Testing alternate modes to get California Salmon to the ocean and back

An article in the New York Times (April 19, 2014) titled “Swim to Sea ? These Salmon Are Catching a Lift”, describes two alternate paths to move salmon from drought stricken areas to the ocean. With priority being for California agriculture, water levels in the rivers have dropped to such low levels that the California salmon cannot reach the ocean. Two models of transporting salmon are being tried, one (blogged earlier) uses direct truck transport to move salmon to the ocean. A second mode trucks the salmon to a river, and a then on to a boat, that continuously flows river water over the salmon to get them to imprint on the native water and facilitate their recall for the return trip to spawn. Researchers hope to monitor the two paths to see which one gets the salmon to the ocean and back successfully. Is the tradeoff of efficient direct transport against slower and perhaps higher probability of a successful round trip that ensures future generations of salmon reasonable? Should the root cause, low level of water due to the provision of water to California agriculture, be reconsidered to include these second order cost effects ? How should the potential demands for water and their impact be balanced across the different industries e.g., agriculture vs fishery in this case ?

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25 Responses to Testing alternate modes to get California Salmon to the ocean and back

  1. Neha Purohit says:

    In 2014, record drought in California was forcing farmers to sell their cattle and threatening millions of salmon. The only way of sustaining fishery was the second mode which was reliable. The agriculture should have given preference than the fishing industry. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, used Endangered Species Act to save salmon which was part of the $1B business.

    We should have a contingency plan for drought state. Collecting rainwater and reservoir can help the different industry to use in their operations. Agriculture industry uses 70% of water which will increase the demand for food, fibre and energy. Sustainable management of water in agriculture is critical to improving agricultural production, ensure pool can be shared with other users and maintain the environmental and social benefits of water systems.

  2. Sean Michael says:

    First and foremost, I am curious to know how the salmon population impacts the economics of California agriculture as a whole. But in the interest of the long-term, I think that the tradeoff is worth the initial investment because once researchers discover what works and what doesn’t, they can lobby for the more efficient course of action that also ensures the continued growth of the salmon population. To Neha’s point, this could help facilitate the development of a contingency plan when the state has severe droughts. But I would also suggest that perhaps the state could focus the growth of the salmon population more in the northern part of the state where droughts are not as common.
    The state needs to routinely assess the impact of the various agriculture inputs in their economy based off the current year. Then prioritize the demands for water based off of that. It will fluctuate from year to year, so understanding the overall impact will help balance the demand for water.

  3. Michael Morad says:

    The trade-off of a slower and more costly transportation for a method that is more likely to be successful in the salmon completing their life cycle is worth it for several reasons. First, from a financial perspective if the salmon died off because they didn’t return and complete their life cycle then this would have a negative impact to the salmon fishing industry. Second, if the salmon died off this could change the ecosystem of the rivers in California and create further havoc on the fishing industry or other indirectly impacted species. The second order cost effects should be passed on to the agriculture industry in the form of a usage fee for each unit of water used because they are using a majority of the available water. The fee could also be imposed on other substantial users of the available water supply to invoke fairness to the distribution of the costs. When examining how the demands for water should be balanced across the different industries I would say to look at supply and demand and what are the cost effects associated of not supplying each industry and where does this all balance out. In other words if the cost of transporting salmon is less that the cost of not farming and producing food for consumption then the agriculture industry should be allowed the supply.

  4. bernardinm says:

    Preference should be given to the second method. where the salmons are transported into a truck into a river then into a boat. This guarantees the supply for the quantity desired, which is more realistic from the feasibility standpoint. The low level of water should definitely be considered since it is a situation that doesn’t happen every time. Potential new planning at some point will definitely yield better results. Every sector being hit by the water crisis, it would surely impact the food industry in one way or another. The cost associated to such an effort must be reconciled with the expected return proceeding from the sales as a possibility.

    For the water distribution, a solution could be to impose a fee/tax to pay for water transportation. In this way, we can get water from States having more abundantly. As mentioned before, the contingency plan could also be of good help in there as well.

  5. Jason Meridew says:

    Research needs to expedited regarding which mode of transportation effectively completes the life cycle for the salmon. Until the research is completed both of these modes should continue to be used with a potential for subsidies from the government for the more expensive option. The subsidies should be dependent on the level of endangerment and the level of commercial viability of the salmon industry in CA. Ultimately, as global warming changes our planet, our environment will change. In some instances, like salmon in CA, the industries may no longer be viable and tough decision must be made regarding scarce resources. Just as automation is changing the other industries, climate change is also change agriculture and fishing. The companies and industries that adapt will be the most success ones.

  6. Tyler Le Roy says:

    Every impact (low levels of salmon, agriculture causing low water levels, etc) should have a societal cost impact associated with it. What is the unit cost to society should the salmon die during transportation? That should be calculated by understanding what that salmon is doing for society. That salmon could be used for food, supporting both the fishing industry and providing a source of nutrients, or used to keep the ecosystem in balance. The costs and efficiencies of the transportation methods would then need to be determined to understand which one has the greatest economic impact on society.

    All other economic decisions, such as agricultural usage of water, can be determined with enough research on the impact (in dollars) to society. Taxes can be implemented to utilize portions of water to help maximize the societal utilization.

  7. Brian Long says:

    I think that the slower choice with a higher probability of successful round trips that will ensure future generations of salmon would be the wise thing to do. The biggest reason is that it just sounds like the right thing to do if thinking long term. We should not be having droughts each year, so we need to do what has the highest success rate that protects future Salmon generations with the least overall impact.

    For each year there should be a tax for this type of second order cost that is shared by the producers and consumers. If we can anticipate the cost involved for protecting the Salmon and tax every year, then the money should be there if needed for secondary cost when the next drought hits.

    To balance demand across the different industries maybe the News-vendor model would be useful. For the agriculture industry you could calculate the optimal inventory along with the desired in stock probability needed to minimize waste and still meet demand. For the fishery industry if you could track the Salmon, and understand what the minimum life-cycle protection quantity is to be transported, you could use the Order-up-to Level model. Then maybe there could be a primitive strike to mitigate the next drought or help with the valuation on the tax I mentioned…

  8. Dan Halverstadt says:

    I believe that the second option is more sustainable long term. This is due to the trip feeling more natural to the fish. Unfortunately, this will impact the Salmon long term and potentially change the fish in an evolutionary sense. There are generally third and fourth order effects we rarely consider.

    As for the water, Californa has some significant issues. After living in California for four years there were several simple things that could have been done to preserve water, where many more extream measures were taken instead. The rainfall totals in SoCal are generally very low, but almost everyone has a grass lawn with sprinklers. Zero-scaping is gaining popularity and so is the adoption of artificial grass. From a utility standpoint, there are many demands put on the system, however, the infrastructure is having problems keeping up. Most water systems are very old and often leak, meaning fresh water is lost in transmission.


  9. Jennifer Cline says:

    To determine if the trade-off between a direct transport method and less efficient, but perhaps, higher reliability method is reasonable, the trade-off itself needs to be defined. Analysis of the results of both methods should be completed to determine the costs, time, 2nd order impacts (positive and negative) along with the actual results of the return. I agree with Jason that we are seeing changes in the world that impact are industries and drive a need to adapt and change. Understanding the cost-benefit of prioritizing resources, such as water, should be evaluated across industries to validate priorities currently in place are still where the priorities should be, and if alternate solutions/actions are viable to support impacted areas.

  10. Vinutha Ram says:

    I agree with Jennifer that to evaluate the trade-off, the goal first needs to be defined. If the goal is to sustain the fishery industry and California salmon, the trade-off is not reasonable since the life cycle of the salmon needs to be preserved. This would then naturally lead us to delve deeper into root cause (low level of water and its causes) since the option chosen is not efficient.

    Given that the supply of water is fixed and scarce, we need to use appropriate forecasting techniques such as the newsvendor model to predict demand and quantity of water required by each industry. Additional investments in research that could reduce the need for water (hydroponic farming) and/or drought relief should also be made so as to prepare better for a future where the supply could either get better or worse.

  11. Vish Thottingal says:

    More than half of the group expressed second mode as the best option and I agree as that is the right thing to do. I think the trade-off is between short term gain and long-term sustainable salmon growth and it makes complete sense to opt for the second option. What at what cost?
    Drought in California is a serious issue and one cannot predict nature but what the city can do is to reduce wastage of water, recycle waste water, conservation or storage of excess rains etc. California has faced sever water shortage in the past hence policy makers should bring apolitical legislation on the utilization of existing river for agriculture and gradually promote alternate farming which consume less water. Rivers are vitals not just for the industries dependable industries but for the betterment of the environment. River deterioration has direct and indirect economic cost and the originator or the source should be taxed. Some of the ways to balance water utilization would be imposing green tax or pollution tax on Industries polluting rivers, taxing industries for water consumption from rivers and finally additional tax for agricultural products which consumes excess water in places where water is scarce .

  12. Tony Merlie says:

    There absolutely is a trade-off between the two transport options. The second option certainly seems to be more receptive to ensuring success for future generations of success. One of the key questions to ask is whether or not the drought is a temporary, short-term issue, or indicative of a long-term issue that may continue into the future.

    Water demand should attempt to be balanced out – and trying to adjust the peak needs may be a solution? Trying to shift the planting season outside of spawning season might be one alternative — if that’s even possible? Spawning season is most likely not adjustable, while planting season may be able to move a little?

  13. Jennie Killian says:

    I think that the success rate of transport is going to be significantly increased by using the second method. Not only do you need the fish to survive transport, they need to be able to thrive in their new environment. The first method would likely lead to a lot of ‘lost inventory’ aka fish death that would cause the per fish transport fee to likely be equivalent or even higher than method 2.

    The distribution of water sources sounds like it could be a tricky endeavor. Tony has an interesting idea to try and adjust peak times. From an economic standpoint, as Vish pointed out, a tax could be inflicted upon the user. Either way, a sustainable solution needs to be found to carry our resources that depend on water into the future. Could damns or resevoirs be implemented to produce a larger source of water?

  14. Nathan Pennington says:

    The second method would be a wiser choice. Leverage is what more companies need to use. Doing more with less. The profitability of the fishing industry will be to ensure the survivability of the product they are aiming to deliver to the marketplace. The first choice would create diminished return as the inventory simply wouldn’t survive. Profitability would be far less likely as Jennifer mentioned and as Vish stated there could be unneeded tax if the first choice were a consideration.

  15. Allan McNear says:

    The tradeoff for either option can be reasonable for future generations of salmon. The impact to the fishing industry, consumers, and the direct loss of economic growth in those areas has the potential to be devastating. The process that replicates a more natural environment, less contact through handling, and the process that introduces fewer risks for the salmon should prove to be favorable for future generations. I am leaning toward the second option for transportation for the salmon, although it will be interesting to see which option has the best results over time.

    I agree the low level water due to the provision of water to California agriculture should be considered but this is a tall order for California. The California Water Action Plan is addressing the needs of both ecological and human needs but at the end of the day it is going to take innovative ideas to better orchestrate a plan that makes drastic changes to the ground water. In the interim, this is a great challenge for California.

    As Tony mentioned, adjusting water usage during peak times is a great starting point for all industries in California.

  16. Bryan M Corbin says:

    Yes, the tradeoff is worth it. It seems, after hearing a variety of examples of constraints on water in California, that every effort should be made to understand where waste is coming from in the system. It’s likely also time to start planning for what truly needs to be happening in within CA vs what can be grown or produced elsewhere. Clearly this is going to have short-term impacts on the local economy but might help better utilize resources regionally. For example, are there other regions that might be better suited for growing almonds, which take a substantial amount of water to grow.

  17. Maya Devakiamma says:

    Though the second method looks much more attractive in trying to emulate Salmon to imprint on the native water and facilitate their recall for the return trip to spawn, both the methods are band-aids and can’t be futuristic solutions. Impact of these new “artificial” approaches on the wilderness of Salmon and the behavior changes it may cause are not known, and possibly will not be until several years later. The permeant solution is to let nature continue its course without human disruptions and water levels on the California rivers and in-fact on all such rivers shall be brought back to its natural state along with a reduction in pollution levels. An example of major river pollution is “Río Nuevo flows north from Mexico into the United States”

    See this as a problem beyond the operational order and cost discussion. Both agriculture and manufacturing have to pay for reducing water levels and polluting rivers. Usage or river water to be regulated, to be either rationed or prohibited altogether. Also, water contamination from any sources has to be monitored and severely penalized. Government collecting these funds shall use that money solely to protect natural resources and not for other purposes. Alternate sources of water for farmers to be explored. Farmers who need water will have to buy that from companies who provide water from alternate sources. Though this would result in a second-order cost and may also increase the food prices, an additional cost is much better than eradicating all-natural resources and changing the ecosystem completely.

  18. Brett Damisch says:

    The second option seems to be the most viable. As a fisherman myself, our fishing boat live wells continuously flow lake water throughout them while fish are in the live well. It is proven that the fish live longer when they have fresh, aerated water versus transported in a cooler of some sort etc.. The fish are then not placed into a shock.

    As for issues with water consumption, the state of California needs to handle this issue on their own. Whether different methods are implemented in their water consumption or storage facilities, farming should not be effected by the water problems. You can’t change nature but you can change human ways of consumption.

  19. Paul says:

    Definitely the second process is beneficial. But why this kind of scenario will come. We should be more responsible in consuming the water properly. This not only affecting the fishing industry and at the same time it all affects the environmental balance of this world.
    Talking about the agricultural part, California is facing a huge shortage of water due the consumption and wastage and due to that agriculture is facing severe impact. To get rid of this crisis they have to adjust the shortage of water more diligently else it will create destroy the ecological balance.

  20. Ken Kibler says:

    This is a classic example of the big fish eating the little ones. I believe that the best solution for this dilemma long term will be the second option, attempting to transport via truck to the river to get them back as soon as possible to their natural habitat. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife will need to work at refining a system that is successful long term, because this will continue to be a repetitive problem given the demand for water and continued climatic changing conditions in this particular region of the country.
    Our country has a track record for yielding to agriculture when it comes to priority. Realizing the Salmon market is a one-billion-dollar business ,the agriculture business that it is competing against is a forty-five-billion-dollar business. This alone would be very difficult to justify much of a case for priority for competing resources, in addition there is a continued population explosion in Southern California that is demanding more and more water consumption as well. There certainly are strategies that can help with some possible better watershed control solutions but probably nothing of a capacity that could solve something of this magnitude.
    The Midwest has taken a much more proactive role in longer term strategies to control how and where decisions are made when it comes to how watershed is affected. In this case however, I believe they are looking for a plan that will be unaffected by water conditions to maintain and grow a market that demand continues to increase for supply.

  21. Gaurav Kumar says:

    The trade-off of slower and more costly transportation for a method that is more to be successful in the salmon completing their life cycle is worth it because this seems to involve fewer risks for the salmons as compared to the other option. It is known that fish does live longer when they have fresh water as compared to the transported water.

    As far as the theories about agriculture are concerned, the issue is not farmers vs fisherman, a fabricated conflict. The problem is the disproportionate use of water within a wide range of commercial applications. The demand of water should be prioritized based on the agricultural inputs and accordingly, it should be supplied and demand would also depend on the regional areas where at some places the requirement would be less and at some, it would be more. Therefore, water allocation should be managed properly.

  22. There are multiple issues here
    1. Ecological Impact – Transportation of Salmon using any artificial mode of transport would disturb the eco system of the river. Option 2 addresses a part of ecological impact on salmons ability to retrace their way back to the river as fully grown fish but there is still an impact to the rest of the ecosystem, maybe more salmon predators would move near the sea in search for food and therefore reduce the number of salmons returning back into the river. Therefore option 2 is not a sustainable solution in the long run

    2. Economic Impact- I believe in a free market, negative exernalities should play and equilibrium between agriculturist and fishermen should be attained. This should solve the problem of over allocation or under allocation of water resources to the farmers.

    3.Environmental impact -What Dan has mentioned above is a direct consequence of the externalities, people are becoming conscious of water usage. The long term solution for this problem lies in changing usage patterns and conservation of water

  23. From strictly a supply chain perspective, yes transportation with option 2 would be a better short term solution but it is not going to be a sustainable solution because it is a patch on a much larger issue

  24. Andrew Tigulis says:

    Rivers are a challenging arena for the economic study of natural resources, an area of study that seeks an understanding and explanation of the use, allocation, and conservation of scarce resources.Each mix of river uses presents a unique set of costs and benefits, with economic impacts distributed across various communities and economic sectors.
    While parts of Northern California receives more precipitation per year, the state’s southern, drier areas receive less precipitation – and just a few inches of rain annually in the desert regions. That means most of California’s available water is in the northern third of the state, while a large percentage of the urban and agricultural water demands are in the southern two-thirds of the state. Despite the geographic and hydrologic challenges, California has more irrigated acreage than any other state, thanks to massive water projects that include dams, reservoirs, aqueducts and canals to deliver water to users, especially in the central and southern portions of the state.
    This resource also has been a source of political wars. Besides satisfying the needs of a growing population, demands for more water also come from the agricultural industry, businesses, manufacturers and developers. These needs must be balanced against demands for protecting water quality and for protecting fisheries, wildlife and recreational interests.

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