New Crop of Ricelands-reared Salmon Heading for the Pacific

By Paul Buttner

I breathed a big style sigh of relief late last week as our first true crop of salmon raised in winter-flooded rice fields began their journey towards the Pacific Ocean. After carefully monitoring the growth of some 9,000 fish growing in a set of rice fields at River Garden Farms this winter, the UC Davis team charged with managing the field science program for the Rice Commission’s Pilot Salmon Project let them swim freely into the Sacramento River just north of Interstate 5. What a great feeling to finally send them on their way!

scientists releasing tagged salmon into sacramento river

Among them, nearly 350 specially tagged fish that allow us to keep an eye on them as they make their way through the watershed towards the San Francisco Bay. This is all part of our grand experiment to test-out methods of best utilizing our rice fields as “surrogate floodplain” habitat so that, someday, we may help these species thrive. We are just scratching the surface of this years-long effort to fully understand all the moving parts required to make the floodplain accessible to these fish once again. Yes, past generations of native salmon used the floodplain in their lifecycle many decades ago before the levee system separated them from it. It is now our challenge to try to figure out how to give them access to it once more.

Many questions need to be answered. What are the best practices for managing our fields as rearing habitat for these fish? How much more successful will their survival be if we can pull this off? What is the cost to implement these strategies?

We look forward to our continued work towards a hopeful future of helping salmon. A special shout out to UC Davis and California Trout for their ongoing technical expertise. And, of course, we couldn’t do this without hatchery fish provided by the state and federal hatcheries. And finally, a special thanks to our major funders—USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Syngenta—as well as many other funding partners including S.D. Bechtel Foundation, California Almond Board, Valent, GrowWest, Corteva and many others.

Paul Buttner is Manager of Environmental Affairs for the California Rice Commission.


Paul Buttner