Second year of trials shows winter-flooded fields offer prime fish habitat

Rachelle Tallman

University of California graduate student Rachelle Tallman is working on the California Rice Salmon Pilot Project — photo courtesy California Rice Commission

About 9,000 baby salmon have been placed into winter-flooded Sacramento Valley rice fields as part of the second year of the California Rice Salmon Pilot Project.

The fish are in eight specially prepared test plots in a living scientific experiment designed to determine if any unique extra treatments, such as deep channels or vegetative cover, make these fish food-rich rice fields even better habitat for young salmon.

Later this season, they will swim off on their journey towards the Golden Gate, and about 1,000 will be tracked with sophisticated, surgically implanted tracking devices in a cutting-edge scientific study.

Researchers already know the young salmon grow fast in the fields. This experiment will help inform them about how they might design a future practice standard to maximize fish growth and survivability.

If successful, growers could someday use rice fields to do for fish what they’ve already done for waterbirds for decades — take habitat already great for wildlife and make it even better.

Here’s a video that shows the work to get the salmon in at River Garden Farms:

Among the partners and financial sponsors in the project are the Natural Resources Conservation Service; Syngenta; S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation; Almond Board of California; Valent USA; GrowWest; Corteva Agriscience; NovaSource; University of California, Davis; California Trout,; Northern California Water Association; River Garden Farms; Conaway Ranch and Cal Marsh & Farm Ventures.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife supplied hatchery salmon in 2019 and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in 2020.

The California Rice Commission contributed this article.