Baykeeper Update

Dredging Doesn’t Have to Kill Endangered Wildlife

If you’ve spent time on San Francisco Bay you’ve probably seen dredging in action in the form of large barges scooping up mud from the Bay floor. Dredgers perform an essential function: they clear channels for large ships to keep them from getting stuck in the Bay’s shallow waters.

But there’s a problem. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which performs about 70% of dredging in the Bay, uses hydraulic dredging technology.  This highly destructive method vacuums up sediment – and everything else it encounters – from the Bay floor.

And in sensitive habitat areas, hydraulic dredging kills large numbers of Bay fish, including delta and longfin smelt, both of which are on the brink of extinction. According to the Army Corps’ own analysis, their dredging killed up to 29% of the delta smelt population and 8% of the longfin smelt population in the Bay.

So Baykeeper is taking action to require the Army Corps to improve their dredging practices to stop harming fish and wildlife.


“There’s absolutely no need to kill wildlife to create safe shipping channels,” says Baykeeper Managing Attorney Erica Maharg. “Plenty of dredging operations use equipment that’s more protective of fish. The Army Corps should use those safer tools whenever possible, too.” 

To stop harmful hydraulic dredging, Baykeeper analyzed and presented scientific data to regional agencies and advocated for better dredging practices in the Bay. In 2015, Baykeeper followed up by filing a lawsuit to compel the government to require improvements in Bay dredging technology. And we’ll continue to stand up in court to ensure fish and other wildlife are protected in the sensitive habitats of San Francisco Bay.   

Pictured above: a dredger at Alameda Point. This dredger is using a more fish-friendly design that Baykeeper is advocating the Army Corps adopt when operating in sensitive habitat. Photo by Richard Bangert.