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 13, Issue 1, 2015
Policy and Program Analysis
Since the mid-1800s the Sacramento–San Joaquin river system in the California Central Valley has experienced a dramatic decline in the distribution and abundance of wild salmon, along with many extirpations. The causes of the decline are many, and have been well studied. Despite restoration efforts spanning decades and involving large expenditures, runs of wild salmon in the Central Valley continue to decline. Using the most probable policy and ecological scenarios (i.e., effects of continued harvest, continued stocking from hatcheries, changing climate, continued human population growth and associated demands for scarce water resources) and based on expert judgment, we assessed the most likely future of wild salmon runs in the Central Valley in 2100. We posed seven open-ended questions to senior salmon science and policy experts in federal and state agencies; local, regional, and national organizations; non-governmental organizations; and universities. With a promise of complete and permanent anonymity, these experts provided answers. Most experts concluded that by 2100 wild salmon in the Central Valley will be extirpated or minimally abundant if current trends continue.
Three-Dimensional Modeling of Hydrodynamics and Salinity in the San Francisco Estuary: An Evaluation of Model Accuracy, X2, and the Low–Salinity Zone
The three-dimensional UnTRIM San Francisco Bay–Delta model was applied to simulate tidal hydrodynamics and salinity in the San Francisco Estuary (estuary) using an unstructured grid. We compared model predictions to observations of water level, tidal flow, current speed, and salinity collected at 137 locations throughout the estuary. A quantitative approach based on multiple model assessment metrics was used to evaluate the model's accuracy for each comparison. These comparisons demonstrate that the model accurately predicted water level, tidal flow, and salinity during a 3-year simulation period that spanned a large range of flow and salinity conditions. The model is therefore suitable for detailed investigation of circulation patterns and salinity distributions in the estuary.
The model was used to investigate the location, and spatial and temporal extent of the low-salinity zone (LSZ), defined by salinity between 0.5 and 6 psu. We calculated X2, the distance up the axis of the estuary to the daily-averaged 2-psu near-bed salinity, and the spatial extent of the LSZ for each day during the 3-year simulation. The location, area, volume, and average depth of the low-salinity zone varied with X2; however this variation was not monotonic and was largely controlled by the geometry of the estuary.
We used predicted daily X2 values and the corresponding daily Delta outflow for each day during the 3-year simulation to develop a new equation to relate X2 to Delta outflow. This equation provides a conceptual improvement over previous equations by allowing the time constant for daily changes in X2 to vary with flow conditions. This improvement resulted in a smaller average error in X2 prediction than previous equations. These analyses demonstrate that a well-calibrated three-dimensional (3-D) hydrodynamic model is a valuable tool for investigating the salinity distributions in the estuary, and their influence on the distribution and abundance of physical habitat.
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Modeling Tidal Freshwater Marsh Sustainability in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta Under a Broad Suite of Potential Future Scenarios
In this paper, we report on the adaptation and application of a one-dimensional marsh surface elevation model, the Wetland Accretion Rate Model of Ecosystem Resilience (WARMER), to explore the conditions that lead to sustainable tidal freshwater marshes in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta. We defined marsh accretion parameters to encapsulate the range of observed values over historic and modern time-scales based on measurements from four marshes in high and low energy fluvial environments as well as possible future trends in sediment supply and mean sea level. A sensitivity analysis of 450 simulations was conducted encompassing a range of porosity values, initial elevations, organic and inorganic matter accumulation rates, and sea-level rise rates. For the range of inputs considered, the magnitude of SLR over the next century was the primary driver of marsh surface elevation change. Sediment supply was the secondary control. More than 84% of the scenarios resulted in sustainable marshes with 88 cm of SLR by 2100, but only 32% and 11% of the scenarios resulted in surviving marshes when SLR was increased to 133 cm and 179 cm, respectively. Marshes situated in high-energy zones were marginally more resilient than those in low-energy zones because of their higher inorganic sediment supply. Overall, the results from this modeling exercise suggest that marshes at the upstream reaches of the Delta—where SLR may be attenuated—and high energy marshes along major channels with high inorganic sediment accumulation rates will be more resilient to global SLR in excess of 88 cm over the next century than their downstream and low-energy counterparts. However, considerable uncertainties exist in the projected rates of sea-level rise and sediment avail-ability. In addition, more research is needed to constrain future rates of aboveground and belowground plant productivity under increased CO2 concentrations and flooding.
- 2 supplemental PDFs
- 1 supplemental file