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 8, Issue 2, 2010
To estimate and understand recent subsidence, we collected elevation and soils data on Bacon and Sherman islands in 2006 at locations of previous elevation measurements. Measured subsidence rates on Sherman Island from 1988 to 2006 averaged 1.23 cm/year (0.5 in/yr) and ranged from 0.7 to 1.7 cm/year (0.3 to 0.7 in/year). Subsidence rates on Bacon Island from 1978 to 2006 averaged 2.2 cm/year (0.9 in/yr) and ranged from 1.5 to 3.7 cm/year (0.6 to 1.5 in/yr). Changing land-management practices and decreasing soil organic matter content have resulted in decreasing subsidence rates. On Sherman Island, rates from 1988 to 2006 were about 35% of 1910 to 1988 rates. For Bacon Island, rates from 1978 to 2006 were about 40% less than the 1926-1958 rates. To help understand causes and estimate future subsidence, we developed a subsidence model, SUBCALC, that simulates oxidation and carbon losses, consolidation, wind erosion, and burning and changing soil organic matter content. SUBCALC results agreed well with measured land-surface elevation changes. We predicted elevation decreases from 2007 to 2050 will range from a few centimeters to over 1.3 m (4.3 ft). The largest elevation declines will occur in the central Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. From 2007 to 2050, the most probable estimated increase in volume below sea level is 349,956,000 million cubic meters (281,300 acre-feet). Consequences of this continuing subsidence include increased drainage loads of water quality constituents of concern, seepage onto islands, and decreased arability.
- 2 supplemental PDFs
Salinity Inhabited by Age-0 Splittail (Pogonichthys macrolepidotus) as Determined by Direct Field Observation and Retrospective Analyses with Otolith Chemistry
Splittail (Pogonichthys macrolepidotus) is a fish species of special concern that is endemic to the San Francisco Estuary. It has been generally accepted that spawning and juvenile rearing occurs during spring in freshwater habitats upstream of the estuary. However, the recent discovery of a genetically distinct population of splittail in the relatively brackish Petaluma and Napa rivers has challenged this assumption. We used a combination of field observations and high resolution sampling of otolith 87Sr:86Sr ratios to identify the salinity inhabited by young age-0 splittail in the Sacramento, San Joaquin, Napa, and Petaluma rivers. Individual age-0 splittail, two to three months old, were observed in the Napa and Petaluma rivers in salinity as high as 8.5 ppt and 14.1 ppt, respectively, whereas salinity in the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers was always <1.0 ppt. Otolith 87Sr:86Sr ratios corresponding to the first month of life suggested that individual splittail in all regions mostly inhabited freshwater, although several individuals from the Napa and Petaluma rivers inhabited brackish water up to about 10 ppt. In most instances, there was little intra-individual variability in 87Sr:86Sr signals, suggesting individuals remained within the natal salinity zone during the first month of life. The exceptions were two fish, one each from the Napa and Petaluma rivers, that appeared to move from freshwater natal to brackish rearing habitats. The apparent ability of age-0 splittail to rear in brackish water almost immediately after being born is one of the fundamental mechanisms supporting splittail production in the Napa and Petaluma rivers.
Policy and Program Analysis
California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has fragile levees subject to several trends that make them increasingly prone to failure. To assess the likely extent of Delta island flooding, this study presents an economic decision analysis approach for evaluating Delta levee upgrade and repair decisions for 34 major subsided agricultural islands that make up most of the Delta’s Primary Zone and include all subsided, non-urban islands. The decision analysis provides a quantitative framework to address several relevant questions about reasonable levee upgrade and repair investments. This initial analysis indicates that it is economically optimal not to upgrade levees on any of the 34 subsided Delta islands examined, mostly because levee upgrades are expensive and do not improve reliability much. If upgrades can improve reliability more, it becomes optimal to upgrade some levees. Our analysis also suggests that, accounting for land and asset values, it is not cost effective to repair between 18 and 23 of these islands when they fail. When property values for all islands were doubled, only four islands originally not repaired become cost effective to repair. The decision analysis provides a quantitative framework for addressing several relevant questions regarding reasonable levee upgrade and repair investments. These initial results may act as a springboard for discussion, and the decision analysis model as a working framework for islands of high priority. An inescapable conclusion of this analysis is that maintaining the current Delta landscape is unlikely to be economical from business and land use perspectives.