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 12, Issue 4, 2014
In branching channel networks, such as in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta, junction flow dynamics contribute to dispersion of ecologically important entities such as fish, pollutants, nutrients, salt, sediment, and phytoplankton. Flow transport through a junction largely arises from velocity phasing in the form of divergent flow between junction channels for a portion of the tidal cycle. Field observations in the Georgiana Slough junction, which is composed of the North and South Mokelumne rivers, Georgiana Slough, and the Mokelumne River, show that flow phasing differences between these rivers arise from operational, riverine, and tidal forcing. A combination of Acoustic Doppler Current Profile (ADCP) boat transecting and moored ADCPs over a spring–neap tidal cycle (May to June 2012) monitored the variability of spatial and temporal velocity, respectively. Two complementary drifter studies enabled assessment of local transport through the junction to identify small-scale intrajunction dynamics. We supplemented field results with numerical simulations using the SUNTANS model to demonstrate the importance of phasing offsets for junction transport and dispersion. Different phasing of inflows to the junction resulted in scalar patchiness that is characteristic of MacVean and Stacey’s (2011) advective tidal trapping. Furthermore, we observed small-scale junction flow features including a recirculation zone and shear layer, which play an important role in intra-junction mixing over time scales shorter than the tidal cycle (i.e., super-tidal time scales). The study period spanned open- and closed-gate operations at the Delta Cross Channel. Synthesis of field observations and modeling efforts suggest that management operations related to the Delta Cross Channel can strongly affect transport in the Delta by modifying the relative contributions of tidal and riverine flows, thereby changing the junction flow phasing.
Physically Based Modeling of Delta Island Consumptive Use: Fabian Tract and Staten Island, California
Water use estimation is central to managing most water problems. To better understand water use in California’s Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, a collaborative, integrated approach was used to predict Delta island diversion, consumption, and return of water on a more detailed temporal and spatial resolution. Fabian Tract and Staten Island were selected for this pilot study based on available data and island accessibility. Historical diversion and return location data, water rights claims, LiDAR digital elevation model data, and Google Earth were used to predict island diversion and return locations, which were tested and improved through ground-truthing. Soil and land-use characteristics as well as weather data were incorporated with the Integrated Water Flow Model Demand Calculator to estimate water use and runoff returns from input agricultural lands. For modeling, the islands were divided into grid cells forming subregions, representing fields, levees, ditches, and roads. The subregions were joined hydrographically to form diversion and return watersheds related to return and diversion locations. Diversions and returns were limited by physical capacities. Differences between initial model and measured results point to the importance of seepage into deeply subsided islands. The capabilities of the models presented far exceeded current knowledge of agricultural practices within the Delta, demonstrating the need for more data collection to enable improvements upon current Delta Island Consumptive Use estimates.
California’s Feather River Hatchery (FRH) propagates two runs of Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha): spring run and fall run. Loss of spawning habitat and historical hatchery practices have led to introgression of these runs. Recent efforts to reform hatchery operations at the FRH are focused on reducing introgression and increasing the proportion of natural-origin spawners in the broodstock. Implementing these reforms, however, requires a means of distinguishing FRH fish from natural-origin fish, and FRH spring-run fish from FRH fall-run fish. Coded-wire tagging and parentage-based genetic tagging can be used for this purpose, but are labor-intensive and expensive. Otolith thermal marking (OTM) is a 100% marking technique widely used in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and Russia that can be effective and relatively inexpensive. We initiated an OTM program at the FRH in 2005 to determine its viability as a 100% marking tool for a hatchery with an annual production goal of 10 million smolts. Our analysis of otoliths collected from returning adults at the FRH demonstrated that OTM could be successfully applied to identify the origin (FRH or natural) and, for FRH fish, the run type (spring run or fall run). Otoliths collected between 2009 and 2011 show run-type mixing between 12% to 20% in both spring-run and fall-run FRH broodstock. Additionally, results suggest natural-spawner contribution to hatchery broodstock is very low (<1% to 10%). OTM may provide another way to reduce the rate of introgression between FRH spring-run and fall-run Chinook salmon, and increasing the proportion of natural origin spawners in hatchery broodstock, both of which should improve the long-term viability of FRH spring-run and fall-run Chinook salmon.