Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Safer Fish: NOAA Lists Atlantic Sturgeon as Endangered

After years of disagreement, NOAA's Fisheries Service has decided to list the Atlantic sturgeon as an endangered species. The listing will include five distinct populations of the fish -- four are endangered, and one will be listed as threatened.

The action comes in response to an NRDC listing petition filed in 2009. Since 1998, the government has banned fishing for these ancient creatures -- they haven't changed much in 85 million years -- but recent studies have suggested the ban hasn't effectively protected them. Some scientists and advocates say the endangerment listing will be the extra push the fish need to rebound.

Sturgeon were overfished for years for their roe. As Bruce Stutz wrote in his story for OnEarth's winter 2012 issue, the actual populations of sturgeon are very hard to pin down. They can travel from their home rivers and bays up and down the coast for thousands of miles, making an accurate count difficult.

Still, it has become clear that even with the fishing ban in place, sturgeon could soon disappear. In its listing notice, NOAA wrote that prior to 1890 the Delaware River had more than 180,000 spawning females. Now? Probably less than 300, and spawning most likely occurs in only 20 of 38 rivers the fish used to occupy. Read More