Protective Regulations Proposed for Ancient, Imperiled Southern Green Sturgeon

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185

Protective Regulations Proposed for Ancient, Imperiled Southern Green Sturgeon

SAN FRANCISCO - The National
Marine Fisheries Service today proposed regulations under section 4(d) of the
Endangered Species Act to protect the southern population of green sturgeon from
"take" and other harmful activities. These take prohibitions would make it
unlawful to kill or harm southern green sturgeon and could require changes in
operations of dams and water diversions, commercial and recreational fisheries,
dredging operations, and pesticide applications to protect the green sturgeon,
an imperiled migratory fish that has survived since the
Pleistocene.

"We strongly support the proposed
take regulations, which are urgently needed to ensure rare green sturgeon are
not killed or harmed by water projects, overfishing, or pesticides," said Jeff
Miller, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity.
"Recent surveys have shown some of the lowest recorded numbers of spawning green
sturgeon in the Sacramento
River. With so few southern sturgeon left and the San
Francisco Bay-Delta food web they depend upon unraveling, comprehensive
protection from take is critical for the recovery of this ancient
fish."

The proposed 4(d) rule would
prohibit all unauthorized "take" of southern green sturgeon throughout their
spawning and rearing range in the Sacramento, Feather, and lower Yuba rivers,
the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and San Francisco Bay, and coastal rivers,
estuaries, and marine waters inhabited by sturgeon throughout California,
Oregon, and Washington. ‘‘Take'' includes killing, injuring, harassment,
hunting, capture, or collecting, as well as harm from significant habitat
modification or degradation that impairs breeding, spawning, rearing, migrating,
feeding, or sheltering. Exemptions would allow for tribal fisheries, scientific research and monitoring
activities, emergency rescue
and salvage activities, and habitat restoration
projects.

The rule discusses specific
activities likely to take or harm green sturgeon, including commercial and
recreational fisheries, habitat-altering activities, impeded migration from dams
and water diversions, entrainment during water diversions or dredging,
application of pesticides and pollutants, and nonnative species
introductions.

In order to comply with the 4(d)
rule, state commercial and recreational fisheries would have to submit a
Fisheries Management and Evaluation Plan to the Fisheries Service that prohibits
retention of green sturgeon (zero bag limit), includes measures to minimize
incidental take of green sturgeon, and ensures the fishery will not
significantly reduce the likelihood of survival or recovery of the southern
sturgeon population. In 2007, California and Washington revised fishing regulations to
prohibit retention of green sturgeon, and Oregon prohibited retention of green sturgeon
in lower Columbia
River recreational fisheries. For commercial fisheries,
the retention of green sturgeon has been prohibited in the Columbia River since
2006 and statewide in Washington since 2007.
California has
prohibited commercial fishing for sturgeon since 1917.

American Indian fisheries for green
sturgeon would be required to develop tribal resource-management plans for the
fish. The only tribal take of southern green sturgeon is as bycatch in salmon
and white sturgeon fisheries conducted by the Quinault Tribe in coastal
Washington waters. In
2006 the Quinault implemented zero retention of green sturgeon for their
Grays Harbor
fishery. The Yurok and Hoopa tribes harvest green sturgeon in the Klamath River
in California, but most
fish are believed to be from the northern population, which is not federally
protected. Overall, the take of green sturgeon in tribal fisheries has been low
compared to non-tribal fisheries.

In response to a 2001 Center listing
petition and a subsequent lawsuit, the Fisheries Service in 2006 listed the
southern green sturgeon population - fish in the San Francisco Bay and Delta
that spawn in the Sacramento River basin, but migrate along much of the west
coast from Mexico to Canada - as a threatened species under the Endangered
Species Act. In September 2008 the Fisheries Service proposed designating areas
of river, estuarine, bay, and coastal marine habitats in California, Oregon, and Washington as critical
habitat for the southern population of green sturgeon. The proposal included 325
miles of freshwater-river spawning habitat in the Sacramento, lower Feather, and lower Yuba
rivers; more than 1,000 square miles of estuarine and bay habitats in the
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and other bays and estuaries in California, Oregon, and Washington; and almost
12,000 square miles of coastal marine habitat from Monterey Bay, Calif., to Cape
Flattery, Wash.

The green sturgeon, Acipenser
medirostris
, is one of the most
ancient fish species in the world, remaining unchanged in appearance since it
first emerged 200 million years ago. Green sturgeon are among the largest and
longest-living fish species found in freshwater, living up to 70 years, reaching
7.5 feet in length, and weighing up to 350 pounds. Sturgeon have a prehistoric appearance, with a skeleton
consisting of mostly cartilage and rows of bony plates for scales. They have
snouts like shovels and mouths like vacuum cleaners that are used to siphon
shrimp and other food from sandy depths.

Like salmon, sturgeon are
anadromous, migrating to the ocean and returning to freshwater to spawn. Only
three known spawning grounds remain, in the Sacramento and Klamath rivers in California and the Rogue
River in Oregon. Between four
and seven spawning populations have already been eliminated in California and Oregon. The estimated
abundance of green sturgeon in the Sacramento River plummeted by 95 percent between 2001 and
2006. Severe declines in both green and white
sturgeon come as scientists have documented the collapse of other fish
species in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, such as
delta smelt, longfin smelt, Sacramento splittail, threadfin shad and
striped bass, due to the combined effects of Delta water diversions and exports,
pesticides and pollution, and impacts of introduced species on the Delta's
planktonic food web. Copepods that sustain the Delta
food chain and are a food source for green sturgeon have fallen to the lowest
levels ever recorded.

View the proposed take prohibitions
at: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/E9-11945.htm

For more information about the green sturgeon
visit:

www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/fish/North_American_green_sturgeon/index.html

 

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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