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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Considerations for the Use of Captive-Reared Delta Smelt for Species Recovery and Research


An extreme decline in Delta Smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus) abundance has led to a number of management actions to support this endangered species, including the development and refinement of culture techniques and the creation of a refuge population. The wild Delta Smelt population has diminished to the point that many in the scientific community believe population supplementation using cultured fish needs to be experimentally evaluated as a possible management tool. Concerns about supplementation include the effectiveness of this action, and its potential to divert attention and funding from other needed management actions such as habitat restoration. Here, we describe the outcomes of a 2-day workshop that described the current refuge population, and identified key issues for potential future use of cultured Delta Smelt for research and management. Expanded use of cultured Delta Smelt is controversial and requires consideration for complexities that include legal constraints and permitting requirements. Developing policies that allow for in situ experiments using cultured Delta Smelt appears to be a precursor for advancing policies that might allow supplementation actions. Releases of cultured fish, either experimentally or as a management action, clearly need to be conducted within an adaptive management program that is integrated with other strategies, including habitat restoration. We describe a general framework for evaluating the potential risks of supplementation and include suggestions for how to reduce risks and uncertainty. Overall, we conclude there is sufficient baseline information about Delta Smelt and the existing culture program to proceed with targeted field research that utilizes cultured fish. Finally, given the dire status of this species, we conclude that rapid progress toward the development of a viable and testable supplementation program must be a priority for Delta Smelt conservation.

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