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The flooded rice fields near Sacramento may help juvenile salmon but the lights on the Sundial Bridge in Redding may hinder young Chinooks … These stories and more in this week’s News & Notes …

Flooded rice fields a boon for juvenile salmon 

Fish scientists and farmers are coming together at a handful of rice fields outside of Sacramento, where a key salmon habitat study is underway.

Farmer John Brennan produces rice on his 20 acres during the summer. This winter, the area is also home to 50,000 two-inch salmon.

“We don’t refer to them as rice fields,” Brennan says, “we only refer to them as surrogate wetlands.”

Brennan’s fields are in the historic floodplain of the Sacramento River, where winter flows once overtopped the riverbank and inundated hundreds of acres. Through water infrastructure projects and flood control, the river’s natural patterns have been greatly altered.

“Fish grow much better when they’re on the floodplain, where they’re on the habitats that adjoin the river rather than in the river itself,” says says Jacob Katz of the non-profit California Trout.

The slow-moving waters on a floodplain provide shelter for young salmon and a rich food source. That allows them to grow bigger and faster, increasing their chances of surviving as they migrate to the ocean and run the gauntlet of predators.

Katz and UC Davis scientists are studying these rice fields to see if they mimic wetlands, extending a pilot project from last year. Young salmon are tagged as they’re released into the fields, which are flooded between rice crops. Last year's salmon grew bigger and healthier.

“Fish put onto these rice fields grow at phenomenal rates,” Katz says. “What we’re seeing is what a Central Valley salmon actually should look like.”

The findings are encouraging, Katz says, given the decline of Chinook salmon populations in recent years.“2006 through 2009 saw the smallest returns of fall run Chinook ever,” he says.

That’s fueled the state’s “fish vs. farms” political fight. Katz says the key is creating partnerships with farmers, and making sure the salmon don’t interfere with rice planting season. “We can create a system that really is win, win, win,” he says.

Brennan says other rice farmers are also interested in the project, where the fields are managed to attract migrating birds, provide habitat for salmon and produce a rice crop in the summer.

“Having all three of those uses on the landscape makes all of them more sustainable,” Brennan says. “Everybody always wants their one thing to be 100 percent. We can run all three at 90 percent and make all of them work.”

The results of the project could play a role as water battles heat up over Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Getting the green light to build two 35-mile tunnels will largely depend on the long-term recovery of the Delta’s salmon.

 

Lights lowered on Redding bridge over salmon fears

REDDING, Calif.—Officials have turned down the lights on a Northern California bridge over concerns they may be contributing to a decline in Chinook salmon.

The Record Searchlight of Redding (http://bit.ly/YruZQR) reported on Thursday that the lights on Redding's Sundial Bridge are less than half as intense now as they used to be. The change comes amid concerns from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife about the effects of intense levels of artificial light on Chinook salmon.

State Fish and Wildlife scientist Andrew Jensen says such lights slow or stop the salmons' juvenile migration, making them easy prey. He says lighting on the Sundial Bridge may need to go down even more.

The bridge straddles the Sacramento River and serves as a pedestrian walkway and bike path.

Redding City Manager Kurt Starman says further studies of the lights' effects on the fish were neede

Will California Restore the Lower San Joaquin River and its Salmon?

By Doug Oblegi

From their headwaters in the Sierra Nevada mountains, the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers were historically wild, teeming with salmon that sustained native Americans, early settlers, and abundant wildlife.  These rivers join the lower San Joaquin River and flow into the Bay-Delta, one of the two main arteries that sustain the heart of the West Coast’s largest estuary.  But for too long, California has allowed farmers and cities to divert massive amounts of water from the rivers that run through the heart of California’s San Joaquin Valley, leaving only a fraction of the natural flow in these rivers in the winter and spring months. 

Decades of dam building, water diversions, and flood protection projects on these rivers have resulted in the vast majority of their flow being diverted each year.  This has degraded water quality and has devastated the fish and wildlife -- and people, like sport and commercial salmon fishermen -- that depend on their health.  Historically, hundreds of thousands of salmon returned each year to spawn in these rivers, but in recent years only a few thousand salmon have returned.  Despite state and federal laws that set goals to “double” salmon populations to approximately 78,000 salmon returning each year, salmon populations have continued to decline in the San Joaquin basin.

The scientific information is clear that reduced flows, as a result of diverting most of the water from these rivers, is the primary (but not sole) cause of the continued decline, and that more flows are needed to restore salmon, the health of these rivers, and the health of the Bay-Delta estuary. 

This summer, the State Water Resources Control Board will establish new flow standards to protect salmon and fisheries in the Lower San Joaquin River and the three tributaries.  The Board’s draft report concludes that about 35% of the natural flow should remain in the rivers, allowing more than 65% to be diverted.  Yet the scientific information shows that salmon are unlikely to recover at those flow levels, which are only slightly better than current flow levels. 

We can – and must -- do better than 35% for San Joaquin salmon to recover and achieve the state and federal salmon doubling goal. 

Scientists and fishery managers with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the State Water Resources Control Board, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and The Bay Institute, as well as independent scientific peer reviews and other conservation and fishing groups, have recognized that current flows are inadequate.  For instance, in 2010, the State Water Resources Control Board concluded that the best available science showed that 60% of the natural flows should remain in the river in the spring months in order to achieve the salmon doubling requirement of state law and protect public trust resources (this was a non-binding conclusion).  The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has also concluded that much higher spring flows in these tributaries and the lower San Joaquin River are necessary to recover salmon and achieve the salmon doubling requirement.  Allowing the diversion of 65% of the water from would increase diversions on the Stanislaus River and isn’t even enough to meet minimum requirements under the Endangered Species Act on the Stanislaus River; if these flows are lower than what’s needed to avoid potential extinction, they obviously will not lead to recovery and salmon doubling.  And independent scientific peer reviews of the Board's technical report last year endorsed the scientific analysis showing that higher flows are necessary to recover salmon and recommended consideration of higher flows than 60%, which is the upper end of the range that the State Water Resources Control Board is considering.

The Board’s draft analysis shows that reducing diversions to increase river flows will still result in a robust agricultural economy; for instance, the Board found that allowing 40% of the flow down the river would result in a 1.5% reduction in agricultural revenue in the region.  And this is likely a worst case scenario, as the Board’s analysis ignores the potential to increase agricultural water use efficiency to allow farmers to grow “more crop per drop” and increase profits, as well as water transfers between farmers and downstream exporters that could potentially help fund these improvements. 

Improving flows and restoring salmon has huge benefits for salmon fishermen, tackle shops, charter boats, fishing guides, and the thousands of jobs that depend on a healthy salmon fishery.  Improved flows would improve water quality for Delta farmers and for cities and farms that get water exported from the Delta, and it is critical to restoring the health of the Delta.  Allowing 65% of the water to be diverted in the basin leaves only a third for the rest of us. 

The science is clear that more flows are needed than 35%, but the State Board is under pressure to adopt these weaker flow requirements despite the strong scientific evidence.  In the coming weeks, fishermen, farmers, conservation groups, boaters, birdwatchers, scientists, and all of us will have a chance to tell the State Water Resources Control Board to do better to help ensure the future of California’s salmon.  We can and should do better than 35%: is a third of a river really healthy?  I hope you’ll join us in urging the Board to do better.

For more information or to get involved, visit SalmonAid's petition to the State Water Resources Control Board.

 

New Recreational Groundfish Regulations Effective March 1

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is announcing several changes to recreational groundfish regulations that apply to state waters, zero to three miles from shore. The new recreational regulations were adopted by the Fish and Game Commission and will take effect on March 1, 2013. 

The open season dates and allowable fishing depths for the recreational Groundfish Management Areas are as follows:

         Northern – open May 15 through Oct. 31, in 20 fathoms (120 feet) or less.

         Mendocino - open May 15 through Labor Day, in 20 fathoms (120 feet) or less.

         San Francisco - open June 1 through Dec. 31, in 30 fathoms (180 feet) or less.

         Central- open May 1 through Dec. 31, in 40 fathoms (240 feet) or less.

         Southern – open March 1 through Dec. 31, in 50 fathoms (300 feet) or less.

 

Additionally, anglers will now have the ability to retain shelf rockfish while fishing inside the Cowcod Conservation Areas (CCAs) in waters shallower than 20 fathoms.

“Department staff worked closely with the public for more than four years to implement this change,” said Marci Yaremko, State/Federal Fisheries Program Manager. “Allowing retention of shelf rockfish inside the CCAs when the groundfish season is open will reduce discarding without impacting cowcod. It also simplifies regulations by allowing shelf rockfish take and retention both inside and outside the CCAs.” 

Take and possession of bronzespotted rockfish, canary rockfish, cowcod and yelloweye rockfish will remain prohibited statewide. 

Other changes to regulations pertain to bocaccio rockfish and include:

         An increase in the sub-bag limit to three fish within the 10-fish Rockfish,  

      Cabezon, Greenling (RCG) complex bag limit.

         Removal of the minimum size limit and fillet length limit.   

 

For more information about recreational groundfish regulations and to stay informed of inseason changes, please call the Recreational Groundfish Hotline at (831) 649-2801 or check the CDFW Marine Region website at http://www.dfg.ca.gov/marine.

 

The 2013-14 Freshwater Sports Fishing Regulation Pamphlet Issued

Changes this year include new regulations on sturgeon, salmon and steelhead retention, new areas where hatchery trout or steelhead may be retained, and a black bass slot limit removal on five waters. Regulation changes are highlighted in the front of the pamphlet for quick reference. 

New sturgeon fishing regulations establish a new method of measuring sturgeon and a new size limit of 40-60 inches. Barbless hooks are required when fishing for sturgeon and snares are prohibited. Fish longer than 68 inches fork length may not be removed from the water.  For more information: https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=58288&inline=1

Salmon and steelhead anglers in inland valley waters cannot fillet steelhead or salmon until they reach their permanent residence, a commercial preservation facility or the fish is being prepared for immediate consumption.  All steelhead and salmon must remain in such a condition that their species and size can be identified.

Anglers will be allowed to harvest hatchery trout and hatchery steelhead in most catch and release areas under new regulations.

 

There will be no slot limit regulation for black bass in McClure, Millerton, Oroville, Orr and Siskiyou lakes. The statewide standard daily bag limit and 12-inch minimum total length regulations will apply on these waters.

Other changes include:

·         Yellow Perch have been removed from the sunfish bag limit. Yellow perch have a year-round season with no bag limit.

·         Spearfishermen will be allowed to harvest striped bass by spearfishing in the Valley District and all of Black Butte Lake will be open to spearfishing.

·         Eulachon may not be taken or possessed.

·         Wolf Creek (Mono Co.), Chowchilla River, and Eastman Lake will be open to fishing.

·         The Sisquoc River will be closed to all fishing all year to protect listed steelhead.

·         Silver King Creek tributaries (Alpine Co.) below Tamarack Lake Creek will be closed to all fishing all year to protect threatened Paiute cutthroat trout.

·         Davis and Pine creeks in Modoc County will be closed to the harvest of trout. Catch and release fishing is allowed.

·         Smith River Low Flow Regulations - The minimum flow trigger on the Smith River has been increased from 400 cubic feet per second to 600 cubic feet per second.

·         Eight amphibians and three reptiles have been removed from the list of species authorized for take with a sport fishing license.

 

There are other changes to the freshwater sport fishing regulations, so please review all of the 2013-2014 regulations pertaining to the species you intend to pursue.


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