish."

But no trucks are needed this year. The hatchery produces 12 million baby Chinook salmon a year. Moving millions of fish isn't easy. It requires an aluminum wall to slowly push the fish, trying to keep them calm as they near the far side. But panic sets in.

Moments later a large hose sucks them up and pumps them down a special quarter mile long pipe leading to the river where their 350 mile journey to the Golden Gate begins, Some are being released by bucket and will have tiny radio transponders attached for tracking.

Steve Zeug, a biologist at Cramer Fish Sciences, said, "We'll be able to know how many of them survive between here and all the way out to the Golden Gate Bridge."

Galyean said today is kind of like graduation day.

"They get to go out and start another cycle of their life," Galyean said.

Biologist say the Sacramento River is the only river in the world with four distinct Chinook salmon runs and one of those runs is getting a big helping hand.

However, of the 12 million fish released, only one percent are expected to return to Battle Creek in three years to spawn.

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