New strategy to save salmon

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is giving some 1.4 million chinook salmon smolt a free ride from its Coleman National Fish Hatchery, on Battle Creek east of Red Bluff, to San Pablo Bay this week in an effort to increase the number of fish who make it to the ocean and return two or three years later to spawn.

The smolts are being trucked to San Pablo Bay, where they will be placed in net pens for acclimatization and then released. Some of them will have coded-wife tags that will allow fisheries biologists to determine their rate of return.

Altogether, the hatchery is releasing some 12 million smolt this week. Those not being trucked will travel the usual way—swimming downriver. One goal is to determine whether trucking the fish increases or decreases their rate of return.

Interestingly, at a time when the Sacramento River salmon fishery is in collapse, its best tributary for generating wild salmon, Butte Creek, is thriving. Its salmon run is expected to increase this year, which suggests that wild salmon are hardier than their hatchery-bred cousins.