California Outdoors Q&A

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  • February 8, 2024
Delta smelt seen in person's hand

Delta Smelt Experiment

Q: What’s the latest on CDFW’s experiment with the Delta smelt population?

A: CDFW continues to work alongside several partner agencies to learn more about the decline of Delta smelt and what might be possible to aid in the survival of the endangered species.

The Delta Smelt Experimental Release Study involves releasing 90,000 laboratory-raised fish into the Delta this season to determine which methods prove the most effective at production, tagging, transport and release of the fish into the wild. Learning which plan works best could someday help to supplement the population with a goal of aiding in the recovery of the species.

While being raised in captivity, each fish is marked by hand with an adipose fin clip or a fluorescent tag. A particular color indicates to scientists the date, location and experimental method of the release.

Recently 32 metal 20-gallon containers were filled with 200 Delta smelt and emptied directly into the Sacramento River into a specially designed submerged cage. The cage provided a safe environment while the fish adjusted to the river temperature and their new surroundings before they were fully released a few hours later into the river. Through Delta smelt monitoring surveys that are conducted routinely each year, CDFW can learn about their health and survivability.

“Last year was the first time we were able to uniquely mark fish from different experimental release events and get decent numbers of adult fish recaptured in our monitoring surveys,” said CDFW Environmental Program Manager Dr. James Hobbs. “We’re releasing adult fish just before the spawning season, and we’re hoping these fish will meet up and produce the next generations.”

Unfortunately, the same factors responsible for the near disappearance of the fish are still present including a less than reliable flow of freshwater, low food productivity, loss of wetland habitats, predation by non-native species and other reasons. But scientists say the experiment is showing some positive results with survival and recovery of released adults.

Apprentice Hunts

Q: What program does CDFW have that offers hunting instruction for beginners or young people?

A: CDFW has apprentice and special hunts that are designed to involve groups not traditionally experienced with hunting opportunities. The hunts are intended for first time or novice-level hunters, with a strong emphasis on hunter education principles and ethics while developing hunting and shooting skills.

Pen-raised pheasants allow for these hunts to happen in locations featuring easy walking, safe shooting and adequate open space for participants to spread out. These birds present a larger and slower moving target than wild birds, allowing more time to follow direction from their CDFW escort and practice safe shooting skills.

CDFW currently holds about 65 apprentice hunts each year. Junior hunts, women’s hunts, family hunts and mobility impaired hunts all fall under the description of apprentice hunts.

Apprentice hunters must possess a valid California hunting license and upland game bird stamp or validation and participants are selected through a random drawing process.

Further information on apprentice and special hunts are at CDFW Apprentice Hunts.

Bighorn Sheep Survey

Q: What does CDFW do with the information gathered at the bighorn sheep survey in Southern California?

A: CDFW organizes a survey each year to determine the number of bighorn sheep in the San Gabriel Mountains of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.

After receiving specialized training on how to classify the sex and age of bighorn sheep, some 150 volunteers break into small groups that spend most of the day hiking and looking for bighorn sheep.

Volunteer observations help CDFW calculate population estimates that assist the department in monitoring the health and long-term sustainability of this unique population of desert bighorn sheep that occupies high-elevation habitat.

Volunteer assistance is welcome because the areas being surveyed are large, widespread and in some cases very rugged. Volunteers using binoculars or a spotting scope greatly aid CDFW in accomplishing the survey’s goals.

Participants must be at least 16 years of age and be capable of hiking up to five miles in mountain terrain. Volunteers for the March 3, 2024 event can sign up here: Bighorn Sheep Survey Form.

Categories: General