'Name that fish'

Can you name this fish? Identifying the 112-plus fish species in the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary can be a difficult task, even by scientists.  Numerous Delta species have similar characteristics and can be hard to identify to the untrained eye. Credit: Steve Martarano/USFWS

Lodi Fish and Wildlife Office hosts vital multi-agency Delta fish ID workshop

By Steve Martarano
November 1, 2017

Can you tell the difference between a Delta Smelt and a Wakasagi?

It’s a fact that identifying the 112-plus fish species in the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary can be a difficult task, even by scientists who have dedicated their careers to such work.

Jonathan Speegle, a fish biologist and data manager for the Lodi Fish and Wildlife Office examines a specimen during the workshop. Credit: Steve Martarano/USFWS

Many of the juvenile fish inhabiting Bay-Delta waters, like the Hitch, have identifying characteristics that are small and difficult to see; pigments, fin arrangements, fin length, ray counts are just some of the important characteristics to focus on. High profile species like Delta Smelt, Wakasagi, and Longfin Smelt have similar characteristics and can be hard to identify to the untrained eye.

The staff of the Lodi Fish and Wildlife Office however are trained experts in this specialized area.

“It’s extremely important we work to achieve continuity across all agencies when it comes to identifying fish in the Central Valley,” said Andrew Goodman, who planned and led the training. Credit: Steve Martarano/USFWS

Fish identification workshops have been a part of the Lodi office's staff training curriculum for many years, but on a recent Friday in early October, the popular workshop for the first time was expanded and offered to all state, federal and other interested scientists whose job it is to correctly identify Bay-Delta fish species.

“It’s extremely important we work to achieve continuity across all agencies when it comes to identifying fish in the Central Valley,” said Andrew Goodman, a fish biologist  who planned and led the training. “Today is all about that goal.”

Workshop participants were invited from a wide variety of federal and state agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Geological Survey and California Department of Water Resources.

Numerous presentations throughout the day were given by experienced scientists Jerry Morinaka and Dave Contreras of CDFW, Rene Reyes of the Bureau of Reclamation, Brian Schreier and Naoaki Ikemiyagi of California Department of Water Resources, and Goodman. The day's presentations included identifying features of species from the various fish families found in Bay-Delta waters.

Attendees determining the various characteristics of Delta fish species at the Lodi workshop Oct. 6. Credit: Steve Martarano/USFWS

After the presentations concluded, the workshop participants put their fish identification knowledge to the test and were given two minutes to identify a variety of species at 36 different stations.

The need for accurate and consistent data continues to increase. Elected officials, water managers and scientists commonly seek additional information on Bay-Delta species. Several data-gathering surveys are continuing to provide information used in various ways, such as The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Enhanced Delta Smelt Monitoring Program and numerous state-run fish annual surveys.

“The San Francisco Bay-Delta and Estuary is one of the most invaded ecosystems in the world, and it is a formidable task to become familiar with literally dozens of native and non-native fish,” said Julie Day, supervisory fish biologist in the Lodi office. “This is the first year we've expanded our fish identification training into an open workshop format, inviting other agencies and collaborators to join us in brushing up on their identification skills and exchange tips and stories.”

Nearly 60 fish scientists attended the first multi-agency fish identification workshop at the Lodi Fish and Wildlife Office Oct. 6. Credit: Steve Martarano/USFWS

From those attending, praise for the workshop was widespread.

“This is really beneficial because the information is coming from the same source,” said Matthew Ouano, a Service fisheries technician who is a regular on Delta monitoring trips. “With virtually every agency here, it brings us together and makes the information we gather stronger.”

Approximately 56 scientists attended the one-day workshop, Goodman said.

The Lodi office  is now planning on hosting one open fish identification training workshop every year, in addition to the regular quarterly training sessions for staff, he added.

 

From left: fisheries technician Nick Fischer, field crew leader Chris Hart and lead fish biologist Andrew Goodman coordinated the one-day session for partner agency fish scientists. Credit: Steve Martarano/USFWS

 

Steve Martarano is a public affairs specialist in the Bay-Delta Fish and Wildlife Office located in Sacramento, California.