State To Release Juvenile Kings Into San Francisco Bay

Tanker trucks carrying salmon smolts from CDFW’s Central Valley hatcheries line up at Fort Baker near the Golden Gate Bridge in preparation to release the fish, bypassing Central Valley rivers where predation, low water, warm temperatures and other factors can limit survival and their ability to reach the ocean.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife will release juvenile king salmon into San Francisco Bay as the state struggles with declining numbers of fall-run fish.

First, here’s the press release from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is taking the proactive measure of trucking millions of hatchery-raised juvenile Central Valley fall-run chinook salmon this spring to San Pablo Bay, San Francisco Bay and seaside net pens due to projected poor river conditions in the Central Valley. The massive trucking operation is designed to ensure the highest level of survival for the young salmon on their hazardous journey to the Pacific Ocean.

“CDFW is utilizing lessons learned from the past 15 or more years of salmon releases and the last drought to maximize release success,” said Jason Julienne, North Central Region Hatchery Supervisor. “Trucking young salmon to downstream release sites has proven to be one of the  best ways to increase survival to the ocean during dry conditions.”

Millions of young salmon will be transported, bypassing 50 to more than 100 miles of poor river conditions where estimated losses have been significant during dry years.

The massive trucking operation will transport around 20 percent more salmon around the Central Valley rivers and Delta than in typical water years. More than 16.8 million young salmon from four Central Valley hatcheries to sites around the San Pablo and San Francisco bays as well as Half Moon and Monterey bays.  It will take approximately 146 individual truck loads traveling more than 30,000 miles between mid-April to early June to get all the fish out. The salmon will be trucked from the Feather River, Nimbus, Mokelumne and Merced salmon hatcheries.

The adaptive management strategy was triggered by CDFW biologists’ and salmon hatchery managers’ evaluation of current and projected river conditions, anticipating historically low flows and elevated temperatures.  Part of the strategy involves selection of new release sites and rotating between release sites to minimize learned behaviors from predators.  Releases will take place at night and during the day, utilizing both direct release and net pen acclimation techniques, to help maximize survival rates.

Ocean commercially and recreationally caught salmon generate more than $900 million in economic impact annually for California. Economic benefits from ocean caught salmon sold in markets to the purchase of fishing boats, fishing equipment, related travel and transportation by recreational anglers in pursue of these hatchery salmon make a significant contribution to California’s economy.

And some reaction from the Golden State Salmon Association:

San Francisco — The California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is trucking all of its hatchery baby salmon to release sites in and around SF Bay this year to minimize drought-related losses. This development follows requests from Golden State Salmon Assc. (GSSA) and meetings with CDFW urging the state to act. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has also decided to truck roughly 950,000 baby salmon from the Coleman Hatchery near Redding to the west Bay. 

Although it won’t help this year’s restricted season, the trucking should produce a large number of 20” jacks by next year and allow a fishing season in 2023.  This will be especially valuable considering water temperature forecasts now show that water temperatures will likely be lethal for spawning salmon by fall unless the State acts to require added temperature protections. 

Also, after GSSA’s request, the Department will use some new Bay release sites west of the regular releases at Mare Island near Vallejo.  

The need to truck hatchery fish in part stems from the failure of state water managers to better balance water allocation to protect salmon and the environment. While trucking hatchery fish will save them, the fish born in the wild are likely to die.  

“Salmon fishermen and women are grateful for the trucking of hatchery salmon but we mourn the loss of the state’s wild salmon runs caused by the failure of government to better manage finite freshwater sources in the Central Valley,” said John McManus, president of the Golden State Salmon Association. “We hope the state will act to avoid the massive fish kills we saw in 2014 and 2015.” 

GSSA asked the department to use release sites further west in SF Bay because it’s the easiest and cheapest, way to maximize survival and returns of hatchery fish.  West Bay release sites basically double the number of hatchery fish that survive to adulthood, providing equivalent benefits of building several new hatcheries.  

Prior to CDFW’s decision to truck to the west Bay, GSSA staff did advance scouting, initiated and shared contacts of local land owners, and assembled and shared maps and photos with CDFW.  

The decision to truck will add another three to four million fish that will contribute significantly to the fishery in the next few years. 

About GSSA: The Golden State Salmon Association ( is a coalition of salmon advocates that includes commercial and recreational salmon fishermen and women, businesses, restaurants, a native tribe, environmentalists, elected officials, families and communities that rely on salmon. GSSA’s mission is to restore California salmon for their economic, recreational, commercial, environmental, cultural and health values. 

Currently, California’s salmon industry is valued at $1.4 billion in economic activity and 23,000 jobs annually in a normal season and about half that much in economic activity and jobs again in Oregon. Industry workers benefiting from Central Valley salmon stretch from Santa Barbara to northern Oregon. This includes commercial fishermen and women, recreational fishermen and women (fresh and salt water), fish processors, marinas, coastal communities, equipment manufacturers, the hotel and food industry, tribes, and others.