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California longfin smelt not considered endangered by feds

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday announced that the longfin smelt, a fish native to the Delta, does not warrant Endangered Species Act protection.

The agency said there is inadequate evidence that the longfin is genetically distinct from other fish of its kind. But it is launching a status review of the species to find out.

Environmental groups petitioned the service in 2007 to protect the 5-inch longfin, which is in steep decline in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta along with eight other fish species.

The longfin is slightly larger than the Delta smelt, already listed as threatened under federal law. It is also known to venture into the Pacific Ocean, unlike the Delta smelt, which spends its entire life in the Sacramento–San Joaquin estuary. Both are considered important indicators of ecosystem health.

Wildlife Service spokesman Al Donner said biologists know the longfin drifts north on ocean currents as far as Alaska and may breed with other longfin populations. But no one knows if the Delta's longfin ever return or whether they are genetically unique, he said.

Only one genetic study has been done on the populations, Donner said. It dates to 1995, and examined a lake–bound longfin population in Washington state, not one that ventures into the ocean.

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