Delta smelt: the tiny fish caught in California’s war with Trump

The Guardian –

Harbingers of a diminishing ecosystem, the smelt are almost extinct. Now, forces within the Trump administration could usher them into oblivion

“Cache Slough right here had been known as a hotspot for delta smelt,” he says. But it’s been four years since Durand and his team of researchers from the University of California, Davis, have found the finger-length fish that gleam golden and “smell kind of like cucumber” in the brackish streams and sloughs of northern California’s bay delta.

Does he think we’ll see any today? Durand chuckles and combs his fingers through his white goatee.

“It’s funny, because the smelt are a small fish, and now they’re a rare fish, but they still loom large over all our environmental and water policies,” he adds. “It’s a lot to put on a little fish.”

For conservationists and ecologists like Durand, the delta smelt are harbingers, their diminishing numbers a signal that the delta’s ecosystem is dangerously close to collapse. For California farmers with thousands of acres to irrigate and millions of dollars on the lines, the smelt are in the way – the state listed the species as endangered in 2009, and in effect constrained how much water can be pulled from the delta.

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