As a young biologist in the 1970s, Peter Moyle remembers towing nets behind boats in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and catching 50 to 100 translucent, finger-length smelt in a matter of minutes.
Moyle doesn’t see those days coming back.
“I think extinction is imminent the way things are going,” said Moyle, a prominent UC Davis fisheries biologist.
State biologists have found hardly any Delta smelt in their sampling nets in the past two years. Consecutive surveys in late April and early May found no smelt at all.
Those results don’t mean the smelt have completely vanished. But biologists say the California Department of Fish and Wildlife surveys provide disappointing evidence that the critically endangered fish are edging closer to extinction. The hope was the fish would show signs of recovery after three comparatively wet winters, including the drought-ending record rains of 2017.