Smelt dealt a bad blow

Federal officials deny protections for longfin smelt

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Despite its drastic population decline in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in recent years, the longfin smelt was denied protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made the announcement last week amid foul cries from conservationists who’ve been working to protect the fragile species for several years.

Fish and Wildlife officials noted that the small species live in estuaries along the Pacific Coast from the Bay Area to Alaska. Because some of the Bay-Delta fish migrate into the ocean to breed, the agency said they do not meet the requirements for federal protections as a “distinct population segment.”

Longfin smelt grow up to five inches long. The fish are cousins to the Delta smelt—a slightly smaller species that is already listed as threatened under the ESA.

The only good news for conservationists—and the fish—is that federal officials also announced that they are seeking additional information for a broader assessment of the species that could lead to future action.