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REGION 8: Regional Director Steve Thompson Responds to Criticism of the Use of Hatcheries to Conserve Delta Smelt
California-Nevada Offices , July 13, 2008
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Bob Clarke, Region 8 Asst. Fisheries Program Manager
On June 30th, 2008,  The Sacramento Bee published an editorial entitled "Little fish, big bad idea" that called into question the value of using hatcheries to help recover the delta smelt, a listed fish that inhabits the Sacramento - San Joaquin River Delta.  California and Nevada Region Director Steve Thompson's response to the editorial was published in The Sacramento Bee July 13, 2008 and is reprinted below:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency charged with conservation of the nation's fish and wildlife, has used captive propagation to bring a number of species back from the brink, including the California condor, black-footed ferret, whooping crane, Lake Superior lake trout, Gila trout in New Mexico and winter-run Chinook salmon in the Sacramento Valley. A goal of the Fish and Wildlife Service is to restore fish populations to self-sustaining levels. We operate a national fish hatchery system of 70 facilities throughout the nation. Many of these facilities use the latest in aquaculture technology and genetic research to produce fish to help restore a number of imperiled and depleted species.

To be successful, restoring Delta smelt populations would also require improving its habitat in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. But, just as releasing Delta smelt into a degraded Delta will fail to restore them to self-sustaining levels, so will habitat restoration efforts fail if there are not enough fish to rebuild the population. Unfortunately, that is a very real possibility because current data suggest Delta smelt populations might already be so low that they cannot be recovered without supplementation.

If we are going to ensure there are enough Delta smelt when habitat conditions improve, we need to start a captive propagation program now. The Fish and Wildlife Service is working to build a new hatchery to help address the decline of Delta smelt and other species native to the Delta. This hatchery would manage a Delta smelt refuge population to help preserve genetic diversity, and it would provide a source of fish for supplementation in the event the wild population becomes too small to recover on its own.

Across the country, the Fish and Wildlife Service has dedicated biologists working to reverse declines of imperiled and depleted fish populations using captive propagation. Reversing the decline of Delta smelt would require management capabilities that include a state-of-the-art conservation hatchery. Captive propagation is not a "nutty" idea, it is a well-established conservation tool. Having that tool may mean the difference between successfully restoring the Delta smelt or watching it become extinct.

Steve Thompson

Contact Info: Scott Flaherty, , Scott_Flaherty@fws.gov



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