One of my work assignments for my client Metropolitan Water District is to coordinate the outreach and tours for the Nigiri Project. This is a multi-year experiment to reintroduce salmon fry to seasonal floodplain habitat to measure the benefit. I am not a scientist, yet I can see with my own eyes, the amazing growth of the fish (especially compared to fish in the river). It is exciting to be a part of a project that will prove instrumental if we are going to maintain native salmon runs on the Sacramento River. That feels good.
In California, 95% of the seasonal floodplain that was once available to salmon fry migrating from spawning beds to the ocean is gone due to our hyper-efficient flood control infrastructure. The historic floodplains provided a relatively predator-free place for small fish to hang out, gain weight, and delay entering the ocean until the upswelling off the Farallon Islands starts the food production cycle for which Coastal California is famous. The bypass system that planners created to deal with frequent flooding can be reconnected to fish and reestablished in their migratory patterns for better fish survival. Currently the fish start their migration without any energy reserves, entering the fire hose of the Sacramento River, shooting into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta where invasive species (bass) are waiting to eat them, and then entering the ocean before the food supply is activated. It is not too hard to see why the species is declining.
A part of this project that I also love is that a farm manager, John Brennan, is a key partner and committed to finding a way to make this work with rice production. It is essential that we find a way to make it compatible with agricultural production. John's vision is that it will be another source of income that will help keep agriculture in our floodplains. Agriculture is the most effective way to keep the bypass free of trees and other obstructions to flood waters. He points to the partnership between Audubon and Point Reyes Bird Observatory with rice farmers to provide waterbird habitat. John believes that fish can become part of this mix.
This year the fish have grown like gangbusters: twice as fast as last year. The warm weather has boosted food production and consequently the fish are already the size in 3 weeks that there were after 6 weeks in 2012. Pilot 2 - Growth 22 days (1)
I am coordinating the tours--so far over 70 people have visited the site. We have one more week of tours and then the fish will begin to be measured, counted and released. We will have one more media day coordinated by UC Davis Watershed Science Center and Department of Water Resources. And then sigh of satisfaction.