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Conservation groups truck salmon to Pacific Ocean

Recreational fishermen in California are taking drastic measures to ensure the survival of Chinook salmon.

Frustrated with political gridlock over the fight for water access, recreational fishermen in California are taking drastic measures to ensure the survival of Chinook salmon that are unable to make their typical migration to sea because of dried-up waterways.

Recreational fishing groups have trucked thousands of juvenile salmon to release at sea, concerned that the fish otherwise will be unable to make their typical migration.

A total of 360,000 Chinook salmon will be released into nets at the end of Johnson Pier in San Mateo, Calif., where the fish will be inoculated to the salt water before they are towed out to sea and released, said Coastside Fishing Club chairman Marc Gorelnik, who initiated the recreational fishing club’s efforts.

“I think everyone’s preference would be to have healthy inland conditions, good habitat, good water flows because the natural areas can produce far more fish than the hatcheries can,” Gorelnik told the (San Mateo) Daily Journal.

“If these fish could merely thrive in their natural environment and survive the migration, we would have abundant fish and we wouldn’t need to undertake these steps,” he said. “But that’s not the world we’re living in. Right now, there’s a tremendous amount of political influence on where the water goes and, as a consequence, the inland water conditions, obviously complicated by the drought, have seriously reduced the production in the natural areas. So exceptional efforts need to be taken.”

After being raised in a hatchery, the approximately 4-inch salmon took a three-hour ride of their lives in a large tanker truck before they were spit into a pen and carefully protected from predators.

The local club is one of a handful of organizations that has created a program to commute the individually coated-wire tagged fish all the way to the ocean.

Having invested nearly $100,000 in the equipment and paid another $30,000 for the pricey coated-wire tags alone, the process is costly and laborious, Gorelnik said.

The salmon don’t necessarily find their way home; last year the fish were found as far away as Vancouver Island and Monterey Bay.

Although the recreational fishermen run the program, commercial boats caught nearly 70 percent of the locally released fish, Gorelnik said.

Similar operations in Washington state also have proved quite successful to sustaining a vital industry, said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association.

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