SciSun: Salmon on a Bed of Rice   Leave a comment

This isn’t our dinner selection (although it does sound really good); it’s a way California water scientists are exploring new ideas to best use our limited natural resources in ways that haven’t been tried before. It’s ‘thinking outside the box’, with wetlands and water and fish (which probably wouldn’t stay inside a box, in the first place).

For thousands of years, rice farmers in China and other Far Eastern countries have known that rice fields – or rice paddies, as they’re more accurately called – can also be used to grow shrimp, fish, ducks and other aquatic species. Unlike most plants, which need some water but would rot if left in water for long periods, rice thrives in standing water – so it’s more efficient for the farmer to flood rice fields after the rice seedlings, or baby rice plants are planted, and allow the rice to grow all season in these flooded fields. But all this water – which the rice needs to grow – means other plants can’t be grown in the same fields as the rice, cutting down on the amount and types of crops that can be grown. So here’s where the shrimp and fish and ducks come in – all these animals love living in flooded fields with lots of insects to eat and surrounded by densely-growing plants where the animals feel safe and protected (particularly when they’re young and venerable) – and flooded rice fields are very much like the natural wetlands where aquatic species have lived for generations.

Always wash your rice before cooking.   Just sayin'

Always wash your rice before cooking. Just sayin’

Of course rice isn’t just grown in Asia, and here in North America a few farmers have tried growing ducks and fish along with their rice crop, but often found it’s not worth the time or trouble. Unlike most smaller farms in the Far East where the work is done by hand, the usual farm in the United States and Canada relies on machinery and mass cultivation. It’s just extra work to collect all the fish before the rice fields are drained for harvest; or account for every duck that might be living among the plants. And we know some of those ducks are probably just passing through, so checking them all for ID is too big a job.

But much of the world is facing serious food and environmental challenges. As the human population grows, it takes up more space and resources; and requires more food. Particularly in areas that only recently were open and natural, man has built homes and businesses; drained wetlands; and diverted water that once fed natural ecosystems. So scientists have been searching for ways to protect and preserve what remains of our natural resources, while looking for new ways to provide food for the growing population.

Now, in the Sacramento Valley of Northern California, farmers are trying something never done before – growing salmon in the rice paddies. California’s’ Central Valleys produce an estimated 25% of all food in the United States, and the northern region is a vital resource of water and aquaculture for much of the State. Over the years, man-made changes in the environment have resulted in it being harder and harder for natural processes to succeed and now man has to step in and try to balance some of the changes and bad decisions made in the past.

Trying to keep with his diet, Black Bear decided to stick with salmon and not load up on rice.

Trying to keep with his diet, Black Bear decided to stick with salmon and not load up on rice.

Just last week 50,000 baby salmon, only about 2 inches long, were released into 20 acres of rice fields in the hope the salmon will thrive and be the first in what could be a whole new way of farming, and almost limitless source of salmon for the future. This is the second step in the salmon-rice experiment (last year, 10,000 salmon were successfully grown on 5 acres) and at the end of the season the salmon still have to be collected, weighed and measured, evaluated for any health or growth problems, and transferred to the ocean (salmon have to spend part of their lives in both fresh-water, and in the ocean – like your cousin who just has to go to the beach every year); but if enough salmon survive and grow, farmers will recognize adding salmon-farming to their rice fields could increase profits; protect (and maybe even expand) wetlands; and provide a high-quality source of food. And, just by adding salmon to the rice paddy mix, could one day benefit everyone. Particularly if you like your salmon, with a bed of rice.


Michonne Says:  Marmots usually don’t go anywhere near water. Unless it’s to get a drink. Sometimes those fish will jump out and that’s scary!  Besides, who wants their fur to get wet?

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