March 21 (UPI) -- One million chinook salmon found a new home in a central California river after a five-week ordeal that included rescue from the failure of the Oroville Dam spillway and evacuation to a hatchery.
In three weeks, these young fish ultimately will swim into the Pacific Ocean.
On Monday, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife worked with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service to pump the spring-run fish into four large tanker trucks at the Thermalito Annex Hatchery north of Gridley. Then, they were driven 30 miles down Highway 99 and released into the Feather River, south of Yuba City.
In February, these fish were moved to Feather River Hatchery after Lake Oroville overtopped its emergency spillway and clouded the river.
Andrew Hughan with Fish and Wildlife told Capital Public Radio the fish could not have survived in the conditions, which they described as similar to the chocolate river in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
"There's not enough oxygen, not enough nutrients, not enough food in the water to support the fish," he says. "We had to get all hands on deck .... to try and save as many fish as we can."
In the next few weeks, another million spring-run chinook will be released.
About 3 million fall-run chinook remain at the Feather River Hatchery.
The fish were released sooner than normal because they were outgrowing their temporary home, hatchery managers said.
"Based on the weather forecast and current reservoir storage, we are anticipating high flows in the Feather River for some time," CDFW Senior Environmental Scientist Colin Purdy said in a release. "Releasing these fish now should allow them to imprint on Feather River water and move downstream before flows drop back down to normal levels."
The spring-run chinook are state- and federal-listed endangered species.
All of the fish released in the Feather River have coded wire tags in their snouts so they can be tracked.
"Today's fish release marks the success of federal and state agencies coordinating and managing valuable resources while ensuring public safety during a crisis situation," said Howard Brown, NOAA Sacramento River Basin Branch Chief, in a release. "NOAA Fisheries remains deeply concerned with the damage of the Oroville spillways and is committed to reducing further threats to California communities and ecosystems."
After the initial spillway failed, the Lake Oroville water rose and went over an emergency spillway that had never been used. State officials, fearing a collapse, temporarily evacuated about 180,000 people downstream.
Check out underwater video Spring-Run Chinook Salmon. The endangered fish were planted in the Feather River near Yuba City today pic.twitter.com/uqkcYjQPvc— Brian Hickey (@kcraBrianHickey) March 20, 2017