Brinkmanship for Frail Smelt

By Joe Eaton

Delta smelt had a bad year in 2017. Although scientists are still analyzing the data, the message seems to be that strong freshwater flows alone are not sufficient to allow the population to increase. The resulting sense of urgency has led fish biologists to consider how cultured smelt, raised in hatcheries, could be used to supplement the wild population. “We’ve considered the cultured smelt as a lifeboat,” says California Department of Water Resources biologist Ted Sommer. “Now we’re figuring out how to launch that lifeboat.” A workshop in 2017 reinforced the need to learn how to use cultured smelt more effectively. The first step was a proof of concept experiment to see if they would survive in more natural conditions. “Exploring the suitability of techniques for deploying and perhaps eventually releasing Delta smelt into the wild is prudent,” says Interagency Ecological Program lead scientist Steven Culbertson.

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About the author

Joe Eaton writes about endangered and invasive species, climate and ecosystem science, environmental history, and water issues for ESTUARY. He is also "a semi-obsessive birder" whose pursuit of rarities has taken him to many of California's shores, wetlands, and sewage plants.