Drought conditions force San Joaquin Hatchery to evacuate fish

SHAVER LAKE, Calif. (KFSN) -- The hot drought conditions have forced the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to evacuate millions of fish from their hatcheries on the flatlands to the cool water of high mountain lakes.

But getting them here is quite an event. The larger fish are scooped out of their hatchery pens into tank trucks. The smaller fish are herded and forced into a huge vacuum device that sucks them through tubes into the trucks.

It looks like a rough journey, but San Joaquin Hatchery Manager Greg Kollenborn says it's necessary for their survival. He said, "The water is heating up more quickly than normal, and so here at the hatchery we like water temperatures no higher than about 58 degrees or so. Right now they're at about 64 and a half, and diseases become more prevalent, and problems are encountered with trout with that temperature."

The San Joaquin Hatchery is just downstream from Friant Dam. Because of the drought, the water behind the dam in Millerton Lake is receding to near record low levels and getting too hot. The solution is to truck the fish to the lakes in the high Sierra and dump them in. It looks like an ordeal, but after being herded, netted, sucked through pipes, and then shot out of a truck, the trout take to the cool lake water, like fish.

Andre Hughan of the Department of Fish and Wildlife says nearly all make it. He said, "They are actually really hardy as you saw when they first got released out. They get a little 'where am I? Where am I?' But they swim pretty quick, and nature kicks in really quickly. We get almost no mortality, one or two fish."

Within minutes, the trout seemed to be celebrating their freedom, jumping in the water. It was a welcome sight to fishermen.

It was exciting for kids catching their first fish, and this summer, there should be plenty to go around. "If you live in Fresno County or Madera County, you should be up here fishing because there's 40 percent less water and 40 percent more fish," Hughan said.

The fish from the San Joaquin Hatchery are being placed in Shaver and Huntington lakes, and Wishon and Courtright reservoirs.
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