California Drought Forces Fisheries to Truck Salmon Smolts to Sea
Every year between late March and early June, roughly 30 million Chinook salmon make their way from five Central Valley hatcheries to the Pacific Ocean. This year, however, these young salmon—called smolts—face a perilous journey due to California’s enduring drought.
In order to ensure that the Chinook make it all the way to the sea, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have adopted a drought contingency plan to transport salmon smolts closer to the Pacific Ocean in tanker trucks. Trucking operations began yesterday.
“If you are a baby salmon, the name of the game is to get from the river where you were born to the ocean,” explains John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, an organization that aims to protect and restore California’s Central Valley salmon habitat. “Well, these fish are not great swimmers when they are four inches long, so the way they have evolved in nature is they get flushed out to the ocean. How do they get flushed? They get flushed from the rainfall or the snow melt.”
Unfortunately, drought conditions in California mean that there isn’t much rainfall or snowmelt to convey young salmon to the ocean. The drought also means less sedimentation in the rivers. Salmon rely on the murky water caused by sedimentation for camouflage and protection, and are left vulnerable to predation by larger fish and birds in clear water. According to McManus, these factors combine to create extremely hostile conditions in the river.
CDFW and USFWS, which, combined, run five hatcheries for fall-run Chinook, will try to circumvent this hostile environment by loading young salmon into tankers and trucking them several hours downriver. This is not unprecedented for CDFW — the state agency trucks between 8 million and 14 million fish on an average year—but this year CDFW will truck an estimated 18.4 million fish. (The USFWS will truck another 12 million.)
“It has been done before,” says Harry Morse, an information officer with the CDFW. “The state Department of Fish and Wildlife has trucked up to 18 million or more [salmon] several times over the last two decades, but usually only during circumstances that are very severe like this drought.”
The USFWS, which runs the Coleman National Fish Hatchery in Anderson, California, rarely employs trucking to move salmon smolts, generally releasing them from the hatchery to swim downstream to the ocean. The severe drought, however, has forced their hand—the Coleman hatchery is much further upriver than the state-run hatcheries, and hatchery managers are concerned the majority of fish wouldn’t survive the in-river migration.
Trucking 30 million salmon is no small undertaking. According to McManus, a tanker truck can hold anywhere from 100,000 to 140,000 smolts. Assuming that each truck transports an average of 120,000 fish, the effort will require 250 trips. When they arrive at San Pablo Bay, the salmon will be released into nets where they will spend a few hours recovering from the ride and adjusting to their new surroundings before being released with the outgoing tide.
Though experts agree that trucking is the best option this year, the plan is not without its downsides. Salmon make a “smell map” as they exit the river system. This map imprints in their brain, and allows them to navigate back to their birthplace several years later to spawn. Without making the down-river migration as smolts, salmon never have a chance to develop this map and may have a harder time finding their way home.
State-run hatcheries are not particularly worried about the loss of smell maps. They have relatively high return rates of salmon that are released in the Bay. The federally operated Coleman hatchery, however, is located higher upriver, which means salmon have farther to swim back to their spawning grounds and more opportunities to “get lost” on the way.
“The big concern is that when you truck them, you interrupt the imprinting cycle … so when they return as adults, they can’t find their way back to Coleman National Fish Hatchery,” says Bob Clarke, fisheries program supervisor at the USFWS.
Besides leaving the hatchery with fewer eggs in the spawning season, hatchery managers are also worried about the impact that fall-run hatchery Chinook may have on fall-run wild Chinook. “One of the things we try to do as hatchery managers is minimize the impact of our hatchery fish on wild spawning fish,” says Clarke. When hatchery fish don’t find their way back to the hatchery to spawn, they may displace or breed with wild fish.
Other hatchery managers, however, are less concerned. “There has been a history of mixture of stocks for about as long as the hatcheries have been in existence,” says Morse, from the state run hatcheries. “None of these systems since we dammed all of them off are pristine.”
Given the severity of the drought, it seems that Californians will have to accept these risks and accept salmon trucking as the best option. “You are almost guaranteed that you won’t get your fish back if you release them at the hatchery because of the hostile conditions in the river,” says McManus, underscoring this point. “The best shot you have this year is to truck them.”
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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