Feds Stall as State Moves Forward on Increased Legal Protections for Endangered Delta Fish

For Immediate Release

The Bay Institute and Center for Biological Diversity
Contact: 

Jonathan Rosenfield, The Bay Institute, (510) 684-4757

Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185

Feds Stall as State Moves Forward on Increased Legal Protections for Endangered Delta Fish

SAN FRANCISCO - The Bay Institute and Center for Biological Diversity today filed a notice of
intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to make final
determinations on federal Endangered Species Act listing petitions submitted for
two critically imperiled San Francisco Bay-Delta fish species: longfin smelt and
delta smelt. Due to inaction by the Bush administration, which blocked
processing of the listing petitions, a final determination on the petition to
list the Bay-Delta population of longfin smelt is seven months overdue, and a
final determination on changing the status of
the delta smelt from threatened to endangered is two years
overdue.

"The
longfin smelt was once among the most abundant fish in the open waters of the
San Francisco
estuary, and they were an integral part of this ecosystem's food-web," said Dr.
Jonathan Rosenfield, conservation biologist at The Bay Institute. "The
precipitous decline of longfin smelt, its distant cousin delta smelt, green
sturgeon, steelhead, and two populations of Chinook salmon reveals an ecosystem
collapse brought about by mismanagement of our freshwater resources and lax
enforcement of our environmental laws."

"The
strong legal protections of the Endangered Species Act are needed to
force state and federal regulators to take actions to save our native fish,"
said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological
Diversity. "Unsustainable record water diversions from the Delta are driving
formerly abundant species at the base of the food chain to extinction and
crippling Central Valley salmon
runs."

Since
2000, the Bay-Delta longfin smelt population has fallen to unprecedented low
numbers. Since 2002, the delta smelt, a species already listed as threatened
under the state and federal endangered species acts, has plummeted to its lowest
population levels ever recorded. Numbers of delta smelt found in 2008 were the
lowest in 42 years of surveys.

The
conservation groups
petitioned for federal protection for the Bay-Delta longfin smelt population in
August 2007. In May 2008, the Fish and Wildlife Service made a positive 90-day
finding on the petition. The final listing determination was due in August 2008.
The conservation groups submitted a petition in 2006 to uplist the delta smelt's
federal status to endangered, a change necessary to compel fisheries agencies to
implement recommended actions to protect Delta habitat. A final listing
determination was due in March 2007. The Service made a positive 90-day finding
on the petition in July 2008.

"The
Bush administration deliberately delayed and blocked needed protections for
dozens of endangered species, including the longfin smelt," said Miller. "We're
hoping the Fish and Wildlife Service under the Obama administration will move
quickly to enact protections for the smelt and take steps to restore the Delta's
fisheries."

The
California Fish and Game Commission has responded somewhat more proactively to
state Endangered Species Act petitions submitted for the longfin and delta
smelt. Earlier
this month, the Commission voted to protect longfin smelt
(Spirinchus thaleichthys) as a threatened species under the
California Endangered Species Act and also changed the state protected status of
delta smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus) from threatened to
endangered.

"With present trends, the delta
smelt will go extinct soon if we do not ratchet up protections and protect its
habitat," said Miller. "Federal and state agencies are not only failing to
address the problem, but are moving forward with plans for diversions and
storage projects that will increase the threats and further degrade Delta
habitat."

The San
Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem, an ecologically important estuary and a major hub
for California's water system, is now
rapidly unraveling. Once-abundant fish species are in critical condition due to
record-high water diversions, pollutants, and harmful nonnative species that
thrive in degraded Delta habitat. Federal and state agencies have allowed record
levels of water diversions from the Delta in recent years, leaving insufficient
fresh water to sustain native fish and the Delta ecosystem.

Since
2002, scientists have documented catastrophic declines of delta smelt, longfin
smelt, threadfin shad, Sacramento splittail, and striped bass. The
state's largest salmon run of Central Valley
fall-run chinook is suffering from record decline. Federal fisheries managers
have cancelled commercial and recreational salmon fishing in California for the second
straight year due to low salmon returns. White and green sturgeon numbers in
San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento
River have also fallen to alarmingly low levels - the southern green
sturgeon population was federally listed as threatened in
2006.

Because
federal and state agencies have so mismanaged the Bay-Delta, California's largest and
most important estuary, courts have begun to order changes in water export
operations to protect fish populations. In 2007, an Alameda County court ruled that the California
Department of Water Resources had been illegally pumping water out of the Delta
without a permit to kill delta smelt and other fish species listed under the
California Endangered Species Act. A federal court also rejected a federal
"biological opinion" allowing high water exports and ordered reduced Delta
pumping. In 2008, a federal judge invalidated a water plan that would have
allowed more pumping from the San Francisco Bay-Delta at the expense of
protected salmon and steelhead trout.

For
more information:

Longfin
smelt: www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/fish/longfin_smelt/index.html

Delta
smelt: www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/fish/Delta_smelt/index.html

###

The Bay Institute is a nonprofit organization that works to protect and restore the ecosystems of San Francisco Bay, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and the rivers, streams, and watersheds tributary to the Estuary, using scientific research, public education, and advocacy.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with 200,000 members and online activists dedicated to protecting endangered species and wild places. www.biologicaldiversity.org

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