Study of the biology of night smelt (Spirinchus starksi) in Humboldt and Del Norte counties

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Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture

Night smelt, Spirinchus starksi, is an ecologically, economically and culturally important forage fish that occurs from Central California to Southeast Alaska. The species is a vital part of regional food webs, a significant prey item for marine mammals, birds and other commercially important fish such as Chinook salmon. In California it is fished commercially, recreationally and for subsistence, primarily in Humboldt and Del Norte counties. However, despite the importance of night smelt, very little is known about its biology and ecology, and there are no criteria to identify when this fishery is overfished or in decline. 

This study aims to address several key information gaps in night smelt biology, and would provide managers with valuable tools for future management decision-making. The researchers plan to collect, identify and describe larvae using genetic techniques and to estimate the abundance, length, weight and age of adult fish, along with environmental parameters. 

In California, night smelt are managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). In this project the researchers will collaborate with resource managers and scientists at CDFW, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center, and multiple Tribes and Tribal networks. Because of this collaboration, all information from this study will be immediately available to fisheries managers. The project will also include a day-long workshop to exchange information and provide training in sampling and aging, which would allow state agencies and Tribal nations to conduct their own analyses.