Life History and Status of Delta Smelt in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Estuary, California

TitleLife History and Status of Delta Smelt in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Estuary, California
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1992
AuthorsMoyle, P. B., Herbold B., Stevens D. E., & Miller L. W.
JournalTransactions of the American Fisheries Society
AbstractThe delta smelt Hypomesus transpacificus is endemic to the upper Sacramento-San Joaquin estuary. It is closely associated with the freshwater-saltwater mixing zone except when it spawns in fresh water, primarily during March, April, and May. The delta smelt feeds on zooplankton, principally copepods. Its dominant prey was the native copepod Eurytemora affinis in 1972–1974 but the exotic copepod Pseudodiaptomus forbesi in 1988. Because the delta smelt has a 1-year life cycle and low fecundity (mean, 1,907 eggs/female), it is particularly sensitive to changes in estuarine conditions. Tow-net and midwater trawl samples taken from 1959 through 1981 throughout the delta smelt's range showed wide year-to-year fluctuations in population densities. Surveys encompassing different areas showed declines in different years between 1980 and 1983. After 1983, however, all studies have shown that the populations remained at very low densities throughout most of the range, The recent decline of delta smelt coincides with an increase in the diversion of inflowing water during a period of extended drought. These conditions have restricted the mixing zone to a relatively small area of deep river channels and, presumably, have increased the entrainment of delta smelt into water diversions. Restoration of the delta smelt to a sustainable population size is likely to require maintenance of the mixing zone in Suisun Bay and maintenance of net seaward flows in the lower San Joaquin River during the period when larvae are present.