Salmon released at Pillar Point to boost population

For a short time Wednesday endangered Chinook salmon literally became flying fish in a year’s long effort along the San Mateo coast to help their populations flourish.

On Thursday California Fish and Game brought three truckloads of 4 inch Chinook salmon to Pillar Point Harbor near Half Moon Bay - 240,000 fingerlings.

Another load came a week ago and another will come next week. The tanker trucks, full of salmon and water have long pipes that let the fish fly and fall into a special holding pen. 

Each spring, for the last six years, volunteers from the Coastside Fishing Club and Foundation erect a special water pen to acclimate the fish, born in fresh river water to the salt water ocean.

The salmon are put into a fish net which is underlain by a much stronger barrier to keep predators such as sea lions and diving birds from attacking them from below and overlain by an anti-bird net to protect them from aerial assault. They'll be released into the sea in five days where the salmon will have to take their chances. "After next week's delivery, we'll have put 2.5 million salmon into the ocean," said Doug Laughlin of the Coastside Fishing Club and Foundation.

The project was born during the long drought that finally broke over the winter. But, it has been so successful, it will continue even in wet years. "Low rivers. Lower river water means higher temperatures. Less survival rates for the river released fish. So, we're just giving them a boost trucking them down here and getting them acclimated here. It's a quicker version of their journey," said Laughlin.

Embedded in the snout of each and every one of the fish is a small tag which says where the fish was born, when it was born and when it was put to sea as well as important genetic information for data gathering later on.

"There's a map of where the fish have been retrieved. Of course, most of them are from within a hundred miles of this area as far as south as Monterey Bay. But what's really interesting, they're in Oregon. Washington and even Canada," said Jack Gross, another member of the Coastside Fishing Club and Foundation. 

It's one of many steps Californians are taking to save salmon populations decimated by human activities for more than a hundred years. "It's a start to finish for fishermen; to be able to help, you know, and feel good about catching the fish and bringing them home to have them for dinner," said Laughlin.

A similar group in Santa Cruz is doing much the same.