SOURCE: CA Department of Water Resources

November 14, 2008 16:10 ET

DWR Director Responds to Longfin Smelt Decision

SACRAMENTO, CA--(Marketwire - November 14, 2008) - Department of Water Resources (DWR) Director Lester A. Snow released the following statement after the California Fish and Game Commission implemented take regulations to protect longfin smelt:

"Following two years of extreme drought, additional pumping cutbacks are possible as a result of today's Fish and Game Commission's action and could create a water supply and delivery crisis the likes of which Californians have not seen in decades.

"This situation further underscores the state's urgent need to invest in our water systems, including more storage, improved conveyance, conservation and a long term strategy for the Delta. The time for action is now."

DWR estimates the emergency regulations have the potential to reduce state and federal water project deliveries up to 1.1 million acre feet, or an additional 17 percent in an average water year. This is in addition to the existing export restrictions already in place as a result of a federal court decision to protect Delta smelt.

DWR had asked the commission to extend incidental take authority of the longfin smelt adopted under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) and include proposed revisions to help assure that DWR would only be required to mitigate impacts caused by the State Water Project. The commission rejected this proposal and instead adopted the regulation that authorizes take but includes additional measures for the protection of adult, larval, and juvenile longfin smelt.

Longfin Smelt

Longfin smelt are pelagic, estuarine fish that range from Monterey Bay northward to Alaska. In California, they have been commonly collected from San Francisco Bay, the Eel River, Humboldt Bay and the Klamath River. Presently, the only California collections made in the 1990s have been from the Klamath River and San Francisco Bay. Longfin smelt reach a maximum size of about 150 mm and comprise a small portion of the "whitebait" fishery in San Francisco Bay. They have no sport fishery value.

Maturity is reached toward the end of their second year. As they mature in the fall, adults found throughout San Francisco Bay migrate to brackish or freshwater in Suisun Bay, Montezuma Slough, and the lower reaches of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. Spawning probably takes place in freshwater.

In April and May, juveniles are believed to migrate downstream to San Pablo Bay. Juvenile longfin smelt are collected throughout the Bay during the late spring, summer and fall.

Longfin smelt have been listed as a candidate species under the CESA by the Fish and Game Commission. Candidate species receive take protection until a decision is made by the commission to list them as endangered or threatened or to not list them. The commission is expected to make a final listing decision in March 2009. Longfin smelt are not a protected species under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The Department of Water Resources operates and maintains the State Water Project, provides dam safety and flood control and inspection services, assists local water districts in water management and water conservation planning, and plans for future statewide water needs.

Contact the DWR Public Affairs Office for more information about DWR's water activities.