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Science in Short: Daylighting Delta Data

Once you know how many fish are present in a particular part of a river, including additional details like the time of day and water temperature, what do you do with this information? For decades, Delta researchers have collected millions of similar data points from daily visits to the San Francisco Estuary, not all of which are available or immediately useful. How that information is then translated into a language relevant to water and conservation managers requires serious number, or...
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Atmospheric Rivers Intensifying as World Warms: How the West Will Know What’s Coming

In just a few years, tracking the West Coast’s atmospheric rivers by airplane has gone from what one hydrologist called “really wild-eyed stuff” to a Congressionally-funded operation. This Atmospheric River Reconnaissance program, which wrapped up its latest season in March, monitors these increasingly powerful storms as they shoot across the Pacific Ocean and delivers real-time data to National Weather Service forecasters. Knowing when, where, and how hard atmospheric rivers will hit is vital to ensuring water supplies and avoiding floods....
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West Coast Salmonids All Tired Out?

West Coast salmon and steelhead populations have declined steeply in the past century – a plight that biologists have primarily blamed on habitat loss. Dams, for instance, block adult fish’s access to historic spawning grounds, and juvenile survival is impacted by streamside development and water diversions. Now, it turns out, microplastic pollution may be a much bigger factor than anyone knew just several years ago. In 2019, scientists with the San Francisco Estuary Institute and the Los Angeles-based nonprofit 5...
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Will Salmon Simmer Again?

After two critically dry years that coincided with Trump-era rollbacks to environmental protections, some iconic Delta fish are closer than ever to the point of no return. Last fall, for the second year in a row, the fall midwater trawl found zero wild Delta smelt, while a coalition of environmentalists and fishermen is asking a federal court to help prevent a repeat of 2021’s near-obliteration of endangered winter-run Chinook salmon. Their lawsuit is just one of the balls to watch...
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Gone Fishing

As the weekend dawns and California slumbers, the sportfishers descend, like clockwork, on the banks and waves of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. They carry nets for herring or poles for sturgeon, heavy and light tackle, bloodworms or anchovy or any number of delectable morsels to attract the desired target. They tread industrialized East Bay shorelines and marshy Delta banks, hop aboard sporty six-pack boats for more ambitious trips or humbler craft for a leisurely solo excursion....
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South Bay Trawls Show Fish Like Restored Shores

Twelve years ago, scientists at UC Davis began a survey of the southern end of San Francisco Bay — the Lower South Bay — to see how fish responded to the South Bay Salt Ponds Restoration Project. They discovered an unexpectedly diverse and robust aquatic community and a previously unknown spawning ground for the longfin smelt (Spirinchus thaleichthys), listed as endangered in California and a candidate for federal protection because of its declining numbers. The team, led first by Jim...
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Big Boulders, Big Benefits to Coyote Creek Fish

As a source of flowing water, upper Coyote Creek is unreliable at best. Though storms swell its banks in winter, Mediterranean-climate summers shrink this South Bay stream to a series of isolated pools by August. “By October right before the rains come, we’re down to these really small pools that have all the fish in them,” says retired U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ecologist Rob Leidy. Leidy and UC Berkeley fish ecologist Stephanie Carlson began monitoring the annual dry-down of upper...
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Murky Future for Herring

This winter, herring spawns in San Francisco Bay – visible from land as frenzies of birds and pinnipeds and even water discolored by herring milt – have been few and far between, according to recreational fishers who pursue the fish each year using hand-thrown cast nets. With few other eyes on the resource, it seems reasonable to assume that the downward trend in biomass documented through the 2019-2020 winter has continued. But nobody knows for sure. For decades, the California...
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Natives Who Can Rough It

Name a native fish. One that spends lots of time in the Delta. One that’s not a salmon, smelt, or sturgeon. One whose population isn’t plummeting, and in fact seems to be doing just fine. By now the list of possibilities has been shortened severely — though not exhausted. A number of native fish still ply Delta waters in stable numbers, but precisely because there are no restoration projects, monitoring programs, or conservation efforts designed to save them — or...
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Let’s Not Forget Suisun Marsh

I started sampling the fishes of Suisun Marsh in 1979 because one of my UC Davis graduate students was looking for a place to study tule perch, a live-bearing native fish. We found not only a lot of tule perch in the marsh, but also an abundance of other native fishes. Clearly, this was a good place to study species for which we had little information at that time. Two things helped with our new project. First, sampling boats could...
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Hatchery Delta Smelt Released to Wild

On a mild day between rainstorms in mid-December, wildlife biologists outfitted in rubber boots and orange lifejackets load drum after drum of precious cargo onto a small boat docked in Rio Vista, a town on the Sacramento River in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. There is little fanfare but the occasion is nonetheless momentous. The shiny silver drums contain thousands of Delta smelt — finger-size imperiled fish unique to the Delta — that were raised in a conservation hatchery. Today marks...
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Sturdy Sturgeon

A 90-year-old Australian lungfish at San Francisco’s Academy of Sciences has received a lot of press lately, but there is a wild fish species living in the San Francisco Bay that has the potential to live that long or longer — or so we think. While one white sturgeon caught in the Columbia River Basin was estimated to be 104 years old, the life expectancy of white sturgeon, Acipenser transmontanus, which includes the Central Valley population endemic to the San...
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The Complexities of Monitoring Steelhead

For more than two decades, steelhead — listed as federally threatened in 1997 — have been monitored throughout the state. However, until recently that monitoring has been a haphazard affair. Each local jurisdiction has established a different system, using different methods with different degrees of intensity, according to a 2018 study examining monitoring within the Central Valley and its environs. In some areas, primarily the Sacramento River watershed, which drains the vast northern part of the valley, data has been...
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Better Living Through Fish – Editor’s Desk

I come from a long line of fisherfolk. My grandparents had a tiny cabin on a Quebec lake. We visited some summers. My grandfather let me drive the big white speedboat at a snail’s pace while he smoked cigars and trolled for trout off the stern. Once, when I caught one bigger than his catch-of-the-day, he “accidentally” knocked it back into the lake with the net. On the dock, we’d sunbathe while he cast lines overhead with a precision worthy...
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The New Face of the Met

On October 17, 1972, the Edmonston Pumping Plant south of Bakersfield began lifting water drawn from the Delta up and over the Tehachapi Mountains toward southern California cities. That moment created a statewide water network stretching from the Trinity Alps to the Mexican border. It also made the Southland’s great umbrella water agency, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, an intimate partner and massive player in northern California water affairs. Since that day, many in the north have seen...
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How the West Can Survive Smaller Snowpacks and Bigger Atmospheric Rivers

Mountains are the foundation of water in the western United States, natural infrastructure that captures snowfall during the winter and releases snowmelt over the spring and summer. In California, the snowpack holds nearly as much water on average as all the reservoirs put together, effectively doubling the state’s surface storage. But, as the world warms, we may not be able to rely on this ecosystem service much longer. A new study projects that snowpack shrinkage will likely disrupt the West’s...
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New Way to Sleuth Out Fish IDs in the Field

The CRISPR technique used to edit DNA has been formulated into a tool that can distinguish between similar-looking California fish species for conservation research. Called SHERLOCK (Specific High-sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter unLOCKing), the tool can tell the difference between species with speed and accuracy. Better yet, it is both inexpensive and can be run while researchers are in the field. “It puts the power in the hands of the field biologist to make the most informed decision versus waiting sometimes days...
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DFW 150 Years on Patrol, and Work Still Dangerous

Lieutenant James Ober worked as a fish biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for a year before joining its Law Enforcement Division in 2009. “I enjoy interacting with hunters and fishers. Most of them have a great appreciation for the resources and want to protect them,” says Ober about being on patrol. Ober belongs to the tradition of wildlife officers, both personally and professionally. His fifth great grandfather, Edwin H. Ober, was an officer and biologist during...
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Habitat Tramplers Run Amuck – Cows Versus Creeks

The water of a small stream in western Sonoma County flows slowly under a highway bridge, coursing its way through private ranchland to the ocean about seven miles away. Ducks paddle among floating vegetation, and an egret tiptoes slowly through the shallows. At the edge of the waterway, called Americano Creek, a cluster of cattle huddles under the willows. They frequent this spot and have trampled the banks to mud. Hoofprints can be seen leading into the water, and cakes...
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Can Birds and Solar Float on the Same Ponds?

In the late 2000s, small-aircraft pilots gliding above the Napa countryside began to notice an odd, glassy glint reflecting off a tennis-court-size patch of land between vineyards. Large solar arrays were less common back then, but the solar panels themselves likely weren’t the reason planes doubled back, flying low, for a closer look: it was their placement in the middle of a pond. Floating solar panels, like the ones Napa’s Far Niente winery finished installing in 2009, could be a...
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About Us

The San Francisco Bay-Delta is named in the federal Clean Water Act as one of 28 “estuaries of national significance." For over 20 years, the San Francisco Estuary Partnership has worked together with local communities and federal and state agencies to improve the health of California’s most urbanized estuary.

San Francisco Estuary Partnership 1515 Clay Street, Suite 1400 Oakland, CA 94612 (510) 622-2304

Association of Bay Area Governments