Thursday, March 5, 2009

Longfin/Delta Smelt Given New Levels of Protection

Center for Biological Diversity Press Release

Acknowledging the complete collapse of native fish populations in the San Francisco Bay-Delta, the California Fish and Game Commission today voted to protect the longfin smelt as a threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act. The Commission also voted to change the state protected status of the delta smelt from threatened to endangered. The longfin smelt is a native fish that has dropped to record low numbers in the San Francisco Bay-Delta and is nearing extinction in other northern California estuaries. Numbers of delta smelt found in 2008 were the lowest in 42 years of surveys.

“Pollution and invasive species have played a role in the destruction of our native fish populations and the degradation of the Bay-Delta ecosystem, but the biggest culprit is the record-high water diversions from the Delta in recent years,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. According to Miller, federal and state regulatory agencies have failed to uphold the public trust in allowing unsustainable levels of water diversions, leaving insufficient fresh water to sustain native fish and the Delta ecosystem. “The effects are rippling up the food chain,” he added. “Formerly abundant species at the base of the food chain are being driven to extinction, Central Valley salmon runs have been crippled, and the endangered population of West Coast killer whales has been even been affected.”

Longfin smelt (Spirinchus thaleichthys) were once one of the most abundant open-water fish in the San Francisco Bay-Delta and other Northern California estuaries, and they were a central component of the food web that sustained other commercially important and sport-fish species. The San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary is home to the largest and southernmost self-sustaining population of longfin smelt. Longfin smelt populations that in the estuaries and lower reaches of Humboldt Bay and the Klamath River have also declined and may now be extinct. Since 2000, the Bay-Delta longfin smelt population has fallen to unprecedented low numbers. Since 2002, the delta smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus) has plummeted to its lowest population levels ever recorded.


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