(CN) – Federal protection of the tiny delta smelt, a 3-inch-long fish that inhabits California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary, does not violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the 9th Circuit ruled Friday.

The threatened fish, a California native that was once used for fishing bait but currently has no commercial value, has been the subject of much controversy of late, blamed by some for drying out the west side of the state’s Central Valley.

Delta smelt was first listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1993. In 2008, the agency issued a biological opinion finding that the operation of the Central Valley Project – which brings water from the state’s wetter north to its southern agriculture lands – was contributing to the decline of the species.

“We conclude that the ESA [Endangered Species Act] is ‘substantial[ly] relat[ed]’ to interstate commerce and, thus, the growers’ as applied challenge to ESA … fails.” – Judge Sidney Thomas

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