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SFEWS provides credible scientific information on California's complex water issues, linking new science to policy with great effect. SFEWS retains a regional focus on the San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, also known as the Bay–Delta watershed. At the heart of open access from the California Digital Library, SFEWS's scholarly output ranks #1 for the UC Davis Institute  of the Environment and ranks #3 campus wide.

Volume 19, Issue 3, 2021

Issue cover
Cover Caption:Forster's Terns at Crown Beach. Attribution: © Ingrid Taylar, Creative Commons 2.0 Generic license.

Research Article

Comparison of Length-at-Date Criteria and Genetic Run Assignments for Juvenile Chinook Salmon Caught at Sacramento and Chipps Island in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta of California

There are four distinct runs of Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) in the Central Valley, 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 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, we 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). Fin tissues were collected from approximately 7,500 juvenile Chinook Salmon captured in trawl samples between 2007 and 2011. Tissues were analyzed using 21 microsatellites to determine genetic run assignments for individuals, which we compared with LDC run assignments. 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.

Use of a Managed Flow Pulse as Food Web Support for Estuarine Habitat

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. As a test of this concept, in summer 2016, we used a managed flow pulse to target an ecologically important region: a freshwater tidal slough complex (Cache Slough Complex–CSC). Our 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 Hypomesus transpacificus. We used regional water infrastructure to direct 18.5 million m³ of Sacramento River flow into its adjacent Yolo Bypass floodplain, where the pulse continued through CSC. 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 CSC and further downstream. Multiple water quality constituents (specific conductivity, dissolved oxygen, nutrients [NO₃ + NO₂, NH₄, PO₄]) varied across the study region, and showed a strong response to the flow pulse. In addition, the lower Sacramento River had increased phytoplankton biomass and improved food quality indices (estimated from long-chain essential fatty acids) after the flow pulse. 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. This study was conducted during a single year, which may have had unique characteristics; however, we believe that our study is 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.

  • 1 supplemental PDF

Breeding Waterbird Populations Have Declined in South San Francisco Bay: An Assessment Over Two Decades

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. We compared American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana) and Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus) abundance in south San Francisco Bay before (2001) and after approximately 1,300 ha of managed ponds were breached to tidal action to begin tidal marsh restoration (2019). Over the 18-year period, American Avocet abundance declined 13.5% (2,765 in 2001 vs. 2,391 in 2019), and Black-necked Stilt abundance declined 30.0% (1,184 in 2001 vs. 828 in 2019). Forster’s Tern (Sterna forsteri) abundance was 2,675 birds in 2019. In 2019, managed ponds accounted for only 25.8% of suitable habitats, yet contained 53.9%, 38.6%, and 65.6% American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, and Forster’s Tern observations, respectively. Conversely, tidal marsh and tidal mudflats accounted for 42.9% of suitable habitats, yet contained only 18.4%, 10.3%, and 19.8% of American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, and Forster’s Tern observations, respectively. Using a separate nest-monitoring data set, we found that nest abundance in south San Francisco Bay declined for all three species from 2005–2019. Average annual nest abundance during 2017–2019 declined 53%, 71%, and 36%, for American Avocets, Back-necked Stilts, and Forster’s Terns, respectively, compared to 2005–2007. Loss of island nesting habitat as a result of tidal marsh conversion and an increasing population of predatory California Gulls (Larus californicus) are two potential causes of these declines. 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.


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Wetland Availability and Salinity Concentrations for Breeding Waterfowl in Suisun Marsh, California

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 mScm–1) can impair duckling growth and influence behavior, with mortality occurring above 9 ppt (14.8 mScm–1). We 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). More water was available and salinity was lower during wetter years (2017, 2019) than during drier years (2016, 2018), and the amount of water in wetlands decreased 73%–86% from April to July. Across all time-periods and years, the majority (64%–100%) of wetland habitat area had salinities above what has been shown to negatively affect ducklings (> 2 ppt), and up to 42% of wetland area had salinities associated with duckling mortality (> 9 ppt). During peak duckling production in May, 81%–95% of available water had salinity above 2 ppt, and 5%–21% was above 9 ppt. In May of the driest year (2016), only 0.5 km2 of low-salinity water (< 2 ppt) was available to ducklings in the study area, compared to 2.6 km2 in May of the wettest year (2017). Private duck clubs own the majority of wetland habitat at Grizzly Island and consistently had a greater percentage of land flooded during summer than did publicly owned wetlands, but private wetlands generally had higher salinities than public wetlands, likely because they draw from higher-salinity water sources. By July, few wetlands remained flooded, and most had salinities high enough to impair duckling growth and survival. Local waterfowl populations would benefit from management practices that provide fresher water during peak duckling production in May and retain more water through July.

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Simulated Fishing to Untangle Catchability and Availability in Fish Abundance Monitoring

In fisheries monitoring, catch is assumed to be a product of fishing intensity, catchability, and availability, where availability is defined as the number or biomass of fish present and 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. Programs often deal with this problem by assuming that catchability is constant, but if catchability is not constant, it is not possible to separate the effects of catchability and population size using monitoring data alone. This study uses individual-based simulation to separate the effects of changing environmental conditions on catchability and availability in environmental monitoring data. The 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. Results of this study indicate that given constraints on Delta Smelt swimming ability, it is unlikely that the apparent declines in Delta Smelt abundance are the result of changing water clarity affecting catchability.