California Salmon Will Get a Free Ride to the Ocean—In Tanker Trucks

If the salmon won't come to the ocean, then the ocean will come to the salmon. Well, not quite: Tanker trucks will take them there. Such are the extreme measures in California this spring, as drought forces major salmon hatcheries to funnel their fish into tanker trucks and ride them straight to the Pacific.

The Sacramento Bee reports that state and federal officials have shaken hands on a plan to transport millions of young fish by tanker truck, if the ongoing drought does, in fact, make their traditional route—Sacramento River—too shallow and warm for them to survive.

The plan concerns California's largest salmon hatchery, the Coleman National Fish Hatchery, which usually produces as many as 12 million salmon every year. Normally, the Coleman would release its young fish into a Sacramento River tributary in April. But this year, officials are putting another plan into place:

The trucking plan, devised by the state and federal fisheries agencies, includes a series of triggers, based on river and water supply conditions, that would launch a massive operation to haul the salmon in tanker trucks on a nearly three-hour drive from Red Bluff to San Pablo Bay near Vallejo. There, the salmon would be released into floating net pens to acclimate to new salinity and temperature conditions, then set free to swim for the ocean.

This is just one example of how entire natural processes are being replaced by human infrastructure, where bottled water or expensively trucked salmon stand in for when rivers—dammed, dried up, or polluted—can no longer do the job.

The plan isn't without risk, though: According to experts, the long, weird journey could send the poor, sheltered fish into a state of shock. That would make them far easier for predators to pick off. For now, officials will have to wait and see—and pray for rain. [Outside Online; The Sacramento Bee]