SFEWS: Volume 19, Issue 3
In our September issue new research and commentary provide insights on several topics: how to integrate zooplankton science to inform estuary management; how simulated fishing can avoid missed fish and detect gear bias in the water; why juvenile Chinook Salmon length-at-date criteria don't match genetic run assignments; whether declines in breeding waterfowl population relate to wetland habitat and salinity; and what kinds of food web support can be achieved by use of a managed flow pulse.
Photo: Forster’s Terns at Crown Beach, public domain. Attribution: © Ingrid Taylar, Creative Commons 2.0 Generic license.
Catch as Catch Can
"Catchability" refers to the relationship between catch rate and the true population. Ecological monitoring programs use catch per unit of effort (CPUE) to standardize catch and monitor changes in fish populations; however, CPUE is proportional to the portion of the population that is vulnerable to the type of gear used in sampling, which is not necessarily the entire population. Tobais' simulation combines a module for sampling conditions with a module for individual fish behavior to estimate the proportion of available fish that would escape from the sample. The method is applied to the case study of the well monitored fish species Delta Smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus) in the San Francisco Estuary, where it has been hypothesized that changing water clarity may affect catchability for long-term monitoring studies.
Waterfowl Reproductive Success Depends on High Water, Low Salt
Availability of wetlands with low salinities during the breeding season can influence waterfowl reproductive success and population recruitment. Salinities as low as 2 ppt (3.6 mS/cm) can impair duckling growth and influence behavior, with mortality occurring above 9 ppt (14.8 mS/cm). Schacter et al. used satellite imagery to quantify the amount of available water, and sampled surface water salinity at Grizzly Island, in the brackish Suisun Marsh, at three time-periods during waterfowl breeding (April, May, July) over 4 years (2016–2019). Among their findings was during peak duckling production in May, 81%–95% of available water had salinity above 2 ppt, and 5%–21% was above 9 ppt. Local waterfowl populations would benefit from management practices that provide fresher water during peak duckling production in May and retain more water through July.
Deep Dives Among Waterbird Populations in South SF Bay
In south San Francisco Bay, former salt ponds now managed as wildlife habitat support large populations of breeding waterbirds. In 2006, the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project began the process of converting 50% to 90% of these managed pond habitats into tidal marsh. Hartman et al. compared waterbird populations in south San Francisco Bay before (2001) and after (2019) approximately 1,300 ha of managed ponds were breached to tidal action to begin tidal marsh restoration. Study results showed average annual nest abundance declined during 2017–2019 by 53%, 71%, and 36%, for American Avocets, Back-necked Stilts, and Forster’s Terns, respectively. All three species established nesting colonies on newly constructed islands within remaining managed ponds; however, these new colonies did not make up for the steep declines observed at other historical nesting sites. For future wetland restoration, retaining more managed ponds that contain islands suitable for nesting may help to limit further declines in breeding waterbird populations.
Managed Pulse Flows as Food Web Support
While freshwater inflow has been a major focus of resource management in estuaries, including the upper San Francisco Estuary, there is a growing interest in using focused flow actions to maximize benefits for specific regions, habitats, and species. To test this concept, in summer 2016, Frantzich et al. used a managed flow pulse to target an ecologically important region: a freshwater tidal slough called the Cache Slough Complex. Their goal was to improve estuarine habitat by increasing net flows through CSC to enhance downstream transport of lower trophic-level resources, an important driver for fishes such as the endangered Delta Smelt. Simulations using a 3-D hydrodynamic model (UnTRIM) indicated that the managed flow pulse had a large effect on the net flow of water through Yolo Bypass, and between the CSC and further downstream. The managed flow pulse resulted in increased densities of zooplankton (copepods, cladocerans) demonstrating potential advection from upper floodplain channels into the target CSC and Sacramento River regions. Though conducted during a single year, this study may provide an instructive example of how a relatively modest change in net flows can generate measurable changes in ecologically relevant metrics, and how an adaptive management action can help inform resource management.
Length-at-Date Criteria and Genetic Run Assignments
Four distinct runs of Central Valley Chinook Salmon are named after their primary adult return times: fall, late-fall, winter, and spring run. Estimating the run-specific composition of juveniles entering and leaving the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta is crucial for assessing population status and processes that affect juvenile survival through the Delta. Historically, the run of juvenile Chinook Salmon captured in the field has been determined using a length-at-date criteria (LDC); however, LDC run assignments may be inaccurate if there is high overlap in the run-specific timing and size of juveniles entering and leaving the Delta. In this study, Brandes et al. use genetic run assignments to assess the accuracy of LDC at two trawl locations in the Sacramento River (Delta entry) and at Chipps Island (Delta exit).Across years, there was extensive overlap among the distributions of run-specific fork lengths of genetically identified juveniles, indicating that run compositions based on LDC assignments would tend to underestimate fall-run and especially late-fall-run compositions at both trawl locations, and greatly overestimate spring-run compositions (both locations) and winter-run compositions (Chipps Island). We therefore strongly support ongoing efforts to include tissue sampling and genetic run identification of juvenile Chinook Salmon at key monitoring locations in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River system.
Pelagic fish in the San Francisco Estuary are harder to catch in recent decades. Over the past thirty years, Delta Smelt catch in the Fall Midwater Trawl Survey has declined by 99%, Longfin Smelt catch has declined by over 95%, and even the notoriously hardy Striped Bass have declined by over 75%. To manage the system and reverse these declines, we need a better understanding of the “bottom-up” processes that exert control on these populations—we need to study fish food. In other words, in addition to studying fish directly, we need to increase our understanding of what pelagic fish eat: zooplankton. In this essay, Hartman et al. break down not only what fish eat (zooplankton) and why they are important drivers of species abundance in higher trophic areas of the food web, but also how scientists and natural resources managers can communicate better to understand which zooplankton data can inform and develop management-relevant questions.
Volume 10, Issue 1, 2012
Embryonic and larval development of Sacramento splittail (Pogonichthys macrolepidotus) was characterized from zygote to metamorphosis in laboratory conditions. Fertilized eggs were obtained from induced and natural tank spawning of adults caught in the Yolo Bypass of the Sacramento River. Splittail produced transparent adhesive eggs with a moderate perivitelline space. Duration of embryonic development from fertilization to hatching was 100 h at 18 ± 0.5 °C. Newly hatched larvae were 5.2 to 6.0 mm total length with no mouth opening. Yolk-sac larvae were demersal and absorbed the yolk within 10 days post-hatch. Exogenous feeding started at 6 days post-hatch, concomitant with swim bladder inflation and swim-up movement. Fin differentiation began at approximately 10 d post-hatch (ca. 8.3 to 8.85 mm total length) and was completed at 50 d post-hatch (ca. 19.6 to 20.85 mm total length) when larval finfold was fully resorbed and the adult complement of fin rays was present in all fins, but scales were still lacking.
We examined the spatial and temporal distributions of fishes at a reference and three restored marshes between April 1998 and July 1999 in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, California, to determine the factors that influence fish assemblages in space and time. Shallow-water fishes were sampled using beach seines with and without block-net enclosures in open-water shoals and submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV). Purse seining was used to sample fishes in deep water, including offshore, tidal slough, and marsh-edge habitats. Overall, fish assemblages in reference and restored marshes were dominated by introduced species. One-way analysis of similarity (ANOSIM) did not reveal study site differences in fish assemblages in either data set. However, nonmetric multi-dimensional scaling (NMS) and ANOSIM tests of the shallow-water collections revealed differences in fish assemblages using habitats with and without SAV. Introduced fishes, including predatory centrarchid fishes, were abundant in SAV. NMS and ANOSIM tests of the deep-water collections revealed differences in fish assemblages between offshore and nearshore (marsh-edge and tidal slough) habitats. Notably, native fishes were abundant in tidal sloughs. Temporal analyses revealed a suite of species more common in winter and spring, versus another group of introduced species that were more common in summer and fall. Our study findings indicate that newly restored habitats in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta will be invaded by introduced fishes. To promote native fish habitat, restoration planning should focus on areas and regions of the Delta where tidal marshes can be restored with little intervention, and where invasive SAV is less likely to colonize.
Individual-level and Population-level Historical Prey Demand of San Francisco Estuary Striped Bass Using a Bioenergetics Model
Striped bass are both a major predator of native fishes and support a recreational fishery in the San Francisco Estuary (the estuary). Quantifying their demands on their prey is important for understanding long-term trends of fish in the estuary. In this study, we: (i) applied a bioenergetics model of sub-adult (age 1 and age 2) and adult (age 3+) striped bass (Morone saxatilis) to quantify long-term consumption patterns from 1969 through 2004 in the estuary; (ii) developed a method to estimate the abundances of sub-adult striped bass; (iii) evaluated how consumption varied by age and gender; and (iv) identified factors that affect the resulting consumption estimates. On a ‘per capita’ basis, modeled individual prey fish consumption increased after 1990, and individual total and prey fish consumption by age-2 striped bass increased after 1994. Conversely, individual total and prey fish consumption by adult striped bass decreased over the period analyzed. This decline in individual consumption over the study period was related to a decline in mean length at age of adults. As expected, long-term trends in population consumption (total and prey fish) by all ages of striped bass (ages 1 through 6) closely followed their respective population- abundance trends. Population total consumption and prey fish-specific consumption by sub-adult striped bass was found to be similar to the population consumption by adult striped bass, largely because of the high abundance of sub-adults. Unlike adult striped bass that may emigrate and forage in the Pacific Ocean, the majority of sub-adult striped bass reside within the estuary; hence, consumption by the relatively abundant sub-adult population may have significant effects upon their estuarine prey species.
Contemporaneous Subsidence and Levee Overtopping Potential, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, California
The levee system in California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta helps protect freshwater quality in a critical estuarine ecosystem that hosts substantial agricultural infrastructure and a large human population. We use space-based synthetic aperture radar interferometry (InSAR) to provide synoptic vertical land motion measurements of the Delta and levee system from 1995 to 2000. We find that Delta ground motion reflects seasonal hydrologic signals superimposed on average subsidence trends of 3-20 mm/yr. Because the measurements are insensitive to subsidence associated with peat thickness variations over Delta-island length scales, it is most likely that InSAR rates reflect underlying Quaternary sedimentary column compaction. We combine InSAR rates with sea-level rise scenarios to quantify 21st century levee overtopping potential. If left unmitigated, it is likely that 50 to 100 years from now much of the levee system will subside below design thresholds.
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