Feds Will Reevaluate Endangered Status of Longfin Smelt

For Immediate Release

Feds Will Reevaluate Endangered Status of Longfin Smelt

Latest Surveys Show Key San Francisco Bay-Delta Fish Species Remain at Record Low Numbers

SAN FRANCISCO - A
federal district court today approved a settlement agreement between the Center
for Biological Diversity, The Bay Institute and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
that requires the agency to reevaluate whether federal Endangered Species Act
protection is needed for the severely depleted longfin smelt, a native fish and
critical component of the food web in the beleaguered San Francisco Bay-Delta.
Recent state surveys show that longfin smelt and other native fish in the Bay
Delta remain at low numbers and indicate the ecosystem is in ecological
collapse.

"Endangered
Species Act protection is desperately needed for longfin smelt and other
formerly abundant fish in the San Francisco estuary that are being driven to
extinction by record water diversions from the Delta," said Jeff Miller, a
conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. "The new governor
should immediately cut excessive water exports that benefit subsidized corporate
agribusiness and sprawl development in Southern California while devastating our
native fish and once-healthy salmon runs."

"The data
clearly indicate that longfin smelt, which were once among the most abundant
forage fish in our estuary, are almost gone," said Dr. Jon Rosenfield,
conservation biologist with The Bay Institute. "Scientists agree that the San
Francisco population is uniquely important to the species as whole and to the
estuary's food web. The Service's flawed decision had no basis in the best
available science that the Endangered Species Act
requires."

The
conservation groups petitioned for Endangered Species Act protection for the
Bay-Delta population of longfin smelt in 2007. The Service, after an initial
positive review of the petition in 2008, initiated a formal "status review" for
the species, but in April 2009 improperly
denied federal listing. The Service determined that
longfin smelt in the Bay-Delta are not
a distinct population - a finding that was criticized
by leading scientific experts on longfin smelt as "incomprehensible" and contrary to science. In November
2009 the conservation groups challenged that finding in a lawsuit against the
Service. Prominent
native-fish experts have recommended an endangered
or threatened listing for longfin smelt.

The Service
has agreed to complete a rangewide status review of the longfin smelt and make a
new determination on whether Endangered Species Act protection is warranted by
Sept. 30, 2011. The Service will also consider whether the Bay-Delta or any
other longfin smelt population from California to Alaska qualifies as a
"distinct population" that warrants federal
protection.

 

Background

The
California Fish and Game Commission responded to a 2007 listing petition by
voting to protect the longfin smelt as a state threatened species under the
California Endangered Species Act in 2009. According to recent surveys in the
San Francisco Bay-Delta by the Department of Fish and Game, native, open-water
fish species remain at alarmingly low levels. The Fall Midwater Trawl Survey,
which has been ongoing since 1967, shows that although longfin smelt
(Spirinchus thaleichthys) numbers in the
Delta rebounded slightly in 2010, the species remains at low abundance and
continues to be imperiled. Longfin smelt and delta smelt were once among the
most abundant open-water fish in the estuary and are still an integral part of
the food web. In the past decade this important longfin smelt population has
fallen to unprecedented low numbers.

In addition
to catastrophic declines in longfin smelt, major declines of delta smelt,
threadfin shad, Sacramento splittail, and striped bass have been documented
since 2002. Despite an increased Delta smelt abundance index in 2010 - probably
the result of Endangered Species Act restrictions on water exports and improved
hydrological conditions last year - this species continues to teeter on the edge
of extinction. The Fall Midwater Trawl Survey caught zero Sacramento splittail
this year, and only two fish have been caught in the past four
years.

Major
factors in the loss of longfin smelt, Delta smelt and other native fish
populations in the Delta and Central Valley are the massive increases in water
diversions and Delta water exports, toxic chemicals and pesticides, and
disruption of the food web by invasive species. 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. Powerful agricultural
interests and the state of California have derailed biological opinions by the
federal Fisheries Service aimed at protecting Central
Valley chinook salmon, sturgeon, steelhead and Delta smelt and
promoted a peripheral canal and new dams to divert even more water from the
ravaged Delta ecosystem.

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The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to protecting endangered species and wild places. www.biologicaldiversity.org

The Bay Institute is the leader in protecting, restoring and inspiring conservation of San Francisco Bay and its watershed - from the Sierra to the sea. For 30 years, The Bay Institute has been developing and leading model scientific research, habitat restoration, education and advocacy programs to preserve California's most important natural resource. Learn more at www.bay.org.

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