KNIGHTS LANDING (CBS13) — An effort is underway to beef up California’s salmon.
A group of UC Davis scientists is partnering with the conservation group California Trout to grow bugs in floodplains to feed salmon.
The scientists say rivers in California don’t provide much food for salmon, which they say are already on the brink of extinction.
Levees are separating salmon from their traditional food source, and the group of scientists is now working to bridge that gap.
“We can’t get the fish from the river to the rice fields, but we are able to get the food in the rice fields to the fish,” said Carson Jeffres, an aquatic biologist at UC Davis who launched the project.
It was an idea in the works for about two decades, to help a nearly extinct population of salmon.
Now Jeffres and his group of scientists are applying it at River Garden Farms in Knights Landing.
“Bugs are the base of the food chain, the bugs are what make fish,” says Jacob Katz, lead scientist at California Trout.
The bugs, called water fleas, are planted in rice fields to mimic floodplains where salmon traditionally went to get their fish food.
Jeffres and Katz have spawned water fleas for the past few years.
They reproduce by the millions each day.
“At the drain of the field, we just pull the plug, and the whole field drains into a canal which then leads to the river,” said Jeffres.
The fish food then flows into the Sacramento River where salmon can feed.
Both Jeffres and Katz say the results so far are striking.
“They’re robust, they’re strong, they have shoulders and a belly, they’ve packed their lunch, they’re ready for that long journey to the ocean, and they have a much better likelihood of surviving,” Katz added.
Surviving and reproducing and hopefully avoiding extinction.
For now, the bug-hunting duo is holding their breath.
“We are really making a system that makes a much brighter future for California, for people, and for fish.”
So far about a handful of farmers around the Sacramento region have opened up their rice fields to grow bugs.
Jeffres and Katz say they hope the movement will spread throughout the state.