SACRAMENTO — Researchers released 50,000 salmon into a flooded rice field in the Sacramento Valley on Tuesday in an effort to understand whether such fields, flooded between harvests, can stand in for the wetlands that once filled the area and served as a massive nursery for juvenile salmon.
The fish were released into a 20-acre rice field north of Woodland by researchers from University of California, Davis, the California Department of Water Resources and a nonprofit group, the Sacramento Bee reported.
The fish were released in an area known as the Yolo Bypass, which was created to divert floodwaters from Sacramento. When it floods, insects thrive in the area, providing a good food source for growing salmon.
Biologist Jacob Katz of Cal Trout, the nonprofit involved in the effort, said it is a large lab experiment.
“What we’re really trying to demonstrate is you can have both fishery benefits and agriculture on the same parcel,” Katz told the Bee.
The bypass is known as a haven for salmon when it floods, not only because of the insects but because it shields the creatures from larger predators.
Still, the bypass is not typically flooded long enough to benefit salmon numbers, and if it stays deluged for too long it could affect rice planting season.
This new program will seek to find the balance between bypass flooding and rice planting, and feature a mixture of hatchery born fish with natives to see if either adapts better to the habitat.
The fish would be released back into the Sacramento River.
For farmers, the program provides the possibility that their land could be valuable during the offseason and help improve the plight of fish and access to water.
“Everybody who is dependent on water should be making some strides toward trying to solve some of these fish issues,” said John Brennan, manager of Knaggs Ranch, one of the participating farms.