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 4, 2012
Abstract are not presented with Editorials. -SFEWS Editors
We modeled the hydrology of basins draining into the northern portion of the San Francisco Bay Estuary (North San Pablo Bay) using a regional water balance model (Basin Characterization Model; BCM) to estimate potential effects of climate change at the watershed scale. The BCM calculates water balance components, including runoff, recharge, evapotranspiration, soil moisture, and stream flow, based on climate, topography, soils and underlying geology, and the solar-driven energy balance. We downscaled historical and projected precipitation and air temperature values derived from weather stations and global General Circulation Models (GCMs) to a spatial scale of 270 m. We then used the BCM to estimate hydrologic response to climate change for four scenarios spanning this century (2000–2100). Historical climate patterns show that Marin’s coastal regions are typically on the order of 2 °C cooler and receive five percent more precipitation compared to the inland valleys of Sonoma and Napa because of marine influences and local topography. By the last 30 years of this century, North Bay scenarios project average minimum temperatures to increase by 1.0 °C to 3.1 °C and average maximum temperatures to increase by 2.1 °C to 3.4 °C (in comparison to conditions experienced over the last 30 years, 1981–2010). Precipitation projections for the 21st century vary between GCMs (ranging from 2 to 15% wetter than the 20th-century average). Temperature forcing increases the variability of modeled runoff, recharge, and stream discharge, and shifts hydrologic cycle timing. For both high- and low-rainfall scenarios, by the close of this century warming is projected to amplify late-season climatic water deficit (a measure of drought stress on soils) by 8% to 21%. Hydrologic variability within a single river basin demonstrated at the scale of subwatersheds may prove an important consideration for water managers in the face of climate change. Our results suggest that in arid environments characterized by high topo-climatic variability, land and water managers need indicators of local watershed hydrology response to complement regional temperature and precipitation estimates. Our results also suggest that temperature forcing may generate greater drought stress affecting soils and stream flows than can be estimated by variability in precipitation alone.
Delta Flow Factors Influencing Stray Rate of Escaping Adult San Joaquin River Fall-Run Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha)
Adult salmon that stray when they escape into non-natal streams to spawn is a natural phenomenon that promotes population growth and genetic diversity, but excessive stray rates impede adult abundance restoration efforts. Adult San Joaquin River (SJR) Basin fall-run Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) that return to freshwater to spawn migrate through the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta (Delta). The Delta has been heavily affected by land development and water diversion. During the fall time-period for the years 1979 to 2007 Delta pumping facilities diverted on average 340% of the total inflow volume that entered the Delta from the SJR. The hypothesis tested in this paper is that river flow and Delta exports are not significantly correlated with SJR salmon stray rates. Adult coded-wire-tagged salmon recoveries from Central Valley rivers were used to estimate the percentage of SJR Basin salmon that strayed to the Sacramento River Basin. SJR salmon stray rates were negatively correlated (P = 0.05) with the average magnitude of pulse flows (e.g., 10 d) in mid- to late-October and positively correlated (P = 0.10) with mean Delta export rates. It was not possible to differentiate between the effects of pulse flows in October and mean flows in October and November on stray rates because of the co-linearity between these two variables. Whether SJR-reduced pulse flow or elevated exports causes increased stray rates is unclear. Statistically speaking the results indicate that flow is the primary factor. However empirical data indicates that little if any pulse flow leaves the Delta when south Delta exports are elevated, so exports in combination with pulse flows may explain the elevated stray rates. For management purposes, we developed two statistical models that predict SJR salmon stray rate: (1) flow and export as co-independent variables; and (2) south Delta Export (E) and SJR inflow (I) in the form of an E:I ratio.
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Pre-Screen Loss and Fish Facility Efficiency for Delta Smelt at the South Delta's State Water Project, California
Water exports have been implicated in the decline of fish populations in the upper San Francisco Estuary, California. We evaluated the relation between delta smelt salvage at the John E. Skinner Delta Fish Protective Facility (SFF) and underlying entrainment losses at the State Water Project (SWP, south Delta). We used cultured delta smelt in mark–recapture experiments in February and March 2009 (adults) and June 2009 (juveniles) to estimate: (1) the percent of fish recaptured at the SFF of the total released at the entrance of the SFF (fish facility efficiency), (2) the percent of fish recaptured at the SFF of the total released in Clifton Court Forebay (CCF), a reservoir for SWP exports, and (3) the fish losses in CCF and before the SFF (pre-screen loss). Mean fish facility efficiency was lower in successive releases: February (53.2%), March (44.0%) and June (24.0%). The mean percent recapture of fish released at the CCF entrance was also lower over time: February (3.01%); March (0.41%) and June (0.03%). Correspondingly higher mean pre-screen losses occurred over time: February (94.3%); March (99.1%) and June (99.9%). We concluded that: (1) entrainment losses of delta smelt could be higher at times, compared to other species previously studied at the SWP; (2) pre-screen loss was the largest source of mortality for delta smelt; (3) increased release distance from the SFF and residence time in CCF—and decreased exports—resulted in a lower percentage of recaptured fish at the SFF; and (4) salvage of delta smelt at the SWP does not seem to be a consistent index of entrainment.
Policy and Program Analysis
This paper presents insights from interviews with over 100 California water policy experts, who answered open-ended questions regarding California’s long-term water policy challenges and potential solutions. Interviews were conducted in the spring and summer of 2010, and interviewees were selected from a range of sectors and regions within California. Top long-term policy problems cited include management of the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, dysfunctional institutions and water governance, unsustainable water supplies and flood management, poor environmental protection, and problems with water rights and valuing water. In addition to a range of specific management solutions, respondents emphasized the importance of public education, incentivized cooperation, more holistic water management, local innovation, and removal of regulatory obstacles as primary solutions to California’s long-term water challenges. There was little emphasis on new surface storage projects, except from politicians. Other respondents preferred local and regional approaches to improve water supply, such as conservation, groundwater banking, recycling, or stormwater management. Despite differences in opinion on the problems with implementation of the Endangered Species Act, there was broad agreement that environmental management approaches need to shift away from single-species, piecemeal approaches toward ecosystem-based, multi-species approaches.