The California Fish and Game Commission today officially qualified two species of freshwater fish for special protection under the California Endangered Species Act.
The Commission listed the delta smelt as “endangered” and the longfin smelt as “threatened,” a lesser classification. Both are denizens of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and have long been at the center of controversy over water diversions from the Delta. According to the San Francisco-based Center for Biological Diversity:
“The San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary is home to the largest and southernmost self-sustaining population of longfin smelt. Longfin smelt populations that inhabit the estuaries and lower reaches of Humboldt Bay and the Klamath River have also declined and may now be extinct. Since 2000, the Bay-Delta longfin smelt population has fallen to unprecedented low numbers. Since 2002, the delta smelt has plummeted to its lowest population levels ever recorded.”
CBD was among the environmental groups that petitioned the state for listing of the longfin in 2007. Delta smelt have been protected as a “threatened” species since last year but today that designation was escalated to “endangered.” The Center has also petitioned for–but has yet to attain–federal listing for both species by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
The listing could have major implications for water supplies this year. Court decisions in favor of the fishes have already forced reductions in water pumped out of the Delta for diversion to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. The rulings have prompted some to characterize subsequent reduced water deliveries as a “regulatory drought.”