The San Francisco Estuary is critical habitat for delta smelt Hypomesus transpacificus, a fish whose abundance has declined greatly since 1983 and is now listed as threatened. In addition, the estuary receives drainage from the Central Valley, an urban and agricultural region with intense and diverse pesticide usage. One possible factor of the delta smelt population decline is pesticide toxicity during vulnerable larval and juvenile stages, but pesticide concentrations are not well characterized in delta smelt spawning and nursery habitat. The objective of this study was to estimate the potential exposure of delta smelt during their early life stages to dissolved pesticides. For 3 years (1998-2000), water samples from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta were collected during April-June in coordination with the California Department of Fish and Game's delta smelt early life stage monitoring program. Samples were analyzed for pesticides using solid-phase extraction and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. Water samples contained multiple pesticides, ranging from 2 to 14 pesticides in each sample. In both 1999 and 2000, elevated concentrations of pesticides overlapped in time and space with peak densities of larval and juvenile delta smelt. In contrast, high spring outflows in 1998 transported delta smelt away from the pesticide sampling sites so that exposure could not be estimated. During 2 years, larval and juvenile delta smelt were potentially exposed to a complex mixture of pesticides for a minimum of 2-3 weeks. Although the measured concentrations were well below short-term (96-h) LC50 values for individual pesticides, the combination of multiple pesticides and lengthy exposure duration could potentially have lethal or sublethal effects on delta smelt, especially during early larval development.
Additional publication details
Potential exposure of larval and juvenile delta smelt to dissolved pesticides in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, California