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For all the trouble — the round-the-clock surveillance, the not-so-dainty measurements, the notebooks filled with fish counts — the state Department of Water Resources admits the fish screening process at the Skinner Fish Protective Facility may be futile. I described it in my story today.

Every few hours, the fish that survive the stressful screening process get dumped into a tanker truck. A driver heads 25 minutes upstream on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and releases the fish at two sites. The delta’s trophy fish are typically waiting for the trucks, said Michael Miller, a tour guide for the Department of Water Resources. For the predators, it’s a free lunch.

Miller could not explain why the trucks don’t vary their dumping routine. And the state has not analyzed whether the screening process is worthwhile.

A multi-year review is underway to answer that question, said Chuck Armor, a regional manager for the state Department of Fish and Game. That department’s scientists are measuring whether the stress caused by the screening process is too high for fish to survive. And the Department of Water Resources is analyzing how well fish survive once they’re dumped.

“No one has done a really adequate study of it,” Armor said. “We’ll get some data on it and say it’s working — or we need to find another way to get them back in the water.”

Answers are at least two years off.

ROB DAVIS

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