Salmon and rice go well together on the dinner table, and it turns out they may be good partners in the watershed as well. That's according to a recent set of studies by researchers at UC Davis, who looked at how well young salmon fare in flooded rice fields. Fisheries biologists with UC Davis are hoping rice fields in the Sacramento River Delta can help promote recovery of California's struggling Chinook salmon runs. So far the results seem to be promising.
The studies took place in the Yolo Bypass area, familiar to Interstate 80 travelers as that long stretch of floodplain west of Sacramento. In February, about 4,500 juvenile Chinook salmon were released into nine simulated flooded rice fields, and their daily growth charted. The idea was to see if rice fields might offer a suitable feeding grounds for baby salmon. researchers also looked at how fish move between different agricultural habitats, and at ways to change flooding schedules to benefit fish.
The most exciting result: juvenile fish in the rice fields grew at record rates, adding up to an inch in length every two weeks during their biggest growth spurts. That's faster than any salmon growth previously recorded in the state of California.