Protective Regulations Finalized for Southern Green Sturgeon

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

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

Protective Regulations Finalized for Southern Green Sturgeon

SAN FRANCISCO - The
National
Marine Fisheries Service today finalized Endangered Species Act
regulations to
protect the southern population of green sturgeon from "take" and other
harmful
activities. The take prohibitions 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 ancient and
imperiled
migratory fish species that has survived since the Jurassic
era.

"The
southern
green sturgeon population has fallen to precariously low numbers, and
these
regulations should help protect the few remaining spawning sturgeon from
the
Sacramento River from harm by water projects,
overfishing, and pesticides," said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate
with the
Center for Biological Diversity.

The new regulations,
created under
section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act, prohibit all unauthorized
"take" of
southern green sturgeon throughout their spawning and rearing range in
the
Sacramento, Feather, and lower Yuba rivers, as
well as in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and San Francisco Bay.
Because of the similarity of
appearance between southern and northern green sturgeon, any green
sturgeon in
marine environments, including the mouths of coastal rivers, estuaries,
and
marine waters in California, Oregon, and Washington, are protected from
take.

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 for as long as 70 years, reaching
7.5 feet
in length, and weighing as much as 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.

For
more
information about the
green sturgeon, visit:
www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/fish/North_American_green_sturgeon/index.html

Background

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 2009, the Fisheries Service
designated
broad areas of river, estuarine, bay, and coastal marine habitats in
California, Oregon, and
Washington as
critical habitat for the southern population of green
sturgeon.

Killing, injuring,
harassing,
hunting, capturing, or collecting green sturgeon without a federal
permit under
the Endangered Species Act are now activities considered "take,'' as is
harm
from significant habitat modification or degradation that impairs
sturgeon
breeding, spawning, rearing, migrating, feeding, or sheltering. The 4(d)
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. Exemptions to the 4(d) rule allow for continued tribal
fisheries,
scientific research and monitoring
activities, emergency rescue
and salvage activities, and habitat restoration projects that are not
considered
to threaten green sturgeon.

In order to comply with the
4(d)
rule, state commercial and recreational fisheries must submit fisheries
management and evaluation plans to the
federal Fisheries Service that prohibit retention of green sturgeon
(zero
bag limit), with measures to minimize incidental take of sturgeon. 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 will be required to develop tribal resource-management plans
for
sturgeon. 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 tribe 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 that of nontribal fisheries.

Like
salmon,
sturgeon are anadromous, migrating to the ocean and returning to
freshwater to
spawn. Only three known green sturgeon 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, with only an estimated 50 pairs of spawning fish remaining. Severe declines in both green and white sturgeon
parallel 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
introduced species.

###

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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