Millions of baby salmon are being trucked and dumped into the Delta as part of a massive effort to save their lives.

For the first time ever, every salmon raised in a California hatchery will get a lift to the sea in an unprecedented move amid our extreme drought.

The first of more than 240 tanker trucks full of baby salmon were dumped into the Delta on Tuesday.

Over the next few months, more than 30 million baby salmon will make the trip.

“This is in response to the drought,” said Stafford Lehr with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “We are not necessarily in favor of trucking 100 percent of our fish.”

The drought is forcing both the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and state to give baby salmon a lift, instead of releasing them into rivers.

“These fish, they’re tiny and they’re lousy swimmers,” said John McManus with the Golden Gate Salmon Association. “They don’t swim down the river ocean, they get flushed down by rain and snowmelt, of which we don’t have very much of this year.”

Instead of swimming 180 miles, the 400,000 smolts, or baby salmon, from the Coleman Fish Hatchery in Anderson drove to Rio Vista.

Officials fear that nearly all of those fish would die if they were released into rivers, either by predator or water temperatures, or once they reach the Delta.

“Juvenile salmon get sucked into the Delta cross channel, and they never come out,” said McManus said. “It’s essentially a black hole.”

Fishing groups say today’s effort will have a huge economic impact.

“This will make all the difference to those coastal communities—the town of Tomales, Bodega Bay, Fort Bragg—that would literally be ghost towns without what we’re doing right there right now,” Victor Gonella with the Golden Gate Salmon Association.

The smolts released this year will return in two to three years to spawn. Some of the fish are tagged, so hatcheries will be able to see how many will survive and make it back.

It’s costing at least $400,000 to haul the salmon closer to the ocean.

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