Biologist says Delta Smelt near Extinction

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A UC Davis fish biologist was startled by the extremely low number of delta smelt discovered in a recent survey.

Over the years we have seen federal pumping restrictions imposed to protect the delta smelt. But even less water has been available for delivery due to three years of drought.

The tiny delta smelt has been regarded as an indicator species for the health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Two weeks ago the US Fish and Wildlife Service surveyed the smelt population.

Fish biologist Peter Moyle said, "They caught just six smelt in some very intensive days of sampling. Four females and two males. That does not say much for the population."

Moyle said last year they found hundreds of delta smelt in a similar survey. "It tells you that the smelt populations are very close to extinction. These six smelt were caught in an area where they should have been catching them in large numbers. It's the spawning time."

But Manuel Cunha of the Nisei Farmers League said the survey didn't explain why the smelt numbers were low.

Cunha explained pumping wasn't the only factor, "The only thing they talk about is the pumps - we need to shut down the pumps. But there are a lot of other stressors. Biological stressors, other fish, water quality from the cities that are being dumped, not just the pumps."

Retired Fresno Federal Court Judge Oliver Wanger ruled on previous delta smelt decisions. He said even if the smelt was declared extinct in a few years delta pumping issues would remain because other species are also protected. Those species include chinook salmon, steelhead, longfin smelt and green sturgeon.

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