3/17/2015: Countdown to Delta Species Extinction Confirmed in Latest Survey

State’s Decision to Suspend March Flows to the Bay – and Potentially in April and May - Could Doom Several Endangered Bay-Delta Fish Species
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – March 17, 2015 – Results from the latest fish population survey, posted last week by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, confirm that delta smelt are closer to extinction than ever before. Furthermore, the survey verified that the state’s controversial decision to suspend required flows to San Francisco Bay in March is robbing this species and other highly endangered fish of the Bay-Delta estuary of the last and best chance for survival.

Once among the most abundant resident fish in the estuary, delta smelt are now at an all-time low. The rapid loss of this species - found nowhere else in the world - is an indication of the well being of the entire Bay-Delta estuary.

Only six delta smelt were caught in the Spring Kodiak Trawl in March, the lowest number for this month on record. Monitoring from late 2014 found that in addition to delta smelt abundance being at an all-time low, abundance of longfin and starry flounder are at the second lowest levels ever recorded, and that 95% of juvenile winter-run Chinook salmon died before migrating from their spawning grounds to the ocean.

Earlier this month, The Bay Institute launched Countdown to Extinction, a campaign to draw attention to the increasing likelihood that we could lose a number of fish species native to the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary in 2015. Countdown to Extinction calls out the March through May timeframe as an ecologically critical period for many species which rely on adequate spring freshwater flows in Central Valley rivers and the estuary to survive and flourish.

But, due to the extreme drought, the state has suspended the water flows required in March that are critical for these species to survive. One reason is to keep enough cold water in storage to protect salmon habitat in the Sacramento River. However, this was also the reason given for last year’s suspension of Bay inflow, which nevertheless resulted in the loss of 95% of the 2014 class of the endangered winter-run Chinook salmon, as well as record or near-record population lows for Delta smelt, longfin, and flounder. 

We are now facing the possibility that the state will suspend requirements for Bay inflow in April and May as well. But it’s not too late to reverse this course. The state can still enforce the existing requirements and provide the necessary flows during the remainder of March and through the spring. This is the best – and only – option available in 2015 to preserve and protect the Delta smelt and other estuarine species that depend on adequate freshwater flows, and to help the remaining juvenile winter-run and other migrating salmon and steelhead make it through the estuary to the ocean. The Countdown to Extinction campaign asks the public to contact the State Water Board and urge them to enforce the protections and needed water flow for the survival of these fish species.

For more information and regular campaign updates, follow The Bay Institute’s Countdown to Extinction on www.thebayinstitute.org. 

About The Bay Institute:
The Bay Institute is a leader in protecting and restoring San Francisco Bay and the vast watershed that drains into it. For over 30 years, The Bay Institute has been developing and leading model scientific research, education, and advocacy programs to preserve the fish, wildlife, and habitats of the Bay, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the rivers and streams that feed into the estuary, and the nearshore coastal and ocean waters at its downstream end. 
Media Contact:
Gary Bobker | Program Director | bobker@bay.org | 415.272.6616
Mallory Johnson| Communications Manager| Mallory@bay.org | 415.623.5340