California Ricelands

Salmon Project

Rice farm­ers and fish biol­o­gists work­ing togeth­er to help strug­gling salmon pop­u­la­tions by devel­op­ing strate­gies to raise juve­nile salmon in win­ter-flood­ed rice fields.

Historical Salmon Ecology

Before the land­scape of the Sacra­men­to Val­ley was for­ev­er altered to pave the way for cities and farm­ing, juve­nile salmon used the flood­plain exten­sive­ly to help them thrive and suc­cess­ful­ly find their way to the ocean. This was due to a flood­plain envi­ron­ment with abun­dant food resources (zoo­plank­ton), out­stand­ing habi­tat and rel­a­tive­ly few preda­tors.


Life was good for fish before these sig­nif­i­cant land use changes emerged at a time when soci­ety did not yet ful­ly appre­ci­ate salmon’s reliance on the ecol­o­gy of the flood­plain.


Altered Salmon Ecology

The major land­scape change that impact­ed the nat­ur­al ecol­o­gy of Sacra­men­to Val­ley salmon was the phys­i­cal con­tain­ment of the Sacra­men­to Riv­er with­in a sys­tem of lev­ees. This divorced young salmon from flood­plains, forc­ing them to remain in the main­stem of the Sacra­men­to Riv­er. Con­trary to what many peo­ple may assume, the riv­er has rel­a­tive­ly low lev­els of food for these small fish. They also are forced to deal with high stream veloc­i­ties and a riv­er pop­u­lat­ed with siz­able fish preda­tors.


Just because the nat­ur­al ecosys­tem has been altered doesn’t mean we can’t devel­op a strat­e­gy, under high­ly man­aged con­di­tions, to restore some of those eco­log­i­cal ben­e­fits. That is the very jour­ney Cal­i­for­nia rice is tak­ing in its efforts to opti­mize rice fields as habi­tat for these fish through the inno­v­a­tive work of the Cal­i­for­nia Rice­lands Salmon Project.

Discovering New Approaches


The Nat­ur­al Resources Con­ser­va­tion Ser­vice (NRCS) and donor spon­sors (not­ed on back pan­el) joined the Cal­i­for­nia Rice Com­mis­sion (CRC) to imple­ment a key project (Phase I) to accom­plish the fol­low­ing:

  • Eval­u­ate the sur­vivor­ship of salmon raised in win­ter-flood­ed rice fields out to the ocean

  • Eval­u­ate the per­for­mance of var­i­ous farm prac­tices for salmon-rear­ing

To accomplish these objectives, the project team implemented the following activities:

hand holding two small salmon

Worked with about 40,000 hatch­ery fish over two field sea­sons


Pre­pared spe­cial test fields with four dif­fer­ent types of fish habi­tat man­age­ment


Mon­i­tored salmon in the mod­i­fied fields and assessed their growth rates


Teleme­try tag­ging over 2,000 fish to track their jour­neys to the ocean

Innovation in Action


The NRCS and oth­er project spon­sors are join­ing CRC again for Phase II of this inno­v­a­tive work to accom­plish the fol­low­ing:

  • Imple­ment the new habi­tat prac­tice on full-size, work­ing rice farms

  • Imple­ment strate­gies to pro­vide voli­tion­al pas­sage of salmon onto project fields dur­ing flood events and enable their safe return to the riv­er through spe­cial fish-friend­ly field drainage fea­tures

  • Assess in-field pre­da­tion and sur­vival

  • Assess sur­vival of rice field-reared fish to the ocean

  • Per­form mod­el­ing work to eval­u­ate poten­tial pop­u­la­tion ben­e­fits

  • Per­form region­al mon­i­tor­ing of tagged hatch­ery and wild salmon to bet­ter under­stand over­all the rice­land habi­tat use

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This field is for val­i­da­tion pur­pos­es and should be left unchanged.
scientist examining water sample


The sci­ence ele­ments of this project are being led by the renowned Cen­ter for Water­shed Sci­ences at UC Davis in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Cal­i­for­nia Trout. Essen­tial to the program’s suc­cess is coor­di­na­tion with the Nation­al Marine Fish­eries Ser­vice, the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice pro­vid­ing valu­able sci­en­tif­ic exper­tise and sup­ply­ing the hatch­ery fish for the project.

Partnership is the Key

The Cal­i­for­nia Rice Com­mis­sion acknowl­edges the valu­able project spon­sors, sci­en­tists, agen­cies and grow­ers who are all con­tribut­ing to make this work a real­i­ty.

Collaborating Agencies

Major Sponsors

Current Project Sponsors

Phase I Sponsors

Interested in Becoming A Sponsor?

The Cal­i­for­nia Rice­lands Salmon Project wel­comes new spon­sors to help keep our project fund­ed and mov­ing towards our goal of devel­op­ing this new prac­tice and mak­ing it avail­able to rice farm­ers who are inter­est­ed in pro­vid­ing this salmon rear­ing habi­tat.

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