California's Extreme Drought Threatens Thousands of Fish

State wildlife officials are rushing to rescue fish from dried up rivers and streams to prevent massive fishkills.
6:49 | 08/29/14

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Transcript for California's Extreme Drought Threatens Thousands of Fish
Call the Verizon Center for Customers with Disabilities at wildlife alike are going to die. We can't have thousands of dead be more than two feet, the baby salmon they're looking for are tiny, just two or three inches long. In their first netting, they get plenty of fish. But no koho. That's a sucker. Can you hold that up there? Reporter: They switch locations. You rattling them out? Trying. Reporter: Then, success. There we go. Reporter: That's one? Finding them is the easy part. Now, they have to sort them and calibrate every detail of their transport, so they survive, what from their vantage point is a harrowing journey to a new home. He's shocked? Not every fish will make it. Some try to escape. So far, they've only netted a few dozen fish. A drop in the bucket. One, two, three. Oh. One's up top. Reporter: It's a remarkable sight. Scores of healthy babies that may represent the future of the species in this area. These salmon are already on the threatened list. You can't fish or eat them. For Jake, one of the rescuers, that's just as well. You like fish? No, I don't. Reporter: You don't eat fish? I don't eat fish. Reporter: Why not? I don't eat wish. Reporter: Is that a philosophical moral thing? No. It's only fish. Reporter: To improve their chances of survival, the rescue team has to mimic the river's conditions for the short ride to their new home. We're going to put them in this tank. There's oxygen going into this tank. I just turn it on. Reporter: 500 salmon are pound for a hatchery an hour away. They'll ride out the drought in fish tanks. But they're already showing signs of distress. They freak out. They need oxygen. Reporter: The remaining fish will be moved to other areas of the river with better conditions, where they're more likely to survive in the wild. This is like a little fish M.A.S.H. Unit. But first, the fish biologists have to tag them so they can be tracked. We're going to make a small incision on the left side of the fish. Reporter: First, you have to knock them out. We have to knock them out with alka-seltzer gold. They kind of go to sleep for a little bit. Reporter: Time to go sideways. That's a good sign. Reporter: They are getting sleepy. Then, the tiny fish head to the miniature operating table. We measure him. He's going to be 59 millimeters. We take the tag and slide it into the incision. Reporter: How rewarding it is it? It's very rewarding. To have a job where you know you're making a difference. And in the long-term, can keep this population alive. That's about all she's going to need. Reporter: The salmon rescue operation involves many different players. Including local landowners, many of the threatened fish have ended up on their property. Where we're walking is normally underwater. Yes. Reporter: What does it tell you about the shape of the river? This river is in the worst condition that it's been in, at least in 30 years. Reporter: Preston Harris is a local farmer who works with the Scott river water trust, which manages the region's precious little water. The drought has cost the agriculture industry an estimated $1.5 billion. You have a threatened species on your properties. Reporter: But you have crops you have to grow. Crops you have to grow. Reporter: The farmers have agreed not to divert water from the river for their crops to help save the fish's habitat. This is Noah's ark. This gives us a fallback safe haven for the fish. Reporter: The fish at the hatchery end up here, at an enormous fish incubator. It has a filter to fish out the waste. Reporter: It's a very fancy fish tank. Yes, it is. Yes, it is. Reporter: The team, still out on the water, nets another 1,000 fish. These fish, too, get a lift. Water's cooler. And there's a lot of cover for them here. Reporter: In most years, the fish would have gotten here on their own? Yes. Reporter: But this year, you're having to truck them. Right. Reporter: Their new home is a shady grove with plenty of cover. So, what are we about to see here? This is like the final push, right? Yeah. This is tend of it. This is where we're going to release them. Reporter: They scatter quickly. So far this summer, the team has found a new home for more than 100,000 fish. What goes through your mind? What do you think when you see that? It's a good feeling. I wish we didn't have to do it. But given the conditions, with the drought and the salmon Numbers, we have to. You feel like you did a good thing. You helped them out. Reporter: Although they're safe for now, there's no guarantees that the drought won't hit them here, too. Our thanks to the men and women at California fish and wildlife for the unprecedented access.

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