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Flooding Rice Fields In Winter Could Help Raise Bigger Salmon

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Anjali Hemphill joined CBS 13 in June 2012 and she's happy to make the...
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WOODLAND (CBS13) — Science groups in Woodland are experimenting with flooding rice fields in the winter to raise salmon, and it’s been producing big results.

Floodplain-raised fish have shown a higher survival rate and a larger size over river-raised salmon.

These 6-week-old salmon can’t wait to get out of this net and make their way to the Sacramento River.

“Just the fact that these fish are so big after only six weeks out here is phenomenal. That hugely increases their ability to survive on their way to the ocean,” said Peter Moyle with the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences.

These salmon aren’t like other fish though. They spent their first six weeks of their lives living in a rice field.

In the muddy water, these fish are healthy and finding lots of food, which is something that’s been overlooked for years.

Moyle says using local rice fields to raise salmon during the offseason has been producing bigger and stronger fish.

Salmon used to live in these wetlands, but when the farmlands moved in, the fish had to move out.

“That incredible food production that happens on the floodplain can actually be reproduced, can be mimicked in these agricultural fields,” said Jacob Katz.

But now scientists are recreating that habitat, and it’s working.

“These guys are way bigger than they would be if they were stuck in the river,” said Katz. “Fish in the river are teeny, puny, ’cause there’s not any food in the rivers.”

The process uses wastewater, which helps the drought, farmers, fishermen, and a dwindling salmon population.

“We really can have our salmon and eat them too,” said Katz. “We really can have a situation where it’s not fish or farms, but both.”

Thousands of those fish were released to head toward the Sacramento River on Wednesday.

Now the next step is getting the state to back the project, and hopefully provide incentives for farmers who get on board.

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