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 7, Issue 2, 2009
Nearshore Areas Used by Fry Chinook Salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, in the Northwestern Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, California
We reported the geographic distribution and the densities and catch rates of fry Chinook salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, found in different substrata and nearshore zones in the northwestern Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta of the San Francisco Estuary, California, USA. Nearshore zones in the fresh-water, tidally influenced northwest delta were dominated by riprap, and contained sparse sections of tule beds, beaches, and riparian zones. A total of six beach seine sites and eight electrofish sites were sampled during winter 2001 along the Sacramento River, Steamboat Slough, Miner Slough, Prospect Island Marsh, Prospect Slough, and Liberty Island Marsh. Overall, fry densities were higher on the Sacramento River and Steamboat Slough and lower in Liberty and Prospect Island marshes. Chinook salmon fry were significantly larger in the Sacramento River than in Steamboat Slough during March. Highest densities of Chinook salmon fry were observed in shallow beaches than in riprap nearshore zones. Fry densities also increased with Secchi depth and richness of non-native predators, suggesting increased predation risk by opportunistic predators. Shallow nearshore environments in conveyance channels, such as Steamboat Slough and the Sacramento River, seem important for Chinook salmon fry rearing. Conversely, riprap in these channels could reduce fry rearing habitat. Although fry catch rates by electrofishing did not differ greatly among riparian, riprap, beach and tule nearshore zones, they were on average about one-third higher in beaches. Evaluating potential impacts of habitat quality on growth and survival of fry seems key to further assess and monitor restoration efforts in the delta.
Simulations of circulation in the San Francisco Estuary were performed with the three-dimensional TRIM3D hydrodynamic model using a generic length scale turbulence closure. The model was calibrated to reproduce observed tidal elevations, tidal currents, and salinity observations in the San Francisco Estuary using data collected during 1996-1998, a period of high and variable freshwater flow. It was then validated for 1994-1995, with emphasis on spring of 1994, a period of intensive data collection in the northern estuary. The model predicts tidal elevations and tidal currents accurately, and realistically predicts salinity at both the seasonal and tidal time scales. The model represents salt intrusion into the estuary accurately, and therefore accurately represents the salt balance. The model’s accuracy is adequate for its intended purposes of predicting salinity, analyzing gravitational circulation, and driving a particle-tracking model. Two applications were used to demonstrate the utility of the model. We estimated the components of the longitudinal salt flux and examined their dependence on flow conditions, and compared predicted salt intrusion with estimates from two empirical models.
- 2 supplemental PDFs
The State and federal water projects decoupled long-term trends in annual mean outflow and salinity from long-term trends in precipitation. The water projects also dampen seasonal and annual outflow and salinity variability. Despite this, both seasonal and annual timescale outflow and salinity are generally more variable in the water project era concordant with watershed precipitation. We re-constructed monthly time series of precipitation, outflow, and salinity for the northern reach. These include salinity at Port Chicago (since 1947), Beldons Landing (since 1929), and Collinsville (since 1921), Delta outflow (since 1929), and a San Francisco Estuary watershed precipitation index (since 1921). We decomposed data into seasonal, decadal, and trend components to clarify the superposition of variability drivers. With the longest time series over 1000 months, these are the longest data records in the estuary save for Golden Gate tide. We used the precipitation index to compare trends and variability in climate forcing to outflow and salinity trends before and after construction of the water projects and the Suisun Marsh Salinity Control Gate. We test the widely held conceptual model that water project reservoir and Delta export operations reduce seasonal and annual outflow variability. We found that the water projects influence the trend of the annual and some monthly means in outflow and salinity, but exert far less influence on variability. We suggest that climate is the primary variability driver at timescales between one-month and ~20 years. We underscore the understanding that identifying trends and mechanisms requires data sets that are longer than the timescale of the lowest frequency forcing mechanism.