On Wednesday, a million fall run Chinook salmon smolts, who were raised at the Feather River Hatchery, were trucked to the Elkhorn boat ramp west of Sacramento International Airport and released from large tanks down a long pipe on a dock and out into the Sacramento River.
Many of the fish skimmed along the surface in a sparkling show of silver.
Jay Rowan, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, says these fish have lost their juvenile "parr" stripes and should be big enough to make it to the Pacific Ocean.
"We want the majority of the fish to have a good layer of fat,” Rowan said, adding that the fat helps “them make this transition from the hatchery down out into the bay.”
Fat content can only be identified by slicing open a few unlucky souls to gauge the width of a strip of fat inside their bodies.
The fish were released in Sacramento because of a heavy population of striped bass between Oroville and the ocean. The bass feed on the young salmon.
According to Rowan, the department will also release 2 million fish at Fort Baker near the Golden Gate Bridge and 6 million in San Pablo Bay.
"The fish are put into the net pen on the slack tide. As the outgoing tide starts out, they pull the net pens out away from the dock and drift downstream for a couple of hours, and it lets the fish get acclimated to salt water," Rowan said.
An extra 2 million hatchery smolt are being released to the ocean this year, 1 million as the result of an agreement between Department of Water Resources and a group called NorCal Guides.
DWR is paying for the extra release to offset the death of hundreds of thousand of fish and the loss of spawning habitat caused by the failure of the main Lake Oroville spillway last winter.