Decades of overfishing, as well as habitat damage, pollution, and other harmful activities, have pushed many ocean species to the brink of extinction. Though the United States is trying to rebuild its fisheries with science-based catch limits and better management practices, many species are still struggling. Some are so vulnerable to destructive fishing that, in the absence of bold action, they could disappear.
NRDC is pushing to protect several of those key species under the Endangered Species Act, or ESA, one of America's most effective tools for restoring threatened wildlife. More than 98 percent of species protected under the ESA have avoided extinction, and the longer a species is shielded by the law, the more likely it is to be on the road to recovery.
We use the ESA to preserve marine species that other laws and safeguards have failed to protect. As a result of an NRDC petition, for example, the National Marine Fisheries Service listed the iconic Atlantic sturgeon as endangered under the ESA. When the agency subsequently failed to designate critical habitat for these armor-plated behemoths, which can reach up to 14 feet and more than 800 pounds, we took it to court. The National Marine Fisheries Service is currently in the process of preparing this designation. And when the agency declined our petition to list the alewife and blueback herring, which are historically important Atlantic forage species, NRDC again sued the government.
On the Pacific coast, we are making a case for ESA protection for the tufted puffin off of California, Oregon, and Washington. The numbers of this spectacular seabird have fallen by 85 percent to 90 percent over the last three decades as a result of climate change, fishing bycatch, and other threats.
NRDC litigators file petitions with the federal government to list these and other species under the ESA. If the government delays its review or fails to protect species that meet the legal criteria for threatened or endangered status, then we take the government to court to ensure it honors the law.