SciSun: Keep on Truckin’   Leave a comment

Like most other fish, Salmon usually swim wherever they want to go. Yes, you can find the famous ‘flying fish’ in tropical oceans, but they’re probably just focused on collecting frequent flier miles. With the long-lasting drought in California – possibly the most severe in recorded history – millions of salmon who each Spring move from their inland stream-and-river nurseries to the ocean are finding themselves trapped within overheated and shrinking reservoirs of water as summer temperatures approach.


For decades, due to decrease in habitat and increase in demand for the fish, a significant number of the ‘wild’ salmon population (along with other types of native fish) have been born in hatcheries operated by state and federal fish and wildlife departments. With each hatchery able to produce up to ten million or more fish, it’s vital as many as possible of these young smolt reach the ocean so they can grow and continue the life cycle. But at only about four inches long and just a few months old, the little fish are generally too small and un-practiced swimmers to navigate the hundred-mile or more journey through rock-filled streams, heavy current, and past predators to successfully reach the ocean (with such little experience, you might say they are ‘wet behind the ears’); to ensure as many fish as possible show up at the seashore, timing of the migration has evolved to happen with the spring thaw when melting snow fills rivers and creeks and the fish are carried downstream to the ocean with the rushing waters.

Obviously, with below-average snow and rainfall and higher temperatures reducing the amount of run-off, much of the naturally-occurring and hatchery-born populations of salmon won’t be able to reach the ocean without help. So within the next few weeks, every young salmon born at five central California hatcheries will be loaded into tanker trucks, driven closer to the coast, and released where there’s adequate water for them to survive and find their way to the ocean. Officials are also watching natural, wild fish populations for stress and drought conditions – and if necessary, these little smolt might also get a free ride to the seashore.

Wee!  A free trip to the ocean!  And it's not just for my class, but the entire school!

Wee! A free trip to the ocean! And it’s not just for my class, but the entire school!

While this might sound like fun (who doesn’t like a field trip to the beach?), there’s concern that this aquatic adventure of today might lead to confused adult salmon in a few years. Every salmon that swims from stream to ocean naturally makes a ‘smell map’ of the waters they move through (yes, to salmon every different river and creek has a different smell); and the adult salmon rely on the imprinting of these familiar smells to find their way back to their birthplace. So when the migration between birth waters and the ocean is by-passed, there’s nothing for the salmon to remember other than a road trip with thousands of other young salmon. Which is probably like any other road trip but with less snacks in the back seat. And absolutely NO bathroom stops.

Wildlife officials recognize trucking approximately 30 million fish is an extraordinary event and something they wouldn’t do if not for the extreme drought conditions that are forcing difficult decisions throughout much of California and the west. While it’s not unusual for hatchery fish to be transported by truck, the effort of an estimated 250 or more trips of about 120,000 smolt per truck who would normally make the journey on their own, is a huge and expensive experiment – that could be the only chance for an entire generation of salmon.


Michonne Says: Marmots usually don’t travel very far from our homes, so we’d never need to go in one of those scary man-truck things. And if the fish are going in them they must be filled with water which is even worse. They can have it.

Posted April 27, 2014 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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