[Federal Register: July 2, 2003 (Volume 68, Number 127)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 39507]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

RIN 1018-AI 11

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Extension of Final 
Decision and Re-opening of Comment Period on Proposed Rule to List 
Beluga Sturgeon (Huso huso) as Endangered

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Proposed rule; 6-month extension of final decision and re-
opening of comment period.


SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 6-
month extension for a final decision and re-opening of the comment 
period on the proposed rule to list beluga sturgeon (Huso huso) as 
endangered. This action is required to allow for public review of, and 
comment on, a report that was recently received by the Division of 
Scientific Authority that provides significant new information about 
the status of Caspian Sea beluga sturgeon stocks.

DATES: Comments and information may be submitted through September 2, 
2003. A final decision on the proposal will be made by January 31, 

ADDRESSES: Comments, information, and questions should be submitted to 
the Chief, Division of Scientific Authority; by mail, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, 4401 North Fairfax Drive, Room 750; Arlington, 
Virginia 22203; by fax, 703-358-2276; or by e-mail, 
ScientificAuthority@fws.gov. Comments will be available for public 
inspection, by appointment, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through 
Friday, at this address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Robert R. Gabel, Chief, Division of 
Scientific Authority, at the above address (telephone, 703-358-1708).

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: On December 18, 2000, we received a petition 
to list the beluga sturgeon (Huso huso) as endangered under the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973. In the Federal Register of June 20, 
2002 (67 FR 41918), we published concurrent 90-day and 12-month 
findings on the petition. The 90-day finding stated that the petition 
presented substantial information indicating the requested action may 
be warranted. The 12-month finding stated the petitioned action is 
warranted. Subsequently, in the Federal Register of July 31, 2002 (67 
FR 49657), we published a proposed rule to list beluga sturgeon as 
endangered. In the notice, we requested public comments and information 
by October 29, 2002, and we stated that requests for a public hearing 
were to be received by September 16, 2002. The Division of Scientific 
Authority (DSA) received four requests for a public hearing. To 
accommodate the requests, we published a notice in the Federal Register 
on November 6, 2002 (67 FR 67586), of a public hearing to take place 
December 5, 2002. With that notice, we extended the public comment 
period through December 28, 2002, to allow for submission of comments 
during, and 15 days after, the public hearing.
    On March 11, 2003, we received a new document that may have major 
relevance to this decision: ``Report on Results of Complex Interstate 
All-Caspian Sea Expedition on the Assess[ment] of Sturgeon Species 
Stocks'' from the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade 
in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The report 
summarizes the 2002 sturgeon stock-assessment survey for the Caspian 
Sea. The Secretariat's report contains substantial information that 
must be considered in our deliberations and should be made available to 
the public.
    In an effort to address Caspian Sea sturgeon conservation issues, 
the so-called ``Paris agreement'' was developed during the 45th meeting 
of the CITES Standing Committee (Paris, June 2001). An important 
provision of the agreement was implementation of annual Caspian Sea 
sturgeon stock-assessment surveys that were to include mandatory 
reports. The report submitted by the CITES Secretariat contains the 
results of the 2002 sturgeon stock-assessment survey. All Caspian Sea 
range nations (except the Islamic Republic of Iran) participated in the 
2002 sturgeon stock-assessment survey. Our review of the 2002 survey 
report indicates that survey parameters have been substantially 
broadened and the scope of data collection efforts has improved 
considerably since completion of the initial survey mandated by the 
Paris agreement in 2001. The current report provides new information 
regarding changes in beluga sturgeon feeding habits, expanded 
toxicological studies, and increased stock abundance estimates that 
were extrapolated from the most recent raw data.
    To consider this new information, and any comments thereon, the 
Service has decided to extend the publication of a final rule from July 
31, 2003, to January 31, 2004. We will also re-open the comment period 
until [the date specified above in DATES], and will provide copies of 
the indicated document upon request. All comments and information 
received will be considered in making a final decision on the proposal 
to list beluga sturgeon as endangered, and will be included in the 
administrative record.

    Authority: Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1531 et 

    Dated: June 11, 2003.
Marshall P. Jones, Jr.,
Deputy Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 03-16724 Filed 7-1-03; 8:45 am]