06 April 2015 | Center for Biological Diversity News Release
WASHINGTON— The National Marine Fisheries Service announced today that it will review the status of the St. John River population of shortnose sturgeon in New Brunswick, Canada, in response to a petition to end U.S. Endangered Species Act protection for this population of fish. The entire species of shortnose sturgeon is currently listed as endangered because of severe population declines due to overfishing, bycatch and destruction of the fish’s river habitat.
“Before protections are taken away from these prehistoric-looking fish, we have to be sure they won’t again be put on the path toward extinction,” said Mollie Matteson, senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s a positive sign that some sturgeon populations are beginning to recover but before the St. John sturgeon lose protection, scientists should conduct a full review of this population, something that hasn’t happened for decades.”
Shortnose sturgeon formerly occupied rivers and estuaries along the Atlantic seaboard from New Brunswick to northern Florida. The bony fish was driven to near-extinction by overfishing and is easily entangled or caught accidentally in other fisheries. Water diversions, dams, and development along rivers have also degraded shortnose sturgeon habitat and its water quality. It was placed on the endangered species list in 1967.
“There should be no rush in removing protections for any species that is coming back from the brink of extinction. The federal government ought to take a cautious and scientific approach to any plan that ends protection for shortnose sturgeon in the St. John River,” said Matteson.
According to today’s notice, the St. John River population appears to be stable, based on sampling in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and population estimates made in overwintering areas in 2005, 2009 and 2011. Other populations in the Hudson and Connecticut rivers are also showing improvement. The Lower Connecticut spawning population grew from 788 in 1991 to 1,750 in 2004. The Hudson River population is larger than the other 19 management populations combined. Due to fishing prohibitions and habitat protection efforts, estimated spawning fish numbers in the Hudson River increased dramatically from 5,837 in 1977 to 60,248 in 1996. Positive trends demonstrate the importance of protections and careful management of species.
The federal notice acknowledges that a federal court has found it unlawful for the government to segment a population of an endangered species solely for the purpose of removing Endangered Species Act protections. Therefore, the Center is calling on the government to review the entire species and use a systematic, range-wide approach.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
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