NRDC’s Petition to List Atlantic Sturgeon as Endangered Clears First Hurdle

The federal government said today that it will consider placing the prehistoric-looking Atlantic sturgeon – which can grow up to 14 feet long, weigh over 800 pounds, and have armor-like plates protruding from much of their body – on its list of endangered species.This decision was in response to NRDC’s petition to list the species, filed on September 30, 2009.  

As I wrote about at the time of the petition’s filing, Atlantic sturgeon once spawned in dozens of rivers from Maine to Florida.  Their numbers reached tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands in some rivers.  Today, however, spawning populations in nine U.S. rivers have gone extinct.  Most of the remaining rivers have populations so depleted that their numbers cannot be reliably estimated and their present day survival is in question.  The species’ plight is a result of bycatch (while targeted sturgeon harvesting is no longer allowed, so-called bycatch of the species still occurs in other fisheries), pollution, dams, dredging, ship strikes, and warming ocean temperatures.   

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) was required by law to decide within 90 days from the filing of our petition whether it believed we had provided substantial information indicating that endangered listing may be warranted.  Now that NMFS has agreed that the petition established this much, the agency has 12 months to make a final determination on whether or not to actually list the Atlantic sturgeon. 

NMFS is currently soliciting comments from the public on the possible listing.  The agency will accept comments until February 5 here; identify your comments with this regulation identifier number (RIN): 0648 XT28. Instructions for submitting comments by fax or mail are provided in today’s Federal Register notice here.

It is important for everyone who cares about the future of this fascinating species to weigh in with the agency now. We will have a final decision on whether or not the government will list this mighty fish as endangered within the next 12 months.  I will be sure to let you know about additional developments in the weeks and months ahead, as well as any new opportunities for you to take action to save the Atlantic sturgeon.