More bad news for Delta smelt

No surprise here, but an annual spring survey that is an important indicator of the Delta smelt’s ability to spawn shows the species has hit another record low.

Read the ugly details here.

“I am not optimistic that the smelt can make it through the next year or two. Love to be proved wrong,” California native fish expert Peter Moyle said in an email today after reviewing the survey results from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The spring survey estimates the population of adult smelt, which gives us some idea how many smelt have the potential to spawn. Most Delta smelt live just one year, so it’s critical that there are enough fish each spring that they can find each other and take care of business.

Alas, this spring’s population index — a number that represents the estimated population — is a mere 1.8. That’s less than 10 percent of last year’s index (which, by the way, was also a record low). The index is down from 130 in 2012, which was actually a pretty decent year because it was so wet (a rarity in California over the past decade).

In raw numbers, 13 fish were found at eight collection stations this spring. Eighty-eight fish were found last year, and the average catch going back more than a decade is 311 fish.

These are not superficial surveys. Crews sample 40 stations across the Delta once a month, usually spending about four or five days to get the work done. They use a 25-foot-wide net to catch the fish.

While the smelt — as Donald Trump recently pointed out — are small and seemingly insignificant, scientists consider the fish to be an indicator of the estuary’s overall health.

The last Delta species to go extinct was the thicktail chub, last seen in 1957.

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