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 2, 2015
Climate change and resulting changes in hydrology are already altering—and are expected in the future to continue to alter—the timing and amount of water flowing through rivers and streams. As these changes occur, the historical reliability of existing water rights will change. This study evaluates future water rights reliability in the Sacramento–Feather–American river watersheds. Because adequate data are not available to conduct a comprehensive analysis of water rights reliability, a condition placed into certain water rights, known as Term 91, is used to model projected water rights curtailment actions. Comparing the frequency and length of the historical and simulated future water diversion curtailments provides a useful projection of water rights reliability and water scarcity in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta (Delta) watershed.
Projections of future water rights curtailments show that water rights holders are likely to be curtailed much more frequently, and for significantly longer durations, as we move through the 21st century. Further, many more water rights holders will be affected by curtailment actions in the future. As curtailments last longer and become more common, more water users will have to access other supplies, such as groundwater or water transfers, or will have to fallow land or conserve water in other ways to meet their demands. These activities will likely ratchet up the potential for additional conflicts over water in the Delta watershed.
The Central Valley fall-run Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) is the dominant population complex supporting the California and Southern Oregon commercial salmon fishery. The stock is largely dominated by hatchery productionand has shown high variability in adult returns, suggesting that hatchery practices are critical to thelong-term sustainability of the fishery. We compiled information from numerous sources to synthesizetrends in the number, location, size, and timingof fall-run Chinook salmon released from the five Central Valley hatcheries between 1946 and 2012. Approximately 2 billion fish were released duringthis period, nearly half of which were released from the single federally operated hatchery. Juveniles have been planted off-site in the estuary with increasing frequency since the early 1980s, particularly by state-operated hatcheries. Approximately 78% of all releases occurred between January and June, including ~25% in April and ~20% in May. Release timing and size trends differed among hatcheries,and were correlated. For example, the Coleman and Nimbus hatcheries tended to release small fish (<5 g, on average) early in the year, while the Feather, Mokelumne, and Merced hatcheries tendedto release larger fish (>10 g, on average) later in the year. Moreover, sizes-at-release (by month) haveincreased since the 1980s, leading to the emergence of a new life-history type that now comprises nearly all of the estuary releases: springtime releases of large ocean-ready “advanced smolts.” We collapsed release timing and size data into a single index of life-history diversity and our results indicate a reduction in juvenile life-history diversity, with decreased variability in release number, timing, and size through time. Together, these results indicate a reduction in the diversity of life-history types represented in the fall-run Chinook salmon hatchery releases, which may be a factor that contributes to the decreased stability of the Central Valley fall-run Chinook salmon stock complex.
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We used available data to estimate changes in land use and wet, non-farmable, and marginally farmable (WNMF) areas in the Delta from 1984 to 2012, and developed a conceptual model for processes that affect the changes observed. We analyzed aerial photography, groundwater levels, land–surface elevation data, well and boring logs, and surface water elevations. We used estimates for sea level rise and future subsidence to assess future vulnerability for the development of WNMF areas. The cumulative WNMF area increased linearly about 10-fold, from about 274 hectares (ha) in 1984 to about 2,800 ha in 2012. Moreover, several islands have experienced land use changes associated with reduced ability to drain the land. These have occurred primarily in the western and central Delta where organic soils have thinned; there are thin underlying mud deposits, and drainage ditches have not been maintained. Subsidence is the key process that will contribute to future increased likelihood of WNMF areas by reducing the thickness of organic soils and increasing hydraulic gradients onto the islands. To a lesser extent, sea level rise will also contribute to increased seepage onto islands by increasing groundwater levels in the aquifer under the organic soil and tidal mud, and increasing the hydraulic gradient onto islands from adjacent channels. WNMF develop from increased seepage under levees, which is caused by changing flow paths as organic soil thickness has decreased. This process is exacerbated by thin tidal mud deposits. Based primarily on projected reduced organic soil thickness and land–surface elevations, we delineated an additional area of about 3,450 ha that will be vulnerable to reduced arability and increased wetness by 2050.
- 2 supplemental PDFs