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Endangered Delta Smelt May Be Extinct

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Amy Quinton
/
Capital Public Radio

A small endangered fish that plays a pivotal role in California’s water wars may well be on its way out. As Amy Quinton reports from Sacramento, populations of the Delta smelt have plummeted to their lowest levels ever.

Prepare for the extinction of the Delta smelt in the wild. That’s what UC Davis fish biologist Peter Moyle told a group of scientists with the Delta Stewardship Council. He says the latest state trawl survey found very few fish in areas of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta where smelt normally gather.

Moyle: “That trawl survey came up with just six smelt, four females and two males, normally because they can target smelt, they would have gotten several hundred.”

Moyle says the population of Delta smelt has been declining for the last 30 years but the drought may have pushed the species to the point of no return. If the smelt is officially declared extinct, which could take several years, the declaration could change how water is managed in California.

Moyle: “All these biological opinions on Delta smelt that have restricted some of the pumping will have to be changed.”

But Moyle says pumping water from the Delta to Central and Southern California could still be restricted at certain times because of all the other threatened fish populations.  

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