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For Immediate Release , February 7, 2008

Contact: Tina Swanson, The Bay Institute, (530) 756-9021, cell (415) 272-4501
Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, cell (510) 499-9185
Kate Poole, Natural Resources Defense Council, (415) 875-6100

California Moves Toward State Endangered Species
Status for Depleted Longfin Smelt

Species Afforded Candidate Status and Emergency Protective Regulations;
Bay-Delta Population Has Plummeted to Record Low Numbers

SAN FRANCISCO– The California Fish and Game Commission today voted 3-0 to designate the longfin smelt (Spirinchus thaleichthys), a native fish that has dropped to record low numbers in the San Francisco Bay-Delta and is nearing extinction in other northern California estuaries, as a candidate species. This is the first step toward a formal listing as an endangered or threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act.

The Commission also voted to adopt interim regulations to protect longfin smelt that will require water mangers to reduce water exports from the Delta when longfin smelt are present in areas where they could be killed at the State Water Project and Central Valley Project pumps. These regulations go above and beyond the recent Kempthorne decision by Judge Wanger reducing Delta water exports to protect delta smelt.

“The collapse of the longfin smelt is another alarming indication that the Bay-Delta ecosystem is in critical condition,” said Dr. Tina Swanson, senior scientist for The Bay Institute. ”But what makes it worse is that this collapse was entirely predictable. We know what the problems are in this estuary and yet, year after year, the state, federal and local resource managers responsible for protecting our fish and wildlife have ignored the science and let conditions deteriorate to the point where, now, another species teeters on the brink of extinction.”

Longfin smelt were once one of the most abundant open-water fishes in the San Francisco Bay-Delta and other northern California estuaries, and a central component of the food web that sustained other commercially important species. In 2007, following decades of decline, the Bay-Delta longfin smelt population fell to unprecedented low numbers. The abundance index measured from fall 2007 trawl surveys conducted by the California Department of Fish and Game was the lowest ever recorded since regular surveys began in 1967 and more than 80 percent lower than the previous record low. Three of the five lowest longfin smelt abundance indices from the fall trawl surveys have occurred since 2004.

“Mismanagement of the Bay-Delta and outrageous levels of fresh water diversions have helped push the ecosystem toward collapse and our native fish to the edge of extinction,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Delta smelt, longfin smelt, and Sacramento splittail populations have bottomed out, and Central Valley runs of salmon and green sturgeon are near record lows.”

Longfin smelt have declined due to many of the same degraded environmental conditions that caused the collapse of the Delta smelt: reduced freshwater inflow to the estuary because of massive water diversions; loss of fish at agricultural, urban, and industrial water diversions; impacts of nonnative species on food supply and habitat; and the effects of pesticides and toxic chemicals.

The San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary is home to the largest and southernmost self-sustaining population of longfin smelt. Populations that once occupied the estuaries and lower reaches of Humboldt Bay and the Klamath River have also declined and may now be extinct.

The Bay Institute, Center for Biological Diversity, and Natural Resources Defense Council petitioned for both state and federal endangered species protection for the longfin smelt in August 2007. The Commission today determined that the petition contained sufficient information to indicate that listing may be warranted. The longfin smelt is now designated as a candidate species, which is afforded many of the legal protections of endangered or threatened species, while a status review is conducted. A final listing determination is due in August.

“The realization is finally dawning on some water managers that we need a healthy Delta if we’re going to continue to rely on it to provide 22 million Californians with clean drinking water,” said Kate Poole, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Restoring the Delta’s fisheries, including the longfin smelt, will help us to revive the ailing estuary so that it can continue to sustain us and future generations of Californians.”

The conservation groups also petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Bay-Delta population of longfin smelt under the federal Endangered Species Act in August 2007. The Service has failed to respond to the petition. The Delta smelt, a species already listed under state and federal Endangered Species Acts, recently plummeted to the lowest population levels ever recorded. The conservation groups submitted petitions in 2006 and early 2007 to the Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Commission to up-list the delta smelt's federal and state status to endangered, a change necessary to compel fisheries agencies to implement recommended actions to protect Delta habitat for the smelt. Though the state is making progress toward listing, the federal government is dragging its feet.

More on longfin smelt at www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/fish/longfin_smelt/index.html

The Bay Institute is a nonprofit organization that works to protect and restore the ecosystems of San Francisco Bay, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and the rivers, streams, and watersheds tributary to the Estuary, using a combination of scientific research, public education, and advocacy.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 40,000 members dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment.

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