By Ramona Young-Grindle
WASHINGTON (CN) - The National Marine Fisheries Service has finalized endangered listing status for five species of sturgeon under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). No critical habitat is designated for the fish because they are all outside U.S. jurisdiction, the agency said.
In 2012, the WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals petitioned the NMFS to list 15 species of sturgeon. Only five of the petitioned species were determined to be under the marine agency's jurisdiction, with the other ten falling under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because they are "not marine or anodromous," the action said. Anodromous species migrate from the sea up rivers to spawn.
The Adriatic sturgeon, the European sturgeon, the Chinese sturgeon, and the Sakhalin sturgeon and Kaluga sturgeon from the Amur River Basin/Sea of Japan/Sea of Okhotsk region have all been assessed to be at extremely high risk of extinction. "The extinction risk analysis team found all five species to be at high risk of extinction in the present, with median votes for each team member at or above 80 percent probability of being currently in danger of extinction for each species," according to the final rule.
Taylor Jones of the WildEarth Guardians blamed the caviar trade in the group's statement regarding the listing proposal last year as a significant cause for the population declines. However, the NMFS maintains that while caviar harvesting in the past resulted in historic decimation of populations from which the species have never fully recovered, and that even though some caviar harvesting still occurs, the fish currently face other more significant ongoing threats to their survival. The fish are increasingly harvested for their meat and for their use in medical and health products. Poaching and bycatch from other fisheries, and habitat loss from dams and pollution are also contributing factors to the population declines. Additionally, the species' breeding behaviors add to the extinction risk.
"Sturgeon reproduce slowly, and many species require decades to reach maturity. Sturgeon do not spawn every year, and males and females often have different spawning and migration cycles, making reproduction even less certain," the WildEarth Guardians noted in their statement.
Sturgeon can live up to 50 years, can reach lengths up to 20 feet and can weigh over a ton. They are bottom-feeders and use their whiskery "barbels" under the chin as sensory organs. Like sharks, they also use an electrosensory system for feeding.
Listing under the ESA is projected "to increase public awareness of the effects of this listing on proposed and ongoing activities within the species' range," the agency said. Harming the fish within the United States or its territorial seas, possessing or shipping sturgeon parts or selling any part "except antique articles at least 100 years old," are all prohibited activities under the act. Importing is also prohibited, as is releasing captive sturgeon into the wild. In addition to the risk to the animal of releasing it, there is a danger that captive animals can introduce disease to wild populations or result in "inappropriate genetic mixing," the rule said.
The final rule is effective July 2, 2014.