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Longfin Smelt – 2020

In a February 2020 post on the status of longfin smelt, I lamented the poor 2019 population index (Figure 1) and thus made a grim prediction for the future of the Bay-Delta sub-population of this state-listed endangered species.  The index in wet year 2019 should have been 10 times higher (one higher in log number).  Preliminary survey results suggest that the 2020 population index for longfin smelt will likely be as poor as those in 2018 and 2019.

In Figure 1 below, the 2020 index will likely show as a red 20 just above the red 14.  Most of the 2020 spawners came from the 2018 spawners (green 18 in Figure 1).  Like the 2018 spawn, the 2020 year class grew up in a drier year, upstream in Suisun Bay and the western Delta (Figure 2), as compared to a more western Bay distribution like wet year 2019 (Figure 3).

I am very concerned what will happen if winter 2021 stays dry and there are thus two dry water years in a row (2020 and 2021).  This would drive the 2021 production index down to 2015-16 levels.  Coupled with the absence of Fall-X2 flows in 2020 and the unusually low 2019 longfin index, a second straight dry year presents a serious threat to the population index in 2021 and future years.

Figure 2. Longfin smelt catch distribution in 2020 Survey 1 of 20-mm Survey. Delta outflow was 8,000-20,000 cfs. Source.

Figure 3. Longfin smelt catch distribution in 2019 Survey 1 of 20-mm Survey. Delta outflow was 160,000-180,000 cfs. Source.