WASHINGTON-- The delta smelt is a nearly extinct freshwater fish that has become an icon of California's drought crisis. But Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz suggested on Saturday that state officials only need to play some romantic tunes to make the fish feel more inclined to mate.
“You put up a disco ball, you play some Barry White, you let nature take its course," the Texas senator said at the Republican Party Convention in Burlingame. "If you increase the population for fisheries, 20 percent, 30 percent, you ought to be able to go with sending that water on to the farms and ranches in California who need it. That’s a win-win.”
The tiny delta smelt was once extremely common in the San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, but its population has been decimated over the past few decades due to a lack of fresh water in its natural habitat. To keep what Cruz called the "little three-inch bait fish" from going extinct, the state has dumped more than a trillion gallons of fresh water into the ocean -- a move Cruz criticized as an unnecessary overreach of environmental policies during a massive drought.
“Now I am sure it drives our friends in the media crazy when I observe that, in my experience, three-inch fish go great with cheese and crackers,” Cruz said in his speech.
Scientists, however, note that the delta smelt is a significant part of its ecosystem. The struggling species is protected under the Endangered Species Act. Biologists say the decline in the smelt population is not because the fish lack libido, as Cruz suggests, but because of the detrimental effects global warming has had on California's climate and the state's mismanagement of the waning water supply.
"It's not just the delta smelt. Nearly every single native and non-native fish species is showing the same pattern," fish biologist Tina Swanson of the Natural Resources Defense Council told National Geographic. "To me, that is an excruciatingly clear indication that our management of the environment in which they live — the delta and upper bay — is insufficiently protective."