Little Fish in Big Trouble: The Bay Delta’s Longfin Smelt


Heavy rain brought relief to the people, plants and animals of California this past winter. The earth is soggy, farmers are looking at plentiful summer irrigation supplies, and rivers are full and flowing.

The recent rains also may have given the longfin smelt a reprieve from extinction… at least for a while.

The longfin smelt, Spirinchus thaleichthys, is among the many natives to the San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem that have been edging closer and closer to the brink of oblivion each year for a decade or two. The longfin is less famous, and a bit less imperiled, than its cousin the Delta smelt—that little fish that has unwittingly become a loaded political symbol in the fight over river water between farmers and environmentalists.

And while the Delta smelt is now about as close to being extinct as an extant species can be, something extraordinary happened this past winter for the longfin smelt: The fish successfully spawned in the southern reaches of San Francisco Bay, where scientists recently found larval-stage longfin smelt in sampling nets for the first time.

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