Scientists wade through a cold water ditch in a pouring rain in an area known as the toe drain of the Yolo Bypass. They pull a large adult male salmon out of a fish trap.
The fall-run Chinook Salmon shakes violently as scientists tag and measure it in a tub. They've been rescuing fish since August.
“We’ve tagged and released almost 500 fish," says Colin Purdy a scientist with the California Fish and Wildlife Department. "We think there’s more in here that we haven’t been able to get to but we’re working as fast as we can to rescue the fish and move them back up to the Sacramento so they can continue on upstream.”
The salmon are returning upriver to spawn but get stranded in the man-made system of canals. The Department will rescue the fish, and truck them a short distance to the Sacramento River. Saving the late arriving fall run is critical. The drought may have destroyed many of the salmon eggs laid earlier this fall.
“In another month or so it will be winter run which are federally protected that will be showing up in this trap," says John McManus with the Golden Gate Salmon Association. "We know a few years ago we lost a lot of winter run here in the Valley because they swam up these drainage ditches and were not intercepted.”
The California Department of Water Resources and the US Bureau of Reclamation have primary responsibility for make improvements to the water system to help salmon. They’re working on a long term plan. But Jacob Katz with California Trout says the long term plan could take decades.
“A fairly simple fix would allow us to redirect water and fish back to the river," says Katz. "In so doing we move away from a kind of band-aid which is fish rescues, to a permanent fix which is fish moving back to the river on their own.”
So far this season the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has rescued a total of 585 salmon. They’ve trucked them a dozen at a time, back to the river where they belong.