- Associated Press - Sunday, April 19, 2015

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - California’s drought appears to be taking a toll on a threatened fish species.

State officials found one delta smelt during a survey earlier this month of 40 sites in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, The Record of Stockton reported over the weekend (https://bit.ly/1OuAnhi). The survey by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife typically turns up dozens of smelt, and found 143 three years ago. It was conducted over four days.

The finger-long fish’s numbers, which have been in decline, are considered a measure of conditions in the delta. Experts say this year’s results were sad but not unexpected.

Less water in the delta because of the state’s ongoing drought creates saltier conditions. Delta smelt prefer fresher water to breed, and to find it, they tend to move farther east into areas where they are more likely to be killed by predators or water pumps or become exposed to pollution, The Record reported.

“The main hope now for the smelt is that some of these remaining fish spawned successfully and the young will survive for a year despite unfavorable conditions,” Peter Moyle, an expert on California’s native fish, told The Record.

The smelt has been the subject of numerous lawsuits over water distribution from the delta. Officials and water contractors say a proposed $25 billion twin-tunnel water project would reverse the decline of smelt and salmon by taking water in the north of the delta, on the Sacramento River. That would prevent the fish from traveling toward and getting caught up in the pumps in the south as they do today, they say.

Some environmentalists and delta activists counter the project will lead to further fish declines by syphoning even more water out of the estuary.

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Information from: The Record, https://www.recordnet.com/

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