The San Francisco Bay-Delta longfin smelt is being reviewed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for possible endangered species status.
Three organizations, The Bay Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council teamed up and wrote a petition, which was submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Aug. 8, 2007 requesting the service consider the species of fish for threatened or endangered status.
On May 6, the service released a statement saying the petition provided sufficient information backing the claims that the species should be considered for threatened or endangered status.
“The petition asserted that the Bay-Delta population is physically and reproductively isolated from populations further north,” the release said. “It is genetically differentiated and lives in a unique ecological setting. It also argues that reduced outflow caused by exports from the [Sacramento] Delta has contributed to decline of the longfin smelt.”
This statement opened a 60-day public comment period, ending July 7, which will then be followed by a 12-month review conducted by the service. At the end of this review, the service will determine whether the species will be protected under the Endangered Species Protection Act.
The longfin smelt is a fish that lives in the San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento Delta. It lives an average of two years and grows to be around 5 inches long.
The delta smelt, a cousin of the longfin, has already been protected by the Endangered Species Protection Act.
Tina Swanson, a senior scientist with The Bay Institute and principal author of the petition, has become intimately familiar with the longfin smelt over the years.
“This is a species in very, very serious trouble,” she said.
According to Swanson and her colleagues, the problem is water pumping from the Delta. In the late months of winter, the longfin smelt travel from the Bay to the freshwater in the Delta in order to spawn. Many of the fish die after spawning, or are sucked into water pumps and killed, leaving the larvae to fend for themselves.
The larvae, which are quite small, depend on the heavy flow of spring water to push them back into the Bay where they will live most of their lives. But, when water pumps are in the area and working vigorously, the larvae can be sucked up and killed, depleting the population, Swanson said.
“The spring is a time of vital importance for all species,” Swanson said. “But when the spawning environment is compromised, there can be devastating effects.”
Unless the number of longfin smelt being sucked through water pumps rises dramatically, then for the moment, there isn’t much to do but wait for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision.
“We’ll be watching this closely, and watching to see when problems crop up,” Swanson said. “We’re hoping for the best.”
ALI EDNEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.