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 16, Issue 1, 2018
Improving Multi-Objective Ecological Flow Management with Flexible Priorities and Turn-Taking: A Case Study from the Sacramento River and Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta
Management of the Sacramento River and Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta (SRD) is one of California’s greatest challenges, requiring trade-offs between valued components that serve a multiplicity of conflicting purposes. Trade-offs do not signal a failure to create clever enough models, or scenarios that find a single optimal solution. Rather, an optimal solution that meets multiple objectives does not exist. We demonstrate an improved method for multiple-objective allocation of water: “turn-taking” optimization (TTO) within a multi-model cloud computing framework. We apply TTO to an array of physical hydrologic models that are linked with the Ecological Flows Tool (EFT): a multi-species decision support framework to evaluate how specific components of the flow regime promote and balance favorable habitat conditions for 15 representative species and 31 indicators within the SRD. Applying the TTO approach incorporates the existing modelled representation of socio-economic water management criteria, priorities, and constraints — and optimizes water-release patterns each water year using a dynamically shifting set of EFT indicators. Rather than attempting to optimize conditions for all ecological indicators every year, TTO creates flexibility and opportunities for different indicators to be successful in different years, informed by the frequency with which each species’ ecological needs should be met. As an individual EFT indicator is successful in a particular year, its priority in one or more subsequent years is reduced (and vice versa). Comparing TTO to a Reference Case scenario based on current management practices, 12 EFT indicators are improved, 14 show no change, and 5 show a reduction in suitability. When grouped into nine species and life-history groups, performance improved in four (late-fall-run Chinook, winter-run Chinook, spring-run Chinook, and Fremont cottonwood), did not change in four (fall-run Chinook Salmon, Delta Smelt, Splittail, and Longfin Smelt), and was worse in one group (Steelhead).
Although brackish marsh has been the subject of decades of research, tidal freshwater regions are still poorly understood. To provide insight into spatial and temporal dynamics of nutrients, physical conditions, and the plankton community in freshwater tidal habitat, we investigated from 2011 to 2014 a remnant freshwater tidal slough complex located in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta region of the San Francisco Estuary. Our results suggest that the tidal slough complex showed different seasonal nutrient, physical, and biological conditions when compared to a relatively homogenous adjacent large river channel, the Sacramento River. The tidal slough complex also showed substantial spatial variability in habitat conditions compared to nearby main river channels. Nutrient dynamics in the tidal slough complex appear to be driven by a complex suite of factors, including inflow from upstream tributaries and tidal flows from the downstream reach of the Sacramento River. Chlorophyll a in the tidal sloughs responded more strongly to upstream flow pulses than other environmental variables. The tidal slough complex generated significantly higher levels of chlorophyll a than other freshwater regions of the Delta. The 2011 and 2012 results were especially notable because unusually large flow pulses through the tidal slough complex appear to have contributed to rare phytoplankton blooms in downstream areas of the Delta during the fall months. Moreover, the 2012 flow pulse stimulated higher trophic levels, because significantly higher levels of zooplankton were in the tidal slough complex after the flow event. These results have important implications for our understanding of the functioning of freshwater tidal habitat, and for the design of potential restoration projects in these regions.
Central Valley Spring-Run Chinook Salmon and Ocean Fisheries: Data Availability and Management Possibilities
Central Valley spring-run Chinook Salmon (CVSC) are designated threatened by state and federal authorities. Although CVSC are caught in ocean fisheries, their harvest is not actively managed, because it is assumed that measures currently in place to protect endangered Sacramento River winter-run Chinook Salmon (SWRC) will also sufficiently protect CVSC. Recoveries of tags and genetically-identified CVSC suggest these fish have a more northerly distribution than SRWC. Further, escapement data and cohort reconstructions suggest that CVSC mature later than SRWC. Thus, regulations (time/area restrictions and minimum size limits) crafted to protect SRWC alone may not adequately protect CVSC; on the other hand, regulations to constrain impacts on Klamath River and California coastal Chinook Salmon populations may also reduce impacts on CVSC. Trends in CVSC escapement were deemed acceptable in recent status updates, but concerns remain because of the negative effects caused by recent drought and ocean conditions. Should more active management of CVC be desired, current options are limited. The most promising approach is based on estimating age-specific ocean fishing mortality rates by using cohort reconstructions applied to tagged Chinook Salmon that originate from the Feather River Hatchery. At a minimum, ocean fishing mortality rates could be monitored and compared to proxy thresholds. If reference harvest rates were established, harvest models could be developed to predict how CVSC would be affected by fishing regulations, similar to the way fall-run Chinook Salmon fisheries are evaluated. Abundance forecasts would require improved juvenile production data (e.g., from genetic sampling of juvenile emigrants), since sibling-based forecasts commonly used for fall-run Chinook Salmon would not be available in time for pre-season planning. It is unclear if ocean fishing mortality rate estimates derived from hatchery proxies for natural-origin fish are truly representative, but existing data do not demonstrate obvious differences in ocean distribution or size-at-age fish. Substantial new investments in tagging or sampling would be needed to directly estimate ocean fishing mortality rates for natural-origin CVSC. Establishing specific harvest targets or limits for CVSC requires an improved understanding of production throughout their life cycle through juvenile production estimates and long-term information on spawner age structure.