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For fish and rice to thrive in Yolo Bypass, 'just add water'

the key findings:

  • Experimental flooding of Yolo Bypass rice fields during the winter can create productive aquatic food webs for salmon.

  • Average growth rates during the study's 41 days were the highest recorded in freshwater in California. Growth of juvenile Chinook averaged 0.93mm per day, with growth of 1.5 mm per day observed during specific two-week intervals.

  • Mortality was greater than in the team's previous 2012 study at Knaggs Ranch. In the 2013 study, between 0 and 29 percent of free-swimming fish survived, while 35-98 percent of fish in enclosures survived.

  • Lower survival rates were attributed to bird predation. The winter of 2013, when the study was conducted, was one of the driest on record in the Sacramento Valley, which may have drawn more birds to the inundated rice fields, and to the fish. The study plots were also relatively shallow, providing little escape for fish. A follow-up study planned for 2014 will explore the role of depth as a refuge for fish against avian predators.

  • Fish reared in plowed rice fields grew faster than those reared over stubble or weedy vegetation. However, all habitat types were beneficial to the fish, suggesting farm managers may have more flexibility in land treatment after harvest.

"These results are good news for the effort to rebuild salmon populations in California," said lead author Jacob Katz, a biologist with California Trout. "We've always suspected that when we mimic natural flood processes in agricultural fields, we give these fish a food-rich habitat they recognize and thrive in. These findings support that theory and provide a strong path forward for California land use planners, conservationists and farmers alike. This is a win-win model that can be replicated around the state."

The Yolo Bypass is the Central Valley's largest contiguous floodplain and provides critical fish and wildlife habitat,

Contact: Carson Jeffres
University of California - Davis

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