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Where Do Fish Go During Floods?

An Oregon Sea Grant researcher discovers the surprising answer

Heavy rains and melting snowpack that flooded western Oregon last winter turned creeks and rivers into broad, brown torrents that might look like bad news for fish. But Guillermo Giannico, an Oregon Sea Grant Extension fisheries specialist, says his research suggests the opposite.

Giannico has conducted studies showing that fish - especially native species - can find refuge and food in in the agricultural ditches and other seasonal waterways that drain the flooded grass-seed fields..

Guillermo Giannico and research assistent examine fish netted in a Willamette Valley grass-seed field. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum, OSU Extension & Experiment Station Communications)Giannico, who is also a research professor in Oregon State University's Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, says his research grew out of a project by fellow OSU researcher Stan Gregory to map the historic path of the Willamette River. The Willamette and its many tributaries once were more complex, braided streams. Multiple channels dispersed the impact of flooding, but dams, housing developments, and forest transition have since funneled many rivers into single channels that run fast and furious during floods.

Giannico and others wondered how fish adapted to the change. Floods have happened for thousands of years, he said, and fish traditionally escaped high water in the main river stems by moving to off-channel habitat.

It turns out they still do. During seasonal floods, researchers took a look at ditches, low-lying farmland, and other spots that are above water most of the year. To their surprise, they found 14 fish species - 11 of them native.

"That's high diversity for this area, more than I would have bet we were going to get," Giannico says.

Giannico notes a couple of implications from the findings. Chinook salmon, steelhead, and other native fish, he says, are keenly tuned to changes in light and water temperature, and move to sheltering habitat - even if it turns out to be a flooded grass seed field. Invasive fish, often warm-water species, don't get it. They're unable to respond to the clues. As a result, native fish get a temporary break from predation and competition for food.

"Floods have always been a dynamic part of the system, much the same way that snow is for elk in Yellowstone," says Giannico. "Over time, animals will adapt to get the most out of their habitat. We have found that native fish have adjusted their behavior to use these floodplains, mostly in agricultural lands, to great benefit."

To learn more about Giannico's research, watch "Ditch Fish," a segment of an Oregon Field Guide episode on Oregon Public Broadcasting.


Oregon Sea Grant Food Scientist Helps Revolutionize Oregon Canneries

A Coos Bay company called Oregon Seafoods is bringing new jobs to the local economy, and it's doing so in a very innovative way: by packaging and selling west coast salmon and tuna in "retortable pouches."

A retortable pouch resembles a large, silver UPS envelope, and while it is, technically, a type of canning, it is a state-of-the-art, high-tech version of it.

The technical know-how behind Oregon Seafoods' processing came from Mark Whitham, an Oregon Sea Grant food scientist who is revolutionizing Oregon's canning industry.

"Most store-bought tuna," explains Whitham, "is twice cooked. That means they cook all the nutrients and flavor out." Retortable pouches make it possible to cook the product only once, Whitham says, helping it retain all the good fats, juices, and nutrients.

From his food lab at Oregon State University Extension in Astoria, Whitham has been in the vanguard of an Oregon-based canning coup. With over 30 years of experience in food processing, Whitham is a sought-after expert by owners of small canneries hoping to kick-start or upgrade their facilities.

Mike Babcock shows off the "sport pack" version of his new tuna productOregon Seafoods' Mike Babcock was one such cannery owner.

Babcock first heard about retortable pouches from others who had worked with Whitham, and he thought, "I wonder if this will work for albacore?" After seeking out Whitham in 2010, Babcock worked with him to investigate what it would take to do pouch canning for Oregon Seafoods.

Since he started shipping products under his Sea Fare Pacific label in October of 2011, Babcock's tuna and salmon are now found in 230 stores in several states, including Market of Choice, New Seasons, Whole Foods, and REI. His Chef's Brand Pacific Caught Wild Albacore won a 2012 Product Innovation Award from the National Restaurant Association.

Whitham also helped Babcock develop four flavors for the Sea Fare Pacific brand: sea salt, salt-free, smoked, and jalapeno.

"He was there when we really needed him," says Babcock. "And I won't forget that."

(Read a longer version of this story, by Nathan Gilles, in OSU's Terra magazine.)



Oregon Sea Grant Specialist Named to Important Role in Fishery Management

Jeff Feldner talks to a fisherman (Photo by Lynn Ketchum, OSU Extension & Experiment Station Communications)The U.S. Secretary of Commerce has appointed Oregon Sea Grant fisheries specialist Jeff Feldner to the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) for a three-year term. Feldner, who is based in Newport, is serving as an "at-large" member of the PFMC and does not officially represent Sea Grant nor Oregon State University. The PFMC, one of eight regional councils established by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, prepares fishery management plans for marine fish stocks in their regions.

Feldner has been an Oregon commercial fisherman since the 1970s and an Oregon Sea Grant Extension faculty member since 2006.

Pacific Fishery Management Council Website




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