Monterey County

Drought forces salmon to be moved to sea by trucks

Local businesses say truck moving project is good news

MONTEREY, Calif. - Low water levels in California are making it even harder for salmon to survive their trip downstream to sea to spawn.

Right now there are about 14 million young salmon ready to spawn in the Coleman Hatchery, and if they don't make it to sea, restaurants and fisherman locally will feel it.

It's all about fresh seafood at Café Fina.

"They think of Monterey Bay, they think of fresh seafood," said Dominic Mercurio, Cafe Fina owner.

What's especially popular is the salmon. Mercurio said it's not just in restaurants.

"You're talking about people coming to Monterey to go fishing, that get their hotel rooms, buy bait," said Mercurio.

The wild salmon that's so popular on the Monterey Bay starts its journey up north. But the drought has U.S. Fish and Wildlife concerned; 14 million young salmon in the federally run Coleman Hatchery, north of Sacramento, are facing harsh conditions.

Low water levels have made them prey for other fish, and no river current gives them no way to make it to the ocean.

"For the first time they will likely truck the fish down to saltwater environment, rather than take the risk of fish trying to survive the rundown Sacramento River," said Steve Scheiblauer, Monterey harbormaster.

Scheiblauer said getting the fish trucked isn't popular with environmentalists.

"Federal hatchery really wants the fish to be able to migrate on their own if they can, so they get the memory about where they came from," said Scheiblauer.

However, for Chris' Fishing Trips owner Chris Arcoleo, leaving them put could mean facing a salmon season shutdown like in 2008.

"Three years later that means it stops the season. Now we have a real good chance a lot of those fish surviving and being able to catch them in three years," said Arcoleo.

"It was really tough on restaurants and fishermen," said Scheiblauer, of the salmon closure.

Thanks to the decision to truck, Café Fina will keep this on the menu.

"It's fantastic, it's great news," said Mercurio.

This will likely not be a yearly procedure the federal hatchery takes. It won't start trucking until next month to see if California gets rain during the month of March.

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