The number of Chinook salmon returning to Central Valley rivers is near record lows as a result of water management decisions made during the recent drought.

The number of Chinook salmon returning to Central Valley rivers is near record lows as a result of water management decisions made during the recent drought.

Returns of endangered winter-run Chinook salmon this year will be the second lowest this century—according to the Bay Institute’s Jonathan Rosenfield, the final 2017 estimate is likely to be less than 1,000 fish total, of which more than 80% were hatchery-spawned. Returning fish represent the survivors of the 2014 incubation period, when the US Bureau of Reclamation did not provide adequate cold water, and poor juvenile outmigration conditions during winter-spring 2015 resulting from reduced Delta inflow and outflow standards. Despite all this,...
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In hot water due to climate change, many ocean fish are moving to higher latitudes or deeper waters to find the conditions they need to survive.

These include lobster, black bass, and Atlantic cod, all of which have supported iconic fisheries along the Eastern seaboard of the United States. “Ocean animals are moving ten times faster than animals fleeing climate change on land,” says Rutgers University marine biologist Malin Pinsky, whose Rutgers OceanAdapt website enables visitors to explore changes in marine species distributions over recent decades. These range shifts are causing headaches for fishing fleets, which are forced to head farther out to sea or hundreds of miles further from...
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Sturgeon Surgeons

By Michael Adamson “White sturgeon are a popular species, so we want to keep a close eye on contaminants in their tissues.” Recent RMP studies have unearthed a few new interesting things about sturgeon – first that selenium keeps turning up in specimens from certain areas, and second that testing may not have to be deadly. Growing up to 20 feet long and living up to 100 years, today’s living fish have become valuable for the stories that they tell.
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Toxic Summer for Sea Lions

By Michael Adamson The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito is wrapping up a busy summer. A potent neurotoxin called domoic acid, propagated by toxic algal blooms, poses a threat to California sea lions. Originally called “Amnesiac shellfish poisoning,” domoic acid targets the hippocampus and can have devastating effects on sea lions.
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Sport Fish Still Not Squeaky Clean

Toxic flame retardants quickly declined in Bay-caught fish, once banned, but legacy mercury persists, according to the most recent year of sampling. As the region’s collaborative monitoring program for Bay contaminants — the RMP — arrives at its 25th birthday, its long-term commitment to consistent data collection for the purposes of targeted environmental management is showing its mettle. The RMP has been catching and testing a wide array of species of popular sport fish, ranging from giant sturgeon to tiny...
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Man’s best friend is being enlisted in efforts to detect the soil-born pathogen responsible for sudden oak death and other rapidly spreading plant and tree diseases.

Phytophthora is difficult to detect in nurseries, plant materials, and planting sites until it has done its damage. To develop early-detection options, H.T. Harvey and Associates are training a female cattle dog/border collie mix named Bolt to sniff out Phytophthora. Part of the Harvey Dog ecological-scent detection program, Bolt has accurately identified four species of Phytophthora in the lab. If her training in a natural setting is successful, Bolt could get to work helping minimize the spread of Phytophthora. Potential beneficiaries...
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Advocates for Alameda Creek are concerned that a new proposal to beef up passenger rail service between Stockton and San Jose would jeopardize water quality and wildlife habitat.

Niles-based Alameda Creek Alliance says the proposed expansion of the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) passenger rail service might also bring increased freight train traffic to narrow, steep Niles Canyon, creating a situation that could lead to possible derailments and creek-contaminating spills. (A passenger train derailed into the creek in 2016.) Niles Canyon is the critical mid-point of complex watershed-wide work to reduce erosion, improve flood control, and restore steelhead to the creek. The Alliance and others are asking for a...
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Small-scale conservation can have outsized ecological impacts, says an international group of researchers.

Among the small natural features that can have disproportionate ecological value are the bark of grand old trees, which has nooks and crannies that provide microhabitats for wildlife; patches of native plants alongside agricultural fields, which can provide some species with their only remaining natural habitat; and rocky outcrops, which nurture unique and diverse flora and fauna. Other benefits of conserving these modest yet influential—and often under-appreciated—landscape features include relative ease and affordability as well as compatibility with land uses...
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Caspian Push and Pull

The origin story of a project to lure Caspian terns to several barren islands in the South Bay Salt Pond Habitat Restoration Project stretches all the way to the mouth of the Columbia River in Washington. This bird story that turns out to be a fish tale shows what can happen when multiple agencies and states work together to protect the numbers of an endangered species by changing the patterns of another species. In this case, the robust population of...
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Options for Orphan Species

Off a bustling Delta highway, next door to a branch of the California Aqueduct, sprawls a tidy collection of shipping containers, humming pumps, and cylindrical tanks. Paved in cracked asphalt and encircled by chain link fencing, it resembles any number of light industrial sites at the margins of many communities. In fact, this resolutely artificial site is devoted to preserving a disappearing piece of natural California: the Delta smelt. “Our fish are a refuge population,” says Tien-Chieh Hung. Director of...
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Teachable Moments

The Ocean 102 lab at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill is a proper marine biological laboratory. It smells faintly of seaweed and formaldehyde, while fearsome, plastic versions of marine predators (sharks that happen to squeak) hang from the ceiling. A somewhat functional soldering iron sits on the counter in the supply room next to an open box of Girl Scout cookies. The Peterson benthic grab, a heavy jaw-like affair attached to a long rope sits in the supply room....
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An Eggfull of Estuary

Birds’ eggs don’t lie. Just as thinning eggshells once revealed how DDT was affecting peregrines and pelicans, the eggs themselves are now telling scientists how long-lived some contaminants are in the Estuary and where they are the most problematic. A report just published by the Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay (RMP) summarizes contaminant concentrations in eggs collected between 2002 and 2012 from two fish-eating species high in the Estuary food chain, double-crested cormorants and Foster’s...
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Beyond the Blubber

When John Kucklick talks about interrogation techniques, his subjects aren’t tight-lipped terrorists, they’re bits of blubber. Harbor seal fat is a well-known repository of legacy contaminants from the Bay like PCBs, flame retardants and DDT, but the Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay (RMP) wanted to know what they might be missing. In 2010, they asked Kucklick, a scientist with access to a national database of 330,000 chemicals and some pretty cutting edge software, to check...
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No Scapefish in Drought Wars

DOWNLOAD June 2015 ISSUE PDF No Scapefish in Drought Wars by Joe Eaton According to the Biblical book of Leviticus, the ancient Israelites designated a goat to bear the weight of their sins. Nowadays, the scapegoat is not required to be a goat. When it comes to assessing blame for the worsening California drought, a scapefish will suffice. Some media outlets, notably the Wall Street Journal in a recent op-ed piece, point to the hapless Delta smelt as a culprit...
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Copper Effects on Salmon Influenced by Salinity

A decade of research by David Baldwin of NOAA’s North
west Fisheries Science Center 
and other biologists has shown
 that in some situations, very 
low levels of dissolved copper interfere with a salmon’s ability to detect smells. This can 
be a matter of life or death: 
salmon rely on their olfac
tory sense to avoid predators,
 locate prey, and home in on
 their natal streams when they 
return from the ocean to spawn. Earlier studies involved juvenile fish in freshwater settings. Baldwin’s...
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Alameda Work Trickles On

DOWNLOAD SEPTEMBER ISSUE PDF Alameda Work Trickles On by Ariel Rubissow Okamoto Driving down 680 from San Ramon to Pleasanton — with its prettily paved and groomed burbs — you wouldn’t guess that this was once a shallow lake and willow marsh. Indeed little trace
is left of the vast freshwater swamp called Tulare Lake, just over the East Bay ridges, which once collected all the runoff from Livermore and San Ramon. This marshy ecosystem filtered the rush of water from...
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Small Fish Test Helps Target PCB Clean Up

Jay Davis didn’t expect much from a pilot test for PCBs in silversides and topsmelt that live on the edges of the San Francisco Bay. The monitoring program he heads only ran the test on these small fish, which rarely grow more than 3-4 inches long, because it was simple to piggyback on an existing study of mercury in the same fish samples. “I thought it wouldn’t really be a big deal,” says Davis, who is lead scientist for the...
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Shifts in Selenium Spikes

DOWNLOAD JUNE ISSUE PDF Shifts in Selenium Spikes By Ariel Rubissow Okamoto USGS scientists headed up river this June to see whether two Asian clams had also headed upstream with the drought. When there’s less fresh water flowing out to sea, salty ocean water intrudes inland, and changes the distribution of these pesky invertebrates. Potamocorbula like it saltier than Corbicula, and usually hang out in the Suisun Bay region. But scientists suspect drought conditions may have changed all that, and...
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Freeing Fish While Locking Up Mercury

The restoration of the South Bay salt ponds to tidal wetland has, from the very beginning, been an exercise in adaptive management: take an action; monitor the results; make any indicated fixes; repeat. There’s no better example than Pond A8, where the Guadalupe River enters San Francisco Bay via Alviso Slough. Restoration planners were worried that connecting the former salt evaporation pond with the Bay could introduce long-dormant mercury to the wider ecosystem, and initial studies of levels in water...
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