Rain in Drought-Stricken California Is Confusing the Salmon

Thanks to the erratic weather, migrating fish are ending up at a rice farm in Sacramento.
Dec 7, 2014·
Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.

This week’s torrential rain in California provided little relief from the drought. It also triggered mudslides and sinkholes—and it’s causing confused fish to end up in a ditch.

Attracted to the smell and feel of freshwater, chinook salmon have been swimming toward irrigation canals in the Sacramento area for years. The problem worsens on rainy days, when the canals flow like a river. According to CBS San Francisco, hundreds would have died this week if the California Department of Fish and Wildlife hadn’t intervened.

“The drain they are headed up is not headed toward spawning ground; it’s headed to a maze of drains on the west side of the valley,” John Brennan, owner of the rice farm where lost salmon were recently found, told the local station.

Rescuers from the DFW measured, tagged, and drove the fish—a dozen at a time—two miles back to the Sacramento River, where they were once abundant. The drought, the worst in California in the last 1,200 years, has helped to nearly wipe out the river’s salmon population. The chinook salmon is classified as endangered.

California’s salmon aren’t the only ones at risk. Climate change has made the planet’s oceans warmer and more acidic. The building of dams has disturbed salmon migration as well. One company even created a “cannon” to bring the fish back to spawning grounds.

As for Sacramento’s salmon, experts are devising a plan to help the fish find their own way back to the river. Meanwhile, they keep going back to the ditch. The DFW, which has so far rescued about 500 fish, will continue the operation for the next few months.