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Fish in the Fields

Resource Renewal Institute has several projects underway aimed at securing and protecting the health and integrity of freshwater systems in California and around the West. These projects are
1) Fish in the Fields: Sourcing New Protein and Restoring our Seas; and 2) the Instream Water Transfers Project.

Fish in the Fields: Sourcing New Protein and Restoring our Seas


Small schooling species of forage fish, such as anchovy and herring, provide a critical link in the food chain between plankton and larger fish. But forage fish are in danger worldwide, largely due to overfishing. Now that human appetites have wiped out most of the world’s favorite fish varieties such as salmon and tuna, fish farms are increasingly supplying this lost source of protein.

Nearly 90 percent of the forage fish harvest is processed for animal feed, including feed for farmed fish. Studies show that feeder fish are more valuable in the water than in the net. Their predators, including salmon, sustain economies and cultures worldwide. Declines in forage fish have led to serious declines in fish, bird, and marine mammal populations. Without action to reverse this trend, ocean ecosystems, global industries, economies, and cultures are in danger of collapse.


Commercial production of freshwater feeder fish for animal feed, fish bait, fish oil, and human consumption holds tremendous potential to reduce pressure on ocean feeder fish species and provide both environmental and economic benefits. In 2012, RRI’s pioneering Nigiri Project demonstrated that young salmon, feeding only on naturally occurring plankton in flooded fallow rice fields doubled in length and quintupled their weight in just five weeks. RRI transferred the project to UC Davis where fisheries biologists are further testing and bringing the project to scale. RRI is now planning to apply the Nigiri model to the commercial cultivation of freshwater feeder fish. With 600,000 acres of rice fields, California has the potential to garner significant economic and conservation benefits from this new industry, as do the American South and rice-growing areas in Asia.

Watch our Video

View and share the Fish in the Fields PDF

Next Steps

RRI is developing a prototype for an ecologically and economically sound feeder fish source, testing the viability of co-cultivation of freshwater species in fallow rice fields in California’s Central Valley.

We have initiated the next phase of Fish in the Fields in partnership with academic and market experts in 2015-16. As of fall 2015, our fresh water fish hatchery is operational and our fields are being prepared for fish introduction. RRI is seeking funding from stakeholders including environmental grant makers, venture funds, relevant industry associations, individuals, and government.

Creating New Conservation Tools for Freshwater: RRI’s Instream Water Transfers Project

Water is the West’s most precious resource-- and growing urban and agricultural demand will continue to constrain environmental freshwater supply for the foreseeable future.

Yet there is an opportunity ready to be put in the people’s hands. Since water rights can be bought, sold, leased, or donated separate from the land that they’re attached to in most Western states, RRI believes that water rights holders should be able to donate some or all of their water to stay instream for environmental purposes— and earn a tax deduction because of it.

RRI is leading two major initiatives towards this goal of bringing—and keeping—more water instream in western states:

I. Secure IRS income tax deductions for voluntary instream water rights donations.

In late 2012, the Coalition is formally requesting the IRS to issue a binding Revenue Ruling regarding the tax deductibility of permanent donations of appropriative water rights.

At the same time, the Coalition has found water rights holders who are willing to be the first “test cases” to go through the process of donating all or some of their water rights. This conservation tax precedent will be a significant milestone for instream flow.

RRI and its Coalition partners have received support from U.S. Senators, regional water and land trusts, western state water and natural resource agencies, and private landowners.

II. Create the first-ever California Water Trust Network (CWTN).

RRI and charter co-partner American Rivers are working to create the first-ever California Water Trust Network to address inconsistent state and federal water transfer policies with the goal of increasing instream flows through voluntary water transfers - including acquisition, lease, and donations. The CWTN already includes over a dozen water transfers organizations and land trusts who are now coordinating at the state level for the first time.

The result of both of these efforts will be tremendous new tools for freshwater conservation, benefitting water rights holders and leading to healthier streams, creeks, and rivers for the fish, wildlife, and humans that rely on them.

Contact: Tom Hicks, Project Director. thicks@rri.org


Binders Full of Well Logs

“California State Well Numbering (SWN) system wells are assigned a unique identifier without using a computer.” – Yolo County Flood Control & Water Conservation District Manager

This video underscores how backwards some of our state agencies are with their internal workflows. Putting aside making data available to the public, the perpetuation of inefficient and outdated workflows circa 1970 is borderline scandelous in today’s digital era.

It is understandable that decades of historical records are expensive to digitize, but there is little excuse when new data is compiled and archived in such ways. We can do better.

In our effort to build a digital public work for water in California, we are sharing open government methodologies, and civic technologies with all agencies we come into contact with. We do this from a place of love and understanding. We are fully aware of strained budgets and staffing, and are here to lend a hand.

Lets make California awesome!

Fish in the Fields from Resource Renewal Institute.












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