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 9, Issue 1, 2011
Abstracts are not presented with Editorials. -SFEWS Editors
Revisiting Assumptions that Underlie Estimates of Proportional Entrainment of Delta Smelt by State and Federal Water Diversions from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta
The delta smelt is a small, endemic fish that resides in the upper San Francisco Estuary. They are listed under state and federal Endangered Species Acts. Since 2002, their abundance has been at record low levels. Delta smelt are entrained at state (Banks) and federal (Jones) pumping plants that export water to much of California. Export cutbacks to limit entrainment have been controversial, making delta smelt arguably the most important fish in California. Kimmerer (2008) published the first estimates of proportional entrainment (mortality relative to population size) of delta smelt at the water export pumping plants, improving on previous estimates of absolute numbers entrained. This paper comments on Kimmerer’s estimates, which ranged from 0% to 40% annually with considerable uncertainty reflecting the challenge in estimating the distribution and numbers of this scarce fish. Kimmerer’s high estimates in some recent years and his conclusion that entrainment effects could be episodically important are counter to a lack of statistically significant correlation between entrainment and subsequent abundance. Analysis herein justifies estimates of lower proportional entrainment than suggested by Kimmerer. Based on alternative assumptions, his highest annual estimates of adult proportional entrainment would have been no more than 13% and could even be in the range of 5% to 10%. Most adjustments resulting from alternative assumptions underlying high estimates of larval-juvenile proportional entrainment cannot be quantified. However, it is argued here that eight of ten key assumptions underlying those estimates resulted in upward bias. Lower estimates of proportional entrainment would be consistent with the lack of statistically significant relationships between entrainment and subsequent abundance in previous studies and suggest that assessment of the importance of entrainment awaits additional analyses that narrow uncertainty. Findings of detection problems with adult and larval-juvenile surveys suggest adding more stations and other adjustments to resolve these problems.
- 2 supplemental files
I previously estimated proportional losses of delta smelt to the water export facilities in the south Delta (Kimmerer 2008). This note is in response to Miller (2010), who disputes these estimated losses on several grounds. A re-analysis using a better analytical approach suggests a slight downward revision of the previous estimates for adult smelt. The distribution of smelt seems to have shifted northward in the last few years; if so, the delta smelt may now be less vulnerable to export losses than they previously were, although the reasons for such a shift are a concern. I argue, however, that it is legitimate to attempt such estimates in the absence of perfect information, and that mechanistic analyses are a valid way of estimating population-level impacts even in the absence of statistically significant correlations of estimated impact with subsequent population size.
Blue oak tree-ring chronologies correlate highly with winter–spring precipitation totals over California, with Sacramento and San Joaquin river stream flow, and with seasonal variations in the salinity gradient in San Francisco Bay. The convergence of fresh and saline currents can influence turbidity, sediment accumulation, and biological productivity in the estuary. Three selected blue oak chronologies were used to develop a 625-year-long reconstruction of the seasonal salinity gradient, or low salinity zone (LSZ), which provides a unique perspective on the interannual-to-decadal variability of this important estuarine habitat indicator. The reconstruction was calibrated with instrumental LSZ data for the winter–spring season, and explains 73% of the variance in the February–June position of the LSZ from 1956 to 2003. Because this calibration period post-dates the sweeping changes that have occurred to land cover, channel morphology, and natural streamflow regimes in California, the reconstruction provides an idealized estimate for how the LSZ might have fluctuated under the seasonal precipitation variations of the past 625 years, given the modern geometry and bathymetry of the estuary and land cover across the drainage basin. The February–June season integrates precipitation and runoff variability during the cool season, and does not extend into the late-summer dry season when LSZ extremes can negatively affect Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta (Delta) agriculture and some aquatic organisms. However, there is such strong inter-seasonal persistence in the instrumental LSZ data that precipitation totals during the cool season can strongly pre-condition LSZ position in late summer. The 625-year-long reconstruction indicates strong interannual and decadal variability, the frequent recurrence of consecutive 2-year LSZ maxima and minima, large-scale ocean atmospheric forcing, and an interesting asymmetrical influence of warm El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events.
This paper is a review of the biology of Sacramento perch (Archoplites interruptus) based mainly on recent studies of their distribution, ecology, physiology, and genetics. The Sacramento perch is the only member of the family Centrarchidae that is endemic to California. It is most closely related to the rock basses (Ambloplites spp.) and is thought to have split from its eastern cousins during the Middle Miocene Period (15.5 to 5.2 million years ago, MYA). Their native range includes the Central Valley, Pajaro and Salinas rivers, tributaries to the San Francisco Estuary (e.g., Alameda Creek), and Clear Lake (Lake County). Today, they are most likely extirpated from all of their native range. They are known to persist in 28 waters outside their native range: 17 in California, nine in Nevada, and one each in Utah and Colorado. Disappearance from their native range coincided with massive changes to aquatic habitats in the Central Valley and with the introduction of alien species, including other centrarchids. Unfortunately, many populations established outside their native range have also disappeared and are continuing to do so.
Conservation of Native Fishes of the San Francisco Estuary: Considerations for Artificial Propagation of Chinook Salmon, Delta Smelt, and Green Sturgeon
Many native fishes in the San Francisco Estuary and its watersheds have reached all-time low abundances. Some of these declining species (e.g., Chinook salmon Oncorhynchus tschawytscha) have been under artificial propagation for decades. For others (e.g., delta smelt, Hypomesus transpacificus, and green sturgeon, Acipenser medirostris), this management option is just beginning to be discussed and implemented. Propagation strategies, in which organisms spend some portion of their lives in captivity, pose well-documented genetic and ecological threats to natural populations. Negative impacts of propagation have been documented for all Central Valley Chinook salmon runs, but limited efforts have been made to adapt hatchery operations to minimize the genetic and ecological threats caused by propagated fishes. A delta smelt propagation program is undergoing intensive design and review for operations and monitoring. However, if limiting factors facing this species in its estuarine habitat are not effectively addressed, captive propagation may not be a useful conservation approach, regardless of how carefully the propagation activity is designed or monitored. Scientifically defensible, ecologically based restoration programs that include monitoring and research aimed at quantifying natural population vital rates should be fully implemented before there is any attempt to supplement natural populations of delta smelt. Green sturgeon are also likely to face risks from artificial propagation if a large–scale program is implemented before this species’ limiting factors are better understood. In each of these cases, restoring habitats, and reducing loss from human actions, are likely to be the best strategy for rebuilding and supporting self–sustaining populations.