Wednesday October 12, 2022

Sierra Sun Times

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week proposed protecting the San Francisco Bay population of longfin smelt as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The formerly abundant native fish has seen its population plummet in recent decades.

Today’s announcement follows a petition and three lawsuits filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and San Francisco Baykeeper on behalf of the fish. The agency delayed identification and protection of critical habitat, which will require future action by the groups.

“Our local longfin smelt population is particularly sensitive to changes in the volume of fresh water flowing into San Francisco Bay,” said Jon Rosenfield, Ph.D., senior scientist for San Francisco Baykeeper and a recognized expert on longfin smelt ecology. “The longfin smelt’s catastrophic decline is yet another sign that water diversions from the rivers that feed the bay are unsustainable. Protections for this endangered species have been denied for almost 30 years — now federal and state governments must act quickly to implement new safeguards for this unique species, as well as for the rest of San Francisco Bay’s native fish and wildlife.”

Longfin smelt were once one of the most abundant fishes in the San Francisco Bay estuary, which includes the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. They’re a key part of the food web, acting as a prey base that supports commercial and recreational fisheries and wildlife. But annual state surveys show that longfin smelt in San Francisco Bay have been at or near record low abundance almost every year since 2007, and the species is nearly undetectable in other Northern California estuaries.

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