[Federal Register: April 21, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 77)]
[Rules and Regulations]               
[Page 21425-21438]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

RIN 1018-AI11

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Final 
Determination of Threatened Status for the Beluga Sturgeon (Huso huso)

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Final rule.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), determine 
threatened status for the beluga sturgeon (Huso huso) under the 
authority of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Act; 16 U.S.C. 1531 et 
seq.). The beluga sturgeon is a large fish from which highly valued 
beluga caviar is produced. The species' range was reduced during the 
20th century, and is now limited to the Caspian and Black Sea Basins. 
The species is threatened through habitat modification and degradation, 
over-exploitation for trade, limited natural reproduction, and 
agricultural and industrial pollution. A number of positive 
conservation measures have been taken for all sturgeon species since 
all previously unlisted Acipenseriformes species (sturgeons and 
paddlefishes) were added to Appendix II of the Convention on 
International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora 
(CITES) in 1998. The regulatory mechanisms and consequent actions that 
have been implemented by CITES Parties, including the range countries 
for these species, have improved the status of the species and will be 
discussed later in this notice. We believe that additional conservation 
measures for sturgeon species that have been adopted by the CITES 
Standing Committee will afford further benefits to beluga sturgeon, and 
other sturgeon species, provided the measures are fully implemented and 
continue to be supported by the CITES community. This rule identifies 
the beluga sturgeon as a species in need of conservation; implements 
protective measures by extending the full protection of the Act to the 
species throughout its range; and complements current and future 
conservation measures to be undertaken by the species' range countries, 
as recommended by the CITES Standing Committee.

DATES: This rule is effective October 21, 2004.

ADDRESSES: The complete file for this rule is available for inspection, 
by appointment, during normal business hours in the office of the 
Division of Scientific Authority; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 
North Fairfax Drive; Room 750; Arlington, Virginia 22203.
    Requests for copies of the regulations regarding listed wildlife 
and inquiries about prohibitions and permits may be addressed to: 
Division of Management Authority, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 
North Fairfax Drive, Room 700, Arlington, Virginia 22203, (telephone: 
(703) 358-2104; facsimile: (703) 358-2281).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Robert R. Gabel, Chief, Division of 
Scientific Authority, at the above address (phone: 703-358-1708). For 
permitting information, contact: Tim Van Norman, Chief; Branch of 
Permits-International; Division of Management Authority; U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service; 4401 North Fairfax Drive; Room 700; Arlington, 
Virginia 22203 (phone: 703-358-2104).



    The beluga sturgeon is the largest of all sturgeon species. 
Historic reports indicate that individual fish can reach 6 meters in 
length and more than one ton in weight. It is also considered the most 
economically valuable fish in the world, because the female beluga 
sturgeon is harvested to produce beluga caviar.
    Beluga sturgeon are highly vulnerable to depletion, due to their 
unique life-history characteristics, and because the fishery for them 
targets the reproductive segment of the population. The species is 
long-lived and slow to mature.

[[Page 21426]]

Although estimates indicate that the oldest fish currently harvested 
are 50-55 years of age, with an average age of less than 35 years, 
during the early 20th century 100-year-old beluga sturgeon were 
commonly taken in the northern Caspian Sea (Khodorevskaya et al. 2000). 
On average, beluga sturgeon mature between 10 and 16 years of age for 
males, and between 14 and 20 years for females (Hochleithner and 
Gessner 1999). Male beluga sturgeon spawn only once every 4-7 years, 
whereas females reproduce once every 4-8 years (Raspopov 1993). 
Fecundity in adult female beluga sturgeon increases with age; 
individual fish will produce a greater number of eggs during each 
subsequent spawning run. On average, adult female H. huso can produce 
up to 12 percent of their body weight in roe (DeMeulenaer and Raymakers 
    The historic range of the beluga sturgeon formerly encompassed the 
Caspian Sea, Black Sea, Adriatic Sea, Sea of Azov, and all rivers 
within their watersheds (Khodorevskaya et al. 2000). Range countries 
currently include: Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, 
Georgia, Hungary, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kazakhstan, the 
Republic of Moldova, Romania, the Russian Federation, Turkey, 
Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Yugoslavia. The Adriatic Sea population is 
considered extirpated, and the last record of a wild-caught specimen in 
the Sea of Azov is from the mid-1980s (TRAFFIC/Europe 1999). The 
species' current range is limited to the Caspian and Black Sea Basins.
    Loss of spawning habitat has had the greatest impact on the 
survival of beluga sturgeon populations. Hydrographic modifications to 
major spawning rivers caused changes in river flow regimes that have 
had a negative impact on beluga sturgeon spawning behavior. Dam 
construction, for hydroelectric power generation and flood control, 
produced impassable barriers to migration. Spawning grounds have been 
flooded, and a large portion of the remaining rocky substrate that was 
previously utilized by the species for spawning has been blanketed by 
siltation. Observations during the 19th century indicated that the 
Black Sea H. huso population over-wintered and spawned as far north as 
the Austrian and Bavarian portions of the Danube River. Beluga sturgeon 
were once abundant in the Danube River. Harvest rates during the mid-
1970s averaged 23 metric tons annually. After the construction of the 
Djerdap I and II dams during the 1980s, annual harvest assessments 
indicated that the Danube River populations were rapidly decreasing 
(Hensel and Holcik 1997). Within one decade, annual Danube River beluga 
sturgeon harvest declined to12.7 tons, indicative of the dams' effect 
on spawning sturgeon populations (Bacalbasa-Dobrovici 1997b).
    The eradication of centralized control of the fishery in the 
northern Caspian Sea after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and 
persistent high demand for beluga caviar, led to expansion of illegal 
harvest of the species and the growth of an illicit worldwide trade 
network to supply the demand. Enforcement has been difficult due to a 
lack of financial resources to supply adequate boats, equipment, and 
salaries for conservation officers.
    On December 18, 2000, we received a petition to list the beluga 
sturgeon as endangered under the Act. On June 20, 2002, we published 
concurrent 90-day and 12-month findings on the petition (67 FR 41918). 
The 90-day finding stated that the petition presented substantial 
information indicating that the requested action may be warranted. The 
12-month finding stated that the petitioned action is warranted. 
Subsequently, on July 31, 2002, we announced a proposal to list the 
beluga sturgeon (Huso huso) as endangered under the Act (67 FR 49657). 
The notice requested public comments and information by October 29, 
2002. 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, on November 
6, 2002 (67 FR 67856), we gave notice of a public hearing to take place 
on December 5, 2002. With that notice, the public comment period was 
extended through December 28, 2002, to allow for submission of comments 
through, and 15 days after, the public hearing.
    On March 11, 2003, we received a ``Report on Results of Complex 
Interstate All-Caspian Sea Expedition on the Assess[ment] of Sturgeon 
Species Stocks'' from the CITES Secretariat. This report summarized the 
2002 sturgeon stock-assessment survey for the Caspian Sea and provided 
new data that would enhance the accuracy of previous population data, 
while providing sufficient new data that detailed the current status of 
the Caspian Sea beluga sturgeon population. We believed the information 
contained in the report would address substantial disagreements 
regarding the status of the species, and would be relevant to our final 
determination. Therefore, on July 2, 2003, we published a notice to re-
open the comment period on our proposal to list the species for 60 
days, and we also extended the period to produce a final determination 
by 6 months, to January 31, 2004 (68 FR 39507). This extension was made 
for the purpose of soliciting additional population data and comments 
regarding the stock-assessment survey, as specified under section 
4(b)(6)(B)(i) of the Act. We also submitted the report for independent 
peer review. The public comment period closed on September 2, 2003. All 
comments and information received during this and the previous two 
comment periods were considered in our final listing determination and 
are included in the administrative record.

Summary of Comments and Recommendations

    On July 31, 2002, we announced a proposal to list beluga sturgeon 
(Huso huso) as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (67 FR 
49657). All interested parties were requested to submit factual reports 
or information by October 29, 2002, so we could consider the 
information in the development of a final rule. Beluga sturgeon range 
countries, the CITES Secretariat, Federal and State agriculture and 
wildlife agencies, scientific organizations, the caviar and aquaculture 
industries, and other interested parties were contacted and supplied 
with a copy of the proposal. We received 31 substantive comments during 
the comment period, as well as 4,226 e-mail messages, postcards, and 
letters that were submitted as part of a letter-writing campaign. Four 
individuals submitted comments, but maintained a neutral position 
regarding listing. We received 14 written comments in opposition to 
listing the species as endangered. The opponents included members of 
the aquaculture, caviar, and fishing industries, State wildlife 
conservation and agriculture agencies, fisheries agencies representing 
three Caspian Sea range countries (the Islamic Republic of Iran, 
Kazakhstan, and the Russian Federation) and one Black Sea range country 
(Romania), two conservation organizations, and several private 
individuals. The proposal was not supported by the National Aquaculture 
Association; the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer 
Services, Division of Aquaculture; the World Conservation Union (IUCN) 
Sturgeon Specialist Group; and IWMC-World Conservation Trust.
    We received 10 written comments in support of an endangered 
listing. Supporters included the original petitioners, Caviar Emptor, a 
consortium of non-government organizations that includes SeaWeb, the 

[[Page 21427]]

Conservation Society, and the Natural Resources Defense Council; 
Azerbaijan, a range country; a member of the caviar industry; and 
several private individuals. We also received a letter of support 
signed by 69 chefs and/or restaurant owners and another, similar letter 
signed by 57 members of academia and representatives of conservation 
organizations. A letter-writing campaign sponsored by Caviar Emptor 
produced an additional 4,226 comments in support of an endangered 
listing. Two letters were received from members of the caviar industry 
who supported an endangered listing, provided we would allow an 
exemption for beluga sturgeon products produced by commercial 
    Prior to the end of the comment period, we received four requests 
for a public hearing. Therefore, notice of a public hearing and 
extension of the comment period to accommodate comments received 
during, and 15 days after, the public hearing was published on November 
6, 2002 (67 FR 67586). The public hearing took place December 5, 2002, 
and the public comment period was extended through December 28, 2002. 
During the public hearing, oral testimony was given by four individuals 
representing industry; the Florida Department of Agriculture and 
Consumer Services, Division of Aquaculture, and the Florida Sturgeon 
Production Working Group; Caviar Emptor; and The Seafood Choices 
Alliance. The representatives for industry and the State of Florida 
expressed their opposition to listing the species as endangered. Caviar 
Emptor and The Seafood Choices Alliance voiced their support for 
listing. In addition to the verbal testimony given during the public 
hearing, six additional written comments in support of the listing were 
received during the extended comment period. These comments were 
received from private individuals; The Seafood Choices Alliance (a 
letter signed by 191 chefs and other representatives of the seafood 
industry); academia; and the Management Authority of Bulgaria. We also 
received seven written comments, in addition to the verbal testimony 
given during the public hearing in opposition to listing the species as 
endangered. These comments were from a private individual, a member of 
the aquaculture industry, the IWMC-World Conservation Trust, and the 
Ministry of Waters and Environmental Protection of Romania. We received 
a total of 17 comments during the public hearing and extended comment 
    After receiving significant new information, which summarized the 
2002 sturgeon stock-assessment survey for the Caspian Sea in the 
``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), we re-opened a final comment period on July 3, 
2003 (68 FR 39507). We notified the public that we would accept 
comments through September 2, 2003. The notice also extended the 
deadline for publication of our final decision by 6 months, from the 
original date of July 31, 2003, to January 31, 2004. During the final 
comment period, we received three comments. A detailed set of documents 
submitted by the CITES Secretariat, on behalf of the beluga sturgeon 
range countries, included new information about the status of beluga 
sturgeon stocks in the Caspian and Black Seas. We also received a 
letter from the petitioners, Caviar Emptor, in which they presented an 
analysis of the survey methodology used during the 2002 Caspian Sea 
sturgeon stock-assessment, and they also provided numerous articles 
about the status of beluga sturgeon collected from national and 
international grey literature.

Peer Review

    In accordance with our policy published on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 
34270), we have sought expert opinions of at least three appropriate 
independent specialists for our proposed rule and documents regarding 
Caspian Sea stock-assessment surveys that were considered as part of 
this final listing decision. The purpose of such review is to ensure 
listing decisions are based on scientifically sound data, assumptions, 
and analysis. We considered and incorporated comments and information 
from the peer reviewers into this final rule.
    Comments or questions about the rule, and our responses, are 
grouped into a number of general issues, depending on content, and are 
combined in the following discussion.
    Issue 1: A number of commentors stated their belief that the beluga 
sturgeon is on the brink of extinction, and therefore, urgent action is 
    Response: We note that wild beluga sturgeon stocks have declined 
throughout the species' range during the past 40 years, particularly 
during the post-Soviet era in the Caspian Sea region. Population 
declines of several Caspian Sea sturgeon species were so severe during 
the 1990s that scientists and concerned nations supported the listing 
of all previously unlisted sturgeon species in Appendix II of CITES, 
effective April 1, 1998. The listing required all exports and re-
exports of Appendix II sturgeons in international trade to be 
accompanied by a CITES export permit or re-export certificate. The 
permitting system has helped to deter illegal international trade by 
focusing enforcement attention on document forgery, misidentification 
of species in trade, and illegal trade routes and networks. Since the 
listing, conservation of sturgeons (including paddlefishes) has 
continued to be a prominent issue at meetings of the CITES Standing 
Committee, Animals Committee, and Conference of the Parties. Many 
resolutions, recommendations, and decisions have been adopted by the 
CITES Parties to address issues ranging from annual quotas to stock 
surveys and management plans, further indicating the continuing 
conservation needs of sturgeon species (for further information, see 
http://www.cites.org). Although all of the recommendations made by the CITES 

Parties have not been implemented, actions taken to date have made 
significant contributions to the conservation of sturgeon species, and 
will continue to address conservation and management needs in the 
future. A threatened listing will reinforce the need to continue the 
positive actions taken since the listing, and encourage range countries 
to further develop and implement conservation measures for all wild 
sturgeon populations, including the beluga sturgeon.
    In 2001, based on recommendations from the CITES Animals Committee, 
the so-called ``Paris Agreement'' was developed during the 45th meeting 
of the CITES Standing Committee (SC 45 Doc. 12.2). By accepting the 
conditions of the Paris Agreement, the Caspian Sea range countries of 
Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and the Russian Federation made commitments to 
further the conservation of Caspian Sea sturgeon stocks. All sturgeon 
harvest was suspended during the fall fishing season of 2001, 
proscribed under Stage 1 of the agreement. Further actions under Stage 
1, to be completed before July 20, 2001, included declaration of all 
stocks of specimens intended for export, and restriction of exports in 
2001 to the amounts of declared stocks, provided the 2001 export quotas 
were not exceeded. Under Stage 2 of the agreement, the range countries 
were required to undertake a comprehensive survey of sturgeon stocks, 
develop science-based catch and export quotas,

[[Page 21428]]

and assess illegal trade and fisheries enforcement needs in the region. 
Stage 2 was to be implemented prior to December 31, 2001. Stage 3 
actions, to be implemented prior to June 20, 2002, included:
     Establishment of a long-term stock-assessment 
survey program to be used as the basis for future management of 
sturgeon stocks;
     A request to the Food and Agriculture 
Organization of the United Nations (FAO) for advice concerning 
operations of regional fisheries management organizations, management 
of shared fish resources, and dealing with unregulated fisheries;
     Adoption of a collaborative basin-level 
fisheries management plan for Caspian Sea sturgeon, as the basis for 
sustainable harvest for commercial exports;
     Significantly increased efforts to combat 
illegal harvest and trade;
     Regulation of domestic trade;
     Establishment of further research priorities;
     Making sturgeon samples available for DNA 
     Implementation of the caviar labeling system 
(Resolution Conf. 11.13, now repealed and replaced by Resolution Conf. 
12.7); and
     Submission of a funding proposal to the Global 
Environmental Fund (GEF) or other donors for rehabilitation of sturgeon 
stocks, hatcheries, and restocking programs, including support for 
stock assessments, marking systems, identification of specimens in 
trade, public awareness, and enforcement.
    Several significant goals of Stage 3 have yet to be achieved. 
Conservation actions taken under CITES to date, however, have focused 
needed attention on the problems facing sturgeon stocks, improved 
export documentation, helped to increase beluga sturgeon populations, 
concentrated attention on the need for sound hatchery and release 
programs in the range countries, and initiated the lengthy process 
necessary to improve the status of all sturgeon species, including the 
beluga sturgeon.
    Stock-assessment surveys undertaken from 2001 through the present 
continue to indicate an increase in beluga sturgeon stocks in the 
Caspian Sea Basin since the 1990s. U.S. scientists have been unable to 
replicate the survey results given the data presented in the survey 
reports. It is uncertain whether this is the result of incomplete data, 
translation problems, or differences in the stock-assessment and 
analytical methodologies used by the Russian scientists. However, we 
have considered that the same survey methods that originally alerted 
the scientific community to the decline of sturgeon stocks are being 
used today to document increases in Caspian Sea sturgeon populations. 
According to the 2002 stock-assessment survey, the beluga sturgeon 
population in the Caspian Sea has increased from 7.6 million fish in 
1998 to 11.6 million fish (Russian Federation et al. 2002). By 
comparison, the gulf sturgeon (A. oxyrinchus desotoi), a sturgeon 
species native to the United States, is listed as a threatened species 
under the Act, and population numbers for the gulf sturgeon are 
estimated in the tens of thousands, a much lower population threshold. 
The share of the annual spawning segment of the Caspian Sea beluga 
sturgeon population has increased from 14.8 percent in 2001 to 20.6 
percent in 2002 (Armstrong and Karpyuk 2003).
    Based on the best available scientific information, we do not 
believe the species is on the brink of extinction at this time and does 
not meet the definition of endangered under the Act. Many of the 
threats to the species remain, however, and will remain into the 
foreseeable future. Therefore, our final determination is to list the 
species as threatened under the Act. Under section 4(d) of the Act, 
regulations may be issued when necessary and advisable for the 
conservation of a threatened species. We intend to imminently publish a 
proposed 4(d) rule for beluga sturgeon, with conditions to further 
address the most significant threats to the species.
    Issue 2: Nine commentors expressed the view that aquaculture 
promotes beluga sturgeon conservation, by reducing the pressure on wild 
stocks. However, one individual from the caviar industry stated that he 
did not believe aquaculture could ever replace harvest of beluga 
sturgeon from the wild, and ``at best [aquaculture is] only a 
complement to wild harvest.'' Several members of the aquaculture 
industry and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer 
Services, Division of Aquaculture, also suggested beluga sturgeon 
reared in aquaculture conditions should be exempt from our final 
listing determination.
    Response: We cannot simply exempt captive specimens from the actual 
listing of a species, although we could consider such specimens as 
exempt under the provisions of a special rule under section 4(d) of the 
Act if the remaining protections afforded the species would be 
necessary and advisable for the conservation of the species. However, 
because demand for beluga caviar currently exceeds the amount available 
from legal sources, and this demand has resulted in over-exploitation 
of this resource, it is not clear that the limited amount of beluga 
caviar available from aquaculture sources would sufficiently reduce the 
demand on wild stocks to cause a direct conservation benefit to the 
species. It is also unclear as to whether the demand for broodstock to 
establish aquaculture operations would itself constitute a threat to 
the species. For American alligator (Alligator mississipiensis), we 
have determined that allowing the export of live alligators for the 
establishment of breeding facilities outside the United States could 
actually undermine conservation efforts for alligators in this country. 
We have taken similar approaches, in concert with the range countries 
and CITES, in disallowing imports of live animals, eggs, and gametes of 
yacare caiman (Caiman yacare) and vicu[ntilde]a (Vicugna vicugna). 
Therefore, we intend to evaluate aquaculture programs on a case-by-case 
basis through the permitting procedures of 50 CFR 17.32, to determine 
whether any aquaculture program contributes to the conservation of 
beluga sturgeon.
    Issue 3: Five individuals expressed concern about potential 
economic effects of the listing, particularly with regard to hindering 
commercial aquaculture.
    Response: Section 4(b)(1) of the Act does not allow the Service to 
consider economic effects when making decisions on the listing of 
species as endangered or threatened.
    Issue 4: Six individuals were concerned that listing the species as 
endangered would have a negative impact on their ability to import 
beluga caviar, and therefore would have an adverse impact on their 
    Response: As noted for Issue 3, section 4(b) of the Act requires 
listing decisions to be made solely on the basis of the best available 
scientific and commercial data. Economic factors may not be considered. 
Therefore, we were prohibited from considering economic factors when 
making our final listing determination.
    Issue 5: Three individuals suggested that they will be unable to 
conduct research on life-history parameters and improvements of 
sturgeon aquaculture techniques if commercial aquaculture of beluga 
sturgeon and trade in beluga sturgeon products derived from aquaculture 
become prohibited.
    Response: Under section 10(a)(1)(A) of the Act, permits may be 
issued for scientific purposes or to enhance the propagation or 
survival of listed species. For information about permit issuance 
criteria, see 50 CFR 17.22. Listing the species as threatened does not 

[[Page 21429]]

the ability to conduct scientific research, provided the permit 
issuance criteria are met. Furthermore, numerous research studies have 
been and continue to be conducted regarding sturgeon life-history 
parameters and sturgeon culture methodology and techniques. 
Optimization of growth and survival of sturgeons reared in culture 
conditions for release have been studied for years, particularly in the 
Caspian Sea region. Information and data from these studies are readily 
available in the scientific literature. Therefore, because permits may 
be issued provided the issuance criteria are met, we do not believe 
that listing beluga sturgeon under the Act will negatively affect the 
ability to conduct scientific investigation of beluga sturgeon life-
history characteristics or methods to optimize captive culture of the 
    Issue 6: Several individuals expressed concerns about the problems 
associated with enforcing the provisions of the Act if the species were 
to be listed. One individual commented that it is impossible to 
visually distinguish between a farm-raised fish and a wild-caught fish. 
Another individual observed that it is impossible to determine the 
species composition and origin of caviar by visual inspection. Two 
commentors suggested a ban on sales of farm-raised beluga sturgeon 
products because of the potential to launder wild-caught sturgeon as 
farm-raised fish in trade. One individual commented that any controls 
the Service might institute will likely be easy to circumvent.
    Response: We acknowledge that it is generally not possible to 
distinguish between a wild-caught sturgeon and a sturgeon that is 
produced in aquaculture by physical examination alone. Determining the 
species composition and origin of caviar in trade has long been 
recognized as a serious and confounding enforcement issue. Species 
identification of caviar and other products requires laboratory 
analysis of the specimen(s) in question. However, the Service, through 
the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory has the capability 
to identify the species composition of caviar for enforcement purposes. 
Since the inclusion of all previously unlisted sturgeons and 
paddlefishes in the CITES Appendices, the Parties have been concerned 
about the need to regulate and identify legal caviar in trade. In 2000, 
at the 11th CITES Conference of the Parties (COP 11), CITES Resolution 
Conf. 11.13, Universal labeling system for the identification of 
caviar, was adopted to address this concern. The Resolution required 
range countries to implement a standardized caviar marking system, with 
particular specifications for the design of labels that would be 
applied consistently by all Party range countries. Resolution Conf. 
11.13 was subsequently amended and superseded by Resolution Conf. 12.7, 
Conservation of and trade in sturgeons and paddlefish, at COP 12 in 
2002. As a result of these resolutions, most caviar-exporting countries 
now label caviar tins destined for international trade. Each sturgeon-
processing facility in each exporting country that is a CITES Party 
uses a label that is unique to each specific facility. Including the 
origin of caviar on tin labels could be used to identify the origin of 
legal caviar in trade. Periodically, the CITES Secretariat issues a 
Notification to the Parties to advise the Parties when a caviar-
exporting country has issued a standardized label for caviar. The 
Notification includes a depiction of the label. Copies of caviar labels 
are kept on file by the Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) and are used to 
verify the product in a shipment upon export. Shipments that are found 
to be out of compliance with CITES documentation and labeling 
requirements are refused or seized at the port of entry.
    The Service's OLE uses several methods to identify and track 
imports and exports of CITES-listed species and species listed under 
the Act. These methods, detailed below, are currently being used for 
shipments of beluga sturgeon because of its listing in Appendix II of 
CITES. These methods will continue to be used for beluga sturgeon as a 
threatened species under the Act.
    The OLE uses a system of permits, declarations, and inspections to 
ensure compliance with regulations under CITES and the Act for imports 
and exports of listed wildlife and wildlife products. Shipments of 
sturgeon and paddlefish products entering or leaving the United States 
cannot be cleared by OLE unless they are accompanied by the appropriate 
CITES documentation. All wildlife shipments must be declared to OLE 
upon exit or entry by filing a ``Declaration for Importation or 
Exportation of Fish or Wildlife'' (Form 3-177). This form is used to 
track and monitor all shipments of fish or wildlife arriving or 
departing from the United States. All shipments are subject to 
inspection at the port and must be cleared to ensure compliance with 
all applicable regulations. All wildlife products must be shipped from 
a designated port for wildlife, unless prior authorization has been 
granted to export from a non-authorized port.
    Issue 7: Two members of the U.S. aquaculture industry suggested 
that we require that a portion of profits from commercial aquaculture 
sales be designated for hatchery upgrades in beluga sturgeon range 
countries. Four representatives from beluga sturgeon range countries 
also recommended using a portion of profits from the international 
trade in beluga sturgeon to rebuild aging hatcheries and construct new 
facilities. Several range countries already depend on the international 
sturgeon trade to fund hatchery programs, and the commentors consider 
it vital that additional funding be obtained to improve and rebuild the 
existing hatchery infrastructure for the conservation of beluga 
sturgeon populations. The Bulgarian Management Authority suggested that 
aquaculture should be used to return beluga sturgeon populations to 
historic population abundance levels. Specifically, they suggested a 7-
year moratorium on harvest of beluga sturgeon to allow for development 
of aquaculture. The moratorium would be followed by an introduction of 
gradually declining catch quotas from the wild. Other measures 
suggested by the Bulgarian Management Authority included: investments 
for hatchery upgrades and establishment of new facilities, restocking 
of natural populations, development of improved artificial culture 
techniques, and more effective enforcement measures to protect wild 
    Response: We cannot require members of the commercial aquaculture 
industry to invest or contribute funds for hatchery system upgrades and 
new construction in beluga sturgeon range countries. However, through 
the permitting system and under the 4(d) rule, we hope to encourage 
conservation actions for the species, by means of economic incentives, 
including hatchery production of fingerlings for restocking purposes.
    Artificial sturgeon culture has been used to supplement wild 
sturgeon stocks in the former Soviet Union since 1959. The Soviet 
hatchery program successfully reared and released millions of sturgeon 
fingerlings using artificial culture techniques. Hatchery programs and 
restocking efforts were curbed during the early 1990s, however, due to 
changes in the region's political structure following the dissolution 
of the Soviet Union. The importance of hatchery programs to supplement 
Caspian Sea sturgeon stocks was quickly recognized, and some hatcheries 
are operating once again. An average of 11.7 million beluga sturgeon 
fingerlings have been released into the Caspian Sea

[[Page 21430]]

annually since 1996 (Armstrong and Karpyuk 2003). Secor et al. (2000) 
estimate that more than 90 percent of the current beluga sturgeon 
population in the Caspian Sea is of hatchery origin, whereas Armstrong 
and Karpyuk (2003) estimate a figure closer to 97 percent for the 
northern Caspian Sea. Armstrong (2003) notes that revenues for 
hatcheries and re-introduction programs are largely derived from the 
legal trade in sturgeons; therefore, maintenance of Caspian Sea 
sturgeon stocks is dependent on the existence of that trade.
    Issue 8: Four individuals expressed the opinion that conservation 
measures undertaken under CITES and by the range countries should be 
sufficient to conserve Caspian Sea sturgeon populations.
    Response: The response to Issue 1 provides a lengthy discussion of 
the actions taken under CITES since the Appendix II listing of beluga 
sturgeon became effective in 1998. The CITES listing has proven 
important as a deterrent to illegal international trade and has focused 
law enforcement attention on illegal trade routes and networks. 
Conservation of sturgeons remains a prominent issue within the CITES 
community, and many resolutions, recommendations, and decisions have 
been developed to address wide-ranging conservation issues. Actions 
taken to date have made significant contributions to the conservation 
of sturgeon species, and will continue to address conservation and 
management needs in the future.
    While we recognize the important role CITES has played in the 
improvement of trade controls and other conservation measures for 
sturgeon conservation, a number of unresolved issues remain. As 
previously noted, the conditions of the Paris Agreement encouraged 
commitments between most of the Caspian Sea range countries to further 
the conservation of Caspian Sea sturgeon stocks. Stage 1 measures were 
completed by July 20, 2001, as required. Primary measures undertaken 
for the completion of Stage 2 were to be finished prior to December 31, 
2001, and Stage 3 actions were to be implemented prior to June 20, 
2002. Several significant goals of Stage 3 have not been accomplished, 
as of publication of this notice. Our listing determination will 
strengthen and promote complete implementation of the Paris Agreement 
recommendations, for the conservation of all Caspian Sea sturgeon 
species. As the largest importer of beluga sturgeon caviar, the United 
States can reinforce and increase the focus on conservation measures 
currently under way and influence the implementation of future 
management actions for the species.
    Issue 9: Several individuals expressed concern regarding the high 
level of illegal harvest of and trade in beluga sturgeon within the 
Caspian Sea region.
    Response: Actions taken by the CITES Parties to reduce illegal 
trade in sturgeon products have proven relatively successful to date. 
In the United States alone, over 135 shipments of beluga caviar have 
been refused since 1998, due to false documentation and other factors. 
Law enforcement agencies of the CITES Parties continue to detect and 
seize illegal shipments of caviar upon import. Adoption of the caviar 
labeling requirement in Resolution Conf. 12.7 instituted a method for 
tracking sturgeon products from the country of origin and the processor 
to ensure legal international trade in sturgeon products. The 
Resolution has been implemented by most beluga sturgeon range 
    However, a report from an Environmental Prosecutor in Kazakhstan 
reveals the problems associated with illegal harvest in the region and 
notes that illegal harvest continues to be a serious problem in a 
specific region of the Caspian Sea. It is our understanding that 
illegal harvest and bycatch of sturgeon in other fisheries remains a 
significant problem for enforcement agencies. Provisions of our 
proposed 4(d) rule further address illegal harvest of beluga sturgeon.
    Issue 10: One individual expressed concern that listing beluga 
sturgeon under the Act will not give the United States the authority 
required to address habitat loss, the most serious threat to beluga 
sturgeon populations, nor will we have the authority to remediate 
pollution problems.
    Response: We agree that listing a species with a home range outside 
of U.S. borders does not provide some of the protections afforded a 
species by the Act. We are unable to designate critical habitat, nor do 
we have the authority to impose U.S. law within another sovereign 
nation. However, listing beluga sturgeon as threatened under the Act 
can positively affect international trade and management of the species 
by reinforcing conservation measures already in place. In a proposed 
4(d) rule, which we intend to publish as soon as possible, we will 
attempt to address further actions that are appropriate and necessary 
to manage the species on a collaborative basin-wide level, enhance 
stock abundance, target illegal harvest and trade, and encourage the 
range countries to address problems with the hatchery infrastructure 
throughout the Caspian Sea region.

Summary of Factors Affecting the Beluga Sturgeon

    Section 4(a)(1) of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) and regulations 
promulgated to implement the listing provisions of the Act (50 CFR part 
424) set forth the procedures for determining whether any species is an 
endangered or threatened species. A species may be determined to be an 
endangered or threatened species due to one or more of the five factors 
described in section 4(a)(1) of the Act. These factors and their 
application to beluga sturgeon (Huso huso) are as follows:

A. The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment 
of Beluga Sturgeon Habitat or Range

    Natural reproduction of beluga sturgeon is extremely limited and 
occurs in less than 15 percent of the species' historic spawning 
habitat. Approximately 85 percent (Secor et al. 2000) to 90 percent 
(Barannikova et al. 1995) of the species' former spawning grounds have 
been damaged by pollution or are no longer accessible to spawning 
sturgeon. Dams, river channelization, and other man-made alterations of 
flow regimes have significantly reduced the amount of available 
sturgeon spawning habitat throughout the species' range. Messier (1998) 
noted that the surface area of the Caspian Sea is some 169,000 square 
miles, yet all sturgeon species that spawn in the Volga River utilize 
an area no larger than 1,000 acres (405 hectares) near the mouth of the 
    Although the Volga River historically accounted for the largest 
number of spawning sturgeon in the Caspian Sea Basin, the Ural River in 
Kazakhstan now is believed to contain the most suitable spawning 
habitat for sturgeons (Semyon Khvan, pers. comm.). The Ural River is 
the only major river within the Caspian Sea Basin that has not been 
dammed or otherwise modified (Khodorevskaya et al. 1997). Recent 
reports indicate that habitat utilized by sturgeons for migration and 
spawning in this river system is threatened by siltation and river 
mouth occlusion. Armstrong (2003) notes that siltation and occlusion 
problems are natural phenomena resulting from sea-level fluctuations in 
the Caspian Sea Basin. The availability of sturgeon spawning habitat 
has ebbed and flowed throughout historic time as a result of these 
naturally occurring sea-level fluctuations (Armstrong 2003).
    Spawning runs in the Kura River in Azerbaijan have also been 
limited by

[[Page 21431]]

siltation and occlusion of the river mouth. River mouth and channel 
dredging is under way in the Kura River, with the goal of increasing 
available spawning habitat (Armstrong 2003), and with the expectation 
that beluga sturgeon will once again reproduce in the Kura River 
    The Volga River represents the most extensive spawning habitat in 
the Russian Federation. It is believed that beluga sturgeon no longer 
spawn in the Terek River (Khodorevskaya et al. 1997). Extirpation of 
the species from the Sea of Azov resulted, in part, from dam 
construction on the Don and Kuban Rivers, which has blocked spawning 
migrations to historic spawning grounds (TRAFFIC 1998). In Iran, the 
Tajen and Gorganrud Rivers are available for spawning runs in the 
southern Caspian Sea. However, the Mangil Dam on the Sefidrud River 
blocks passage, and all spawning habitat has been destroyed because of 
pollution and water extraction (TRAFFIC 1998).
    Previous studies have noted that some 85 percent of the Black Sea's 
Danube River delta has been diked and dammed, resulting in substantial 
losses of sturgeon spawning habitat (Bacalbasa-Dobrovici 1997b). 
Harvest rates of beluga sturgeon decreased substantially after 
construction of the Djerdap Dams I and II during the mid-1980s (Hensel 
and Holcik 1997). Annual estimates of Danube River beluga sturgeon 
harvest declined from an average of 23 tons during the mid-1970s to12.7 
tons in 1994, indicative of the dams' effects on spawning sturgeon 
populations (Bacalbasa-Dobrovici 1997b).
    A recent study, however, suggests that previous estimates of 
decline in the Black Sea Basin were inaccurate because ``poor'' 
fisheries statistics were maintained by the Romanian fisheries 
administration (Suciu 2002). As part of a research program funded by 
the Global Environment Fund (GEF) and the World Bank, a Rapid Rural 
Assessment (RRA) was conducted to evaluate sturgeon harvest. The RRA 
discovered that estimates of previous beluga sturgeon harvest were much 
higher than originally reported, after determining that much of the 
catch was under-reported by local fishers. For instance, in 1997, 
nearly 106 tons of beluga sturgeon were harvested (Suciu 2002). The 
study also located five potentially intact spawning sites. While 
additional studies should be undertaken to confirm the findings of the 
RRA, the results are promising and indicate that a larger population of 
beluga sturgeon may exist in the Danube River and Black Sea Basin than 
was previously believed. Furthermore, whereas spawning habitat in the 
Danube River system has been compromised by man-made river alterations, 
suitable habitat remains for the species' spawning requirements.

B. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

    The international demand for caviar is the primary factor driving 
overexploitation of beluga sturgeon. In 1995, the retail price for one 
pound of beluga caviar in the United States was US$1,000 (DeMeulenaer 
and Raymakers 1996); today beluga caviar sells for around US$1,500 per 
pound on the U.S. retail market (Petrossian 2003).
    The beluga sturgeon was first listed as endangered by the IUCN in 
1996 (IUCN 2000). In an assessment by TRAFFIC (1999), the state of all 
Russian sturgeon populations was considered ``catastrophic.'' 
Information provided by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the 
Wildlife Conservation Society, and SeaWeb (Petitioners) in the original 
petition to list beluga sturgeon as endangered (Petitioners 2000), and 
in subsequent communications (Petitioners, in litt. July 9, 2003; 
September 1, 2003), indicates their belief that the species is on the 
brink of extinction. Overutilization, coupled with loss of spawning 
habitat, is considered one of the most significant factors 
precipitating the decline of beluga sturgeon populations (Petitioners 
2000). Rapid expansion of legal and illegal sturgeon fisheries during 
the upheaval caused by the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 
(Secor et al. 2000) succeeded in further reducing beluga sturgeon 
populations. The absence of a central regulatory authority and 
persistent unrestricted harvest had swiftly placed beluga sturgeon 
stocks in imminent danger of collapse within a decade.
    Formerly, Caspian Sea sturgeon populations were closely regulated 
and monitored by the Soviet Union and Iran, to ensure sustainable 
commercial sturgeon fisheries for the future. Caspian Sea management 
provisions included basin-specific harvest regulations and quotas, 
strict trade quotas, and stocking programs that have been in operation 
in the former Soviet republics continually since the late 1950s, albeit 
in much-reduced circumstances from the late 1980s to the present (Secor 
et al. 2000). In 1967, the Soviet Union banned open-sea harvest of all 
anadromous fish species in the Caspian Sea to eliminate bycatch 
mortality of juvenile sturgeons (Secor et al., 2000). However, with the 
loss of the Soviet state sturgeon monopoly, bycatch of beluga sturgeon 
again increased with the resumption of open-sea Caspian Sea fisheries, 
particularly the anchovy fishery (TRAFFIC/Europe 1999). Open-sea 
harvest heightened the risk of injury and mortality of juvenile beluga 
sturgeon, significantly impacting future stock recruitment by adversely 
affecting entire year classes. In 1996, the Caspian Sea range countries 
signed an agreement prohibiting open-sea fishing, thereby protecting 
remaining and future immature sturgeon stocks.
    Detrimental effects of the legal harvest were additionally 
compounded by the ever-increasing illegal harvest of the species (CITES 
1997). Illegal harvest and trade quickly escalated during the 1990s, 
again a result of the turbulence that took place during the emergence 
of market economies in the former Soviet bloc nations. The disorder of 
the early and mid-1990s was also responsible for the lack of effective 
enforcement measures available in the newly emerging nations. 
DeMeulenaer and Raymakers (1996) originally estimated that the illegal 
harvest of Caspian Sea sturgeons was 6-10 times higher than legal 
harvest. More recent assessments, however, suggest the illegal trade 
may be some 11 times greater than the legal market (Volkov 2001).
    International and domestic demand for sturgeon caviar and meat 
ensures traffickers of an extremely lucrative market for the illegal 
trade in sturgeon products. Processed caviar generates maximum prices 
and is packaged in small, easily smuggled containers. Organized teams 
of poachers use the most up-to-date equipment to efficiently harvest 
sturgeons. The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) has reported that 
poaching teams utilize modern satellite navigation equipment and 
regularly fish in prohibited open-sea waters. Detection of the fishing 
crews is difficult, and encounters between border guards and violators 
often end violently (BBC 2003).
    As an example of the widespread nature of poaching networks in the 
region and the large volume of illegal harvest that has been detected, 
this year alone a Russian poaching investigation, dubbed Putina-2003, 
has been responsible for detaining more than 1,500 people for violating 
fishing regulations. However, many poachers continue to elude this 
poaching investigation and other enforcement actions under way daily in 
the region. During a recent broadcast of Moscow's Channel One TV, 
Vladimir Streltsov, Deputy of the Federal Security Service's North 
Caucasus Regional Border Directorate, stated that these arrests 
indicate a three-fold increase in Caspian

[[Page 21432]]

Sea poaching (BBC 2003). Over 500 km of sturgeon fishing nets have been 
confiscated during the Putina-2003 operation and were officially 
destroyed recently.
    Hatchery programs were also impacted by the upheaval in the region 
during the last decade. Overharvest has reduced the availability of 
wild broodstock, which has consequently caused a decrease in hatchery 
production and restocking programs. Hatchery infrastructure has 
deteriorated in all countries except Iran, and most facilities do not 
have sufficient capability to over-winter sturgeon broodstock. As a 
result, after the broodstock is used for reproductive purposes, it may 
be released or, more commonly, sold for meat to obtain funds for 
hatchery operating costs.
    The Caspian Sea range countries maintain that the historic decline 
in Caspian Sea beluga sturgeon populations has been arrested, and in 
fact, the population has increased. They further assert that the 
proportion of reproductively mature individuals has likewise increased 
(Armstrong and Karpyuk 2003). The data used to determine the status of 
sturgeon populations in the Caspian Sea are derived from annual stock 
monitoring, which involves collaborative trawl surveys and assessment 
of abundance and biomass of spawning stocks migrating into the Volga 
and Ural Rivers (Armstrong and Karpyuk 2003). According to the CITES 
Secretariat, this research has been continuously conducted in the 
Caspian Sea since 1962 (Armstrong and Karpyuk 2003).
    The estimated number of beluga sturgeon in the Caspian Sea has 
exhibited a gradual increase since 1998, the year the beluga sturgeon 
was listed in Appendix II of CITES. The percentage of adults, based on 
summer trawl surveys, has likewise increased. Data obtained during 
summer trawl surveys are considered the most reliable indicators of 
population size because beluga sturgeon do not actively migrate during 
the summer. The population estimates in Table 1 (below) are viewed as 
conservative; they do not accurately reflect the number of beluga 
sturgeon present in shallow coastal waters. It is impossible to survey 
shallow depths using the trawl methods employed for the survey.

                                   Table 1.--Estimated Caspian Sea Beluga Sturgeon Population and Percentage of Adults
               Year                          1998                   1999                   2000                   2001                    2002
Total Population..................  7.6 million..........  9.3 million..........  5 million*...........  9.3 million..........  11.6 million.
Percentage of adults in the         0%...................  8.7%.................  5.5%*................  14.8%................  20.6%
 northern Caspian Sea.
Percentage of adults in the middle  17.4%................  10.0%................  No data collected....  22.0%................  42.9%
 and southern Caspian Sea.
Source: Armstrong and Karpyuk 2003.
* Adult estimate data collected for the northern Caspian Sea population only in 2000.

    The CITES Secretariat also reports that the summer index of beluga 
catch per unit effort (CPUE) has increased from 10 specimens per 100 
trawls in 1994 to 18 specimens per 100 trawls in 2001, the highest 
value recorded in the past 7 years (Armstrong and Karpyuk 2003). The 
trend data indicate that the beluga sturgeon fishery is recovering 
under CITES regulation, according to the CITES Secretariat. Armstrong 
and Karpyuk (2003) make an emphatic distinction between the status of 
beluga sturgeon populations prior to CITES regulation and the same 
populations post-listing. They state that current data illustrate a 
population that ``has been/was severely overfished'' rather than a 
population that ``is currently severely overfished.''
    Levels of beluga sturgeon harvest in tributary rivers since 1998 
range from one-third to one-fifth of the total spawning fish entering 
the river system (see Table 2). Although Armstrong and Karpyuk (2003) 
contend that recent numbers of spawning beluga sturgeon are higher than 
those in the past, the historic data used for comparison are from the 
period from 1961 to 1965. The use of more recent data would be more 
meaningful. Significantly, the number of harvested specimens held for 
hatchery use is greater than 50 percent of the total harvest in 3 of 
the 5 years from which data are available. Transferring live beluga 
sturgeon that were captured as part of the annual harvest quotas 
allocated in 1999, 2001, and 2002 to hatcheries for fingerling 
production effectively reduced the number of adult fish that were being 
killed for caviar and meat production by more than 50 percent. Use of 
adult broodstock for hatchery production rather than caviar production 
further contributes to the future status of the species through the 
annual production and release of fingerlings to augment current 
population numbers in the Caspian Sea.

      Table 2.--Total Harvest Levels in Caspian Sea Tributary Rivers and Percent Allocated for Hatchery Use
                                                                     Number of                      Percent of
                                                     Number of        adults         Number of     harvest held
                      Year                            adults*        entering         adults       for hatchery
                                                                      rivers         harvested          use
1998............................................               0           6,090           2,118            41.1
1999............................................         809,000           5,272           1,454            72.3
2000............................................       **275,000           5,355           1,182            48.4
2001............................................       1,376,400           5,695           1,059            69.1
2002............................................       2,389,600           5,524           1,121           61.9
Source: Armstrong and Karpyuk 2003.
*Numbers based on Table 1.
**Northern Caspian Sea only.

    Analyses of long-term tributary monitoring data in the Volga River 
indicate that natural spawning still occurs and is on the increase, 
similar to the other population parameters presented by the Secretariat 
and the

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Caspian Sea range nations (Armstrong et al. 2003). Annual larval 
sampling has revealed that, within the sampling sites of the lower 
Volga River, wild beluga sturgeon larval abundance has increased from 
130,000 specimens in 1997 to 2 million specimens in 2002 (Armstrong and 
Karpyuk 2003).
    The data presented by the Secretariat and the Caspian Sea range 
nations indicate an improvement in the status of beluga sturgeon 
populations. While concerns have been raised about the accuracy of the 
most recent population estimates (Petitioners, Secor, in litt. 2003), 
the same survey methods that originally alerted the scientific 
community to the decline of sturgeon stocks are currently being used to 
document increases in Caspian Sea sturgeon populations. The protections 
and improvements in management afforded the species since the CITES 
listing in 1998 have contributed to these improvements.
C. Disease or Predation
    Decades of industrial pollution and centuries of sewage effluent 
have degraded water quality in the Caspian Sea region. The Volga River, 
formerly responsible for the largest amount of sturgeon production 
annually, is the single major source of pollutants draining into the 
Caspian Sea. Sewage produced by half the Russian population and most of 
the country's heavy industrial waste flow through the Volga River 
system (Anon. 2002). Disease and reproductive abnormalities associated 
with pollution have been observed in beluga sturgeon throughout their 
range. A contaminant study of the Volga River conducted in 1990 found 
abnormalities in 100 percent of the sturgeon eggs that were sampled 
(all sturgeon species sampled), and 100 percent of the embryos examined 
were found to be non-viable (Khodorevskaya et al. 1997). In a 3-year 
study (1999-2002) funded by the World Bank, organochlorines and heavy 
metals were identified as the predominant environmental contaminants in 
the Caspian Sea. The contaminants reside in sediments and are also 
found in living organisms, such as seals, bony fish, and sturgeons 
(Padeco 2002). The northeast section of the Caspian Sea, in and around 
Kazakhstan, has the lowest levels of contaminants in the basin. Beluga 
sturgeon were found to have the highest organochlorine levels of all 
sturgeon species, likely attributable to the species' longevity (Padeco 
2002). Organochlorine contamination in sturgeons is at a level where 
reproductive effects may be expected (Padeco 2002). The study revealed 
that the major hotspot for contamination is Baku Bay in Azerbaijan.
    Analysis of the contaminant data provided in the 2002 Sturgeon 
Stock Assessment Survey suggests that several of the Caspian Sea 
sturgeon sampled during the survey had mercury concentrations that 
approached or exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 
criteria for human health protection (USFWS in litt. 2003). Although 
existing contaminant research indicates that pollution is a threat to 
all sturgeon species, and most particularly beluga sturgeon, we note 
that this threat is not uniform throughout its range. In addition, the 
actual impact of some contaminants on these fish is indeterminate, and 
although they are present, it is not clear what, if any, effect they 
are having or may have on beluga sturgeon. We are also aware that 
positive steps have been taken in the development and adoption of a new 
environmental treaty to protect the Caspian Sea. The Framework 
Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian 
Sea is the first legally binding treaty ever developed by the Caspian 
Sea nations. The treaty provides a basis for regional coordination to 
promote conservation of the Caspian Sea and its bio-resources, and 
address problems with habitat destruction, pollution, and over-
exploitation of fish and other marine life (UNEP 2003). The treaty must 
be ratified by all of the basin nations before it enters into force and 
becomes legally binding.
    A ctenophore, the American comb jellyfish (Mnemiopsis leidyi), was 
introduced into the Black Sea in 1982 from the discharge of ship 
ballast water. There are no known Black Sea predators of the comb 
jellyfish, and the species' growth has been explosive. Within 7 years, 
the biomass of M. leidyi in the Black Sea grew to 800 million metric 
tons (Bacalbasa-Dobrovici N. 1997a). Comb jellyfish feed on zooplankton 
and pelagic fish eggs, embryos, and larvae, prey that are utilized by 
small marine fishes, such as anchovies. The small marine fishes are fed 
upon by the piscivorous beluga sturgeon. The feeding habits of the comb 
jellyfish resulted in the complete collapse of the Sea of Azov anchovy 
fishery in 1989. Changes in invertebrate distribution and faunal 
structure caused by M. leidyi have altered the prey base of Black Sea 
sturgeon populations (Kovalev et al. 1994, as cited in Bacalbasa-
Dobrovici 1997a). The comb jellyfish has expanded its range and is 
believed to have infiltrated the Caspian Sea through the Lenin Canal 
that links the Don and Volga Rivers. The first certified record of M. 
leidyi was made in 1999 along the coast of Kazakhstan (UNISCI 2000). 
Expansion of the species was faster than that in the Black Sea; within 
one year the population exploded and M. leidyi was found throughout the 
Caspian Sea Basin. Introduction of the comb jellyfish has resulted in 
declines of kilka, a suite of sardine-like pelagic fishes. Declines in 
kilka populations have had a direct, negative impact on the species 
that feed upon them, including beluga sturgeon (UNISCI 2000).
D. The Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms
    Under previous management regimes to protect immature sturgeon 
stocks in the Caspian Sea, open-sea fishing was prohibited from the 
1950s through the early 1990s. After the collapse of the Soviet Union 
in 1991 and the subsequent absence of controls on commercial fisheries, 
a period of open-sea fishing was resumed during the mid-1990s. Impacts 
from harvest and bycatch of the mixed-stock sturgeon populations that 
occupy the open waters of the Caspian Sea were considered detrimental 
to the survival of sturgeon species. If the open-sea fishery was 
allowed to continue unregulated, extirpation of local stocks was a very 
real probability, because it was impossible to determine from which 
specific population individual fish were harvested. Additionally, 
harvest might have disproportionately affected specific populations 
that were already vulnerable to over-exploitation (D. Secor, personal 
communication). This period of unregulated harvest, with the bycatch of 
immature sturgeons, may have destroyed a major component of future 
sturgeon stocks (CITES 1997). In 1996, the Caspian Sea range countries 
signed an agreement prohibiting open-sea fishing, thereby protecting 
remaining and future immature sturgeon stocks.
    Iran continued to apply strict management and enforcement measures 
to conserve beluga sturgeon, and persisted with a successful annual 
beluga sturgeon stocking program, while many profound changes were 
occurring in the former Soviet States. Despite decreases in harvest 
from Iranian waters from 1995 through 2001, the Iranian Government's 
fisheries management agency, SHILAT, maintains that harvest was not 
detrimental because of the large number of fingerlings that were 
stocked during those years (SHILAT, in litt. 2002). A total of 
5,713,269 beluga sturgeon fingerlings were released into the Caspian 
Sea from 1995 to 2001 (SHILAT, in litt. 2002). On average, fingerlings 
released during that time

[[Page 21434]]

weighed 3-5 grams. Currently, however, fingerlings are given a ``head 
start'' by increasing the age and weight at the time of stocking to 30 
grams each. SHILAT estimates the total number of adult beluga sturgeon 
harvested in the Caspian Sea during 2001 was fewer than 3,000 specimens 
from an estimated total population of 9.35 million beluga sturgeon, and 
an estimated commercial stock (adult fish) of 1.383 million fish 
(SHILAT, in litt. 2002).
    Khodorevskaya (2000) and TRAFFIC Europe-Russia (1999) have 
suggested that the failure of regulatory oversight in the Caspian Sea 
region since the dissolution of the Soviet Union has been an important 
factor contributing to the rapid decline of beluga sturgeon 
populations. Recognition of the inadequacy of existing regulatory 
mechanisms prompted conservation actions from the CITES community to 
address the regulatory deficiencies. A synopsis of significant actions 
taken by the CITES community follows.
    To curtail trade in illegally obtained caviar, and to ensure 
sustainable use, conservation, and management of wild sturgeon 
populations, the first significant international regulatory action was 
undertaken during COP 10 in 1997. At that time, all previously unlisted 
species of Acipenseriformes (sturgeons and paddlefishes) were listed in 
Appendix II of CITES, effective April 1, 1998. Appendix II includes 
species that may become threatened with extinction if trade is not 
regulated. Occasionally, species that are not threatened by unregulated 
trade are listed in Appendix II because trade in these species may 
impact other species that were listed because they were likely to 
become threatened with extinction if trade was not regulated. As an 
example, species that are similar in appearance to a listed species may 
also be listed to ensure complete regulation of the species of concern. 
All specimens of Appendix II species in international trade, including 
parts and products, require an export permit from the country of 
origin. Permits are issued only when a positive finding can be made 
that the proposed export will not be detrimental to the survival of the 
species, and the specimens were legally acquired.
    Under CITES, trade is regulated through a system of permits that 
requires wildlife inspections at ports of entry. The inspection process 
has been influential in the discovery of falsified documentation 
accompanying illegal shipments of sturgeon products. Through the 
inspection process, carried out by OLE, numerous illegal shipments of 
sturgeon products have been detected. Between June 1998 and June 2003, 
OLE refused clearance of more than 135 shipments of beluga sturgeon 
products into the United States. The shipments that were refused 
clearance by OLE were seized, re-exported, or destroyed. Recognition of 
falsified documentation, and other investigatory information gathered 
by enforcement agencies of the CITES Parties, was instrumental in the 
discovery of illicit trade networks that moved illegal caviar through 
several countries. As a result of the law enforcement investigations, 
CITES imposed trade sanctions against the countries involved.
    The CITES listing also served to further engage and integrate 
international scientific attention on sturgeon conservation issues. 
Since the listing, a suite of sturgeon conservation measures have been 
recommended and undertaken by the CITES community. Sturgeons were 
included in the Review of Significant Trade shortly after the listing 
became effective and provided scientists and management authorities 
with recommendations to improve the basis for trade. If Appendix II 
species are being traded at significant levels, the Significant Trade 
Review process is the Convention's mechanism for evaluating if the 
provisions of CITES are being adequately implemented and non-detriment 
findings are being properly made. Remedial action can be taken, if 
deemed necessary. The review of all Acipenseriformes commenced in 2000, 
and the results showed a clear pattern of declining yields from Caspian 
and Black Sea sturgeon populations, necessitating prompt conservation 
action (Armstrong and Karpyuk 2003). The Significant Trade Review 
process was a catalyst for the development of numerous critical 
conservation actions for sturgeons. To address and implement the 
conservation requirements of all sturgeon species, intergovernmental 
sturgeon management commissions were established for the Amur River and 
Sea of Azov (Armstrong and Karpyuk 2003). The Black Sea sturgeon range 
countries established the Black Sea Sturgeon Action Group (BSSAG) in 
2001, and in 2002, the Caspian Sea range countries created the 
Commission on Aquatic Bioresources of the Caspian Sea, also known as 
the Caspian Bioresources Commission (Armstrong and Karpyuk 2003).
    The Caspian Bioresources Commission is composed of representatives 
of the Caspian Sea nations and is currently responsible for the 
allocation of sturgeon quotas to regulate and control harvest of and 
trade in sturgeons (Armstrong and Karpyuk 2003). CITES Decision 11.58, 
for the establishment of annual harvest and export quotas for shared 
sturgeon stocks, was adopted at the 11th meeting of the Conference of 
the Parties (COP 11; Nairobi 2000). This Decision was later rescinded 
and the recommendations previously found in the Decision became part of 
CITES Resolution Conf. 12.7, Conservation of and trade in sturgeons and 
paddlefish. Prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and before 
the CITES listing, the Soviet Union and Iran set annual quotas for 
Caspian Sea sturgeon products and specimens. After 1991, the former 
Soviet Republics and Iran continued to set annual quotas for Caspian 
Sea sturgeon outside the bounds of a formal agreement. Since 1993, the 
annual share of sturgeon catch for each former Soviet republic has been 
allocated as a percentage of total harvest. The Russian Federation is 
allowed 70 percent of the total catch; Kazakhstan 17.6 percent; 
Turkmenistan 6.3 percent; and Azerbaijan 6.1 percent (TRAFFIC 2000).
    The CITES community recognized that illegal trade was one of the 
major threats to the survival of certain sturgeon populations and 
continued to undermine range countries' efforts to manage their 
sturgeon resources on a sustainable basis. Therefore, Resolution Conf. 
10.12 (Rev.), adopted at COP 10, directed the Secretariat, in 
consultation with the Animals Committee, to explore development of a 
uniform marking system for sturgeons to assist in identification of 
legal caviar in trade. The Resolution stated that a marking system 
should be standardized and specifications for label design were to be 
generally applied. CITES Resolution Conf. 11.13, a Universal labeling 
system for the identification of caviar, was adopted at COP 11 
(Resolution Conf. 11.13 has been repealed and replaced with Resolution 
Conf. 12.7: Conservation of and trade in sturgeon and paddlefish). 
Resolution Conf. 12.7 recommended harmonization of each country's 
national legislation so that the personal-effects exemption, provided 
for in Article VII of CITES, would be limited to no more than 250 grams 
of caviar.
    The original Resolution, and subsequent Notifications (No. 2001/075 
and No. 2001/089) to clarify implementation of the Resolution, specify 
labeling requirements and details for primary and secondary containers. 
A non-reusable label is to be affixed to all primary containers and 
should contain, at a minimum, the following information, in the order 
presented: the standard three-letter CITES species code; the source 
code of

[[Page 21435]]

the caviar; the ISO two-letter code for the country of origin; the 
four-digit year of harvest; the caviar processing plant's unique code 
(assigned by each range country and/or processing company); and the lot 
identification number. CITES Notification 2001/089 noted that 
sufficient time had passed for range countries to implement the caviar 
labeling system, and recommended that importing countries should not 
accept caviar shipments from exporting countries after December 31, 
2001, unless they were labeled in compliance with Resolution Conf. 
11.13. The universal labeling system protects legal exporters, assists 
wildlife inspectors and customs officers globally in verifying the 
contents of caviar shipments, and aids in the detection of illegal 
    A sturgeon conservation action plan approved during the 45th 
meeting of the CITES Standing Committee (SC 45 Doc. 12.2), the so-
called Paris Agreement, included the most significant sturgeon 
conservation actions recommended to date. The agreement listed specific 
conservation measures that were to be implemented by each range country 
in three stages. Completion of each stage was to take place by a 
particular deadline. Stage 1 required declaration of stocks of 
specimens intended for export that were harvested in spring 2001 by the 
northern Caspian Sea range nations. The countries agreed to limit 
exports in 2001 to the declared stocks only, provided they did not 
exceed the existing quotas, and further agreed to suspend all 
commercial harvest for the remainder of the year. Declarations of 
stocks were submitted prior to the deadline of July 20, 2001, and the 
CITES Secretariat was satisfied with the declarations after completing 
missions to verify each country's stock declaration. The agreements 
under Stage 2 required completion of a comprehensive survey of sturgeon 
stocks; a request to Interpol to analyze the illegal sturgeon trade; a 
study of enforcement needs to combat illegal harvest and trade, in 
collaboration with Interpol, the World Customs Organization, and the 
CITES Secretariat; and on-site inspections of each country's sturgeon 
management activities. Preliminary to Stage 3 was the final condition: 
agreement on coordinated management of Caspian Sea resources, including 
the joint allocation of harvest and export quotas for 2002. Stage 2 
requirements were to be completed by December 31, 2002; failure to 
implement the agreement was to result in zero quotas for 2002. It is 
not clear if all Stage 2 requirements were met prior to the deadline; 
however, 2002 harvest and export quotas were allocated for the range 
    The final phase, Stage 3, imposed actions necessitating the highest 
level of cooperation between the range nations of all previous stages 
of the Paris Agreement. The Caspian Sea range countries (excepting 
Iran) were to establish a long-term survey program for sturgeons, 
incorporating up-to-date technology and techniques; request advice from 
the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on 
managing regional fisheries; adopt a collaborative management system 
for Caspian Sea sturgeon fisheries; significantly increase efforts to 
combat illegal trade and regulate domestic trade; submit funding 
proposals to the Global Environment Fund (GEF) and other donors for 
rehabilitation of sturgeon stocks; and implement the caviar labeling 
system required by Resolution Conf. 11.13. The deadline for Stage 3 
actions was June 20, 2002. Several actions of the final stage have not 
been completed. In particular, completion of what may be the most 
important action of the entire agreement, development and adoption of 
an inter-jurisdictional fisheries management plan for Caspian Sea 
sturgeons, has yet to occur.
    The long-term stock survey plan to be used ``as the basis for 
future management of sturgeon stocks'' has been established and 
undertaken, as recommended in SC 45 Doc. 12.2.1(e)(i). Unfortunately, 
the stock survey methodology and subsequent techniques utilized for 
analysis of the survey data have not been submitted for review by 
independent scientists. The annual surveys conducted since 2001 have 
shown increases in the Caspian Sea beluga sturgeon stock. However, when 
the survey results were reviewed by three U.S. scientists, they were 
unable to replicate the results using the data supplied in the 2002 
sturgeon stock-assessment survey report. Questions regarding the 
accuracy and precision of the survey results could be allayed by 
subjecting the survey and analysis methodologies to independent 
scientific review, and applying rigorous statistical analysis to the 
process. The CITES Secretariat has informed us that FAO is currently 
reviewing the methodology used for the annual stock-assessment surveys, 
and recommendations to improve the techniques and methodology will be 
incorporated into subsequent surveys (Armstrong 2003). A completion 
date for the analysis by FAO is unknown at this time.
    As previously noted, the first legally binding environmental treaty 
ever adopted by the Caspian Sea nations, the Framework Convention for 
the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea (CPMECS), 
was recently agreed to and finalized by the range nations. The treaty 
will provide a basis for regional coordination on the conservation of 
the Caspian Sea and its biological resources. The intent of the framers 
is to reverse and mitigate the environmental damage brought about by 
habitat destruction, pollution, and over-exploitation of commercial 
fisheries (UNEP 2003). The treaty must first be ratified by all Caspian 
Sea range nations before its entry into force, thereby ensuring that 
the treaty becomes legally binding.
    In our proposed rule of July 31, 2002 (67 FR 49657), we expressed 
concern that the regulatory mechanisms in place at the time were not 
sufficient to protect and conserve the species. Currently, the 
execution of conservation recommendations, decisions, and resolutions 
adopted by the CITES community as a result of the 1998 listing and the 
Significant Trade Review are beginning to yield practical results. 
According to the data collected and analyzed during the sturgeon stock-
assessment surveys, populations are slowly beginning to increase, and 
the number of spawning adults has likewise improved. Stock-assessment 
surveys are conducted each year, adding to the pool of data available 
to make sound management decisions, such as the allocation of harvest 
and export quotas. Finally, the CPMECS has been finalized and is 
awaiting ratification by the Caspian Sea range nations, so that 
additional sturgeon conservation measures can be undertaken on a basin-
wide level.

E. Other Natural or Man-Made Factors Affecting the Continued Existence 
of Beluga Sturgeon

    Cyclic changes in sea level within the Caspian Sea have been common 
throughout geologic time (Ivanov, 2000). Reductions in sea level from 
1970 through 1977 adversely affected sturgeon populations because of 
changes to biochemical regimes and faunal communities (Ivanov, 2000; 
DeMeulenaer and Raymakers, 1996).
    Genetic alteration and hybridization of sturgeon stocks is also a 
serious concern. It is postulated that the Volga-Don Canal, linking the 
Black and Caspian Seas, allowed for an ``avalanche'' of genetic 
alteration and hybridization between these sturgeon populations 
(DeMeulenaer and Raymakers, 1996). Although hybridization occurs 
naturally, when artificial connections are made between

[[Page 21436]]

previously isolated water bodies, the rapidity with which hybridization 
occurs is accelerated. This process can impact the homogeneity of 
populations and further hamper recovery efforts.
    In developing this rule, we have carefully assessed the best 
scientific and commercial information available regarding the past, 
present, and future threats faced by beluga sturgeon. Based on this 
evaluation, the preferred action is to list the beluga sturgeon as a 
threatened species. Although documentation has revealed that the 
species has been in decline for several decades, conservation actions 
taken since the species' CITES Appendix-II listing have resulted in 
increases of total population numbers. Loss of habitat continues to be 
a threat to the species; however, actions are being taken in Azerbaijan 
and Kazakhstan to dredge waterways, thereby improving access to former 
spawning grounds during migration runs. Although pollution and other 
factors are impacting beluga sturgeon populations, the Ural River 
continues to support a population that is not impacted by dams and has 
free access to remaining spawning habitat. Important and beneficial 
results of the CITES listing that have had a major impact on the 
illegal trade of beluga sturgeon include the allocation of annual 
quotas for harvest and trade, issuance of CITES export permits and re-
export certificates, caviar labeling requirements, and inspections of 
shipments by law enforcement agencies upon importation. However, 
illegal harvest persists and remains a serious threat to all sturgeon 
species. By its nature, it is impossible to accurately estimate the 
annual volume of illegal harvest. However, any reduction in this 
portion of the harvest will yield a positive impact to beluga sturgeon 
populations. Attention to this specific threat is vital and we intend 
to address it in the proposed 4(d) rule that we intend to publish as 
soon as possible following publication of this determination.
    Finally, the conservation actions taken by the CITES Parties since 
the Appendix-II listing in 1998 have proven beneficial to the status of 
the species. Nevertheless, actions recommended under the Paris 
Agreement have not been completed, and other conservation measures, 
while in progress, also remain incomplete. Benefits to beluga sturgeon 
from current and future conservation actions may not be realized or 
quantifiable for years. At this time the beluga sturgeon is not in 
immediate danger of extinction because of ongoing conservation actions; 
however, listing the species as threatened is consistent with the 
intent of the Act. The listing also strengthens the measures taken by 
the CITES Parties to date, and affords the species the protections of 
the Act.
    We will soon publish in the Proposed Rules section of the Federal 
Register a proposal outlining regulations we deem necessary and 
advisable to provide for the conservation of the species, as provided 
by section 4(d) of the Act. Our final determination to list the beluga 
sturgeon as threatened will become effective in 6 months. We are 
delaying the effective date of our final determination to allow for 
development of a final 4(d) rule, with specific conservation measures 
for beluga sturgeon, as part of this listing decision. We intend to 
publish a proposed 4(d) rule, as previously stated, as soon as possible 
following publication of this rule. After a public comment period, we 
will consider publishing a final 4(d) rule to implement the final 
conservation measures developed for beluga sturgeon, thereby increasing 
the effectiveness of the threatened listing.

Available Conservation Measures

    Conservation measures provided to species listed as endangered or 
threatened under the Endangered Species Act include recognition, 
recovery actions, requirements for Federal protection, and prohibitions 
against certain practices. Recognition through listing results in 
public awareness, and encourages and results in conservation actions by 
Federal and State governments, private agencies and groups, and 
    Section 7(a) of the Act, as amended, and as implemented by 
regulations at 50 CFR part 402, requires Federal agencies to evaluate 
their actions within the United States or on the high seas with respect 
to any species that is proposed or listed as endangered or threatened, 
and with respect to its critical habitat, if any is being designated. 
However, because the beluga sturgeon is not native to the United 
States, no critical habitat is being proposed for designation with this 
    With respect to the beluga sturgeon, no Federal activities, other 
than the issuance of CITES export permits or re-export certificates, 
are known that would require conferral or consultation. According to 
CITES, Appendix-II species need only a CITES export permit or re-export 
certificate issued by the exporting country for their importation into 
another country. However, because of its listing as threatened under 
the Act, the importation and exportation of specimens of Huso huso 
presently require an Endangered Species Act permit issued by the 
Division of Management Authority. Consequently, a consultation with the 
Division of Scientific Authority is currently required before the 
Division of Management Authority can issue any import or export permit 
for beluga sturgeon. Section 8(a) of the Act authorizes the provision 
of limited financial assistance for the development and management of 
programs that the Secretary of the Interior determines to be necessary 
or useful for the conservation of endangered species in foreign 
countries. Sections 8(b) and 8(c) of the Act authorize the Secretary to 
encourage conservation programs for foreign endangered species, and to 
provide assistance for such programs, in the form of personnel and the 
training of personnel.
    Sections 4(d) and 9 of the Act, and implementing regulations found 
at 50 CFR 17.31, (which incorporate certain provisions of 50 CFR 
17.21), set forth a series of prohibitions and exceptions that 
generally apply to all threatened wildlife. These prohibitions, in 
part, make it illegal for any person subject to the jurisdiction of the 
United States to take (within U.S. territory or on the high seas), 
import or export, ship in interstate commerce in the course of a 
commercial activity, or sell or offer for sale in interstate or foreign 
commerce any listed species. It is also illegal to possess, sell, 
deliver, carry, transport, or ship any such wildlife that has been 
taken illegally. Certain exceptions apply to employees or agents of the 
Service, other Federal land management agencies, the National Marine 
Fisheries Service, and State conservation agencies (50 CFR 17.21(c)(3) 
and part 17.31(b)). Permits may be issued to carry out otherwise 
prohibited activities involving threatened wildlife species under 
certain circumstances. Regulations governing permits are codified at 50 
CFR 17.32. With regard to threatened wildlife, a permit may be issued 
for the following purposes: scientific research, enhancement of 
propagation or survival, zoological exhibition or education, incidental 
taking, or special purposes consistent with the Act. All such permits 
must also be consistent with the purposes and policy of the Act as 
required by section 10(d). Such a permit will be governed by the 
provisions of 50 CFR 17.32 unless a special rule applicable to the 
wildlife (appearing in 50 CFR 17.40 to 50 CFR 17.48) provides 
otherwise. Threatened species are generally covered by all prohibitions 
applicable to endangered species, under 50 CFR 17.31. We may, however, 
develop special rules if deemed necessary and

[[Page 21437]]

advisable to provide for the conservation of the species.

National Environmental Policy Act

    We have determined that Environmental Assessments and Environmental 
Impact Statements, as defined under the authority of the National 
Environmental Policy Act of 1969, need not be prepared in connection 
with regulations adopted pursuant to section 4(a) of the Act. A notice 
outlining our reasons for this determination was published in the 
Federal Register on October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49244).

References Cited

    Anon. 2002. Caspian Sea: State of the Environment. Http://
    Armstrong, J.A. 2003. The current status of beluga sturgeon 
(Huso huso) in the Ural River (Kazakhstan). A response to the Caviar 
Emptor report dated November 21, 2002. (http://www.cites.org). 10 pp.

    Armstrong, J.A. and M.I. Karpyuk. 2003. Beluga sturgeon (Huso 
huso) in the Caspian Sea--a response to the proposal to list beluga 
sturgeon as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. 31 pp.
    Bacalbasa-Dobrovici, N. 1997a. Endangered migratory sturgeons of 
the lower Danube River and its delta. Environmental Biology of 
Fishes 48: 201-207.
    Bacalbasa-Dobrovici, N. 1997b. Danube caviar in danger. Sturgeon 
Quarterly 5:1-2.
    Barannikova, I. A., I. A. Burtsev, A. D. Vlasenko, A. D. 
Gershanovich, E. V. Markarov, and M. S. Chebanov. 1995. Sturgeon 
fisheries in Russia, pages 124-130, in Proceedings of the Second 
International Symposium on Sturgeons, September 6-11, 1993. Moscow-
Kosyroma-Moscow. VNIRO Publication.
    British Broadcasting Company. 2003. Sturgeon Poaching in Caspian 
Rising Despite Russian Patrols. Channel One TV, Moscow, October 25, 
    Birstein, V. J., W. E. Bemis, and J. R. Waldman. 1997. The 
threatened status of Acipenseriformes species: A summary. 
Environmental Biology of Fishes, 48:427.
    Burros, M. 2002. American caviar comes into it's own. The New 
York Times, November 13, 2002.
    CITES. 1997. Document Doc. 10.89; Prop. 10.65. Proposal to list 
all Acipenseriformes in Appendix II. Submitted by Germany and the 
United States.
    CITES Secretariat. 2001. Sturgeons, significant trade and the 
``Paris Agreement.'' CITES World: Official Newsletter of the 
Parties, 8:1-2.
    Cortese, A. 2003. Move over beluga: American fish farms are 
producing caviar so good it rivals the Caspian's best. BusinessWeek 
online, http://www.businessweek.com. April 28, 2003.

    DeMeulenaer, T., and C. Raymakers. 1996. Sturgeons of the 
Caspian Sea and the international trade in caviar. TRAFFIC 
International. 71 pp.
    Djazbayev, B. 2002. Report by Batyr Djazbayev, Atyrau Oblast 
Environmental Prosecutor. Submitted as an attachment to comments 
received from the Petitioners, September 2, 2003. 6pp.
    Edwards, D. and S. Doroshov. 1989. Appraisal of the sturgeon and 
seatrout fisheries and proposals for a rehabilitation programme. FAO 
Field Document I.TCP/TUR/8853. 38 pp.
    Hensel, K. and J. Holcik. 1997. Past and current status of 
sturgeons in the upper and middle Danube River. Environmental 
Biology of Fishes, 48: 185-200.
    Hochleithner, M. and Gessner, J. 1999. The Sturgeon and 
Paddlefishes (Acipenserformes) of the World: Biology and 
Aquaculture. AquaTech Publications. Kitzbuhl. 165 pp.
    IUCN. 2000. 2000 IUCN Red list of threatened animals. IUCN. 
Gland and Cambridge.
    Ivanov, V. P. 2000. Biological Resources of the Caspian Sea. 
KaspNIRKH, Astrakhan. 96 pp.
    Jahncke, M. L., G.T. Seaborn, and T.I.J. Smith. 1992. Marine 
Forensics Program: Development of a biochemical method to 
distinguish wild from cultured fish: Final Report-National Oceanic 
and Atmospheric Agency.
    Joint Columbia River Management Staff. 2002. Joint Staff Report 
Concerning Commercial Seasons for Sturgeon and Smelt in 2003. 
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Oregon Department of 
Fish and Wildlife. December 3, 2002. 32 pp.
    Khodorevskaya, R.P. et al. 2000. Formation of the stock of the 
Caspian Acipenserids under present-day conditions. Journal of 
Ichthyology, 40(8): 602-609.
    Jahncke, M. L., G.T. Seaborn, and T.I.J. Smith. 1992. Marine 
Forensics Program: Development of a biochemical method to 
distinguish wild from cultured fish: Final Report. NOAA Tech. Mem. 
NMFS-SEFSC-301, 40p. and 3 appendices.
    Levin, A.V. 1995. The distribution and migration of sturgeons in 
the Caspian Sea. In: Proceedings of the Sturgeon Stocks and Caviar 
Trade Workshop. Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature 
Conservation and Nuclear Safety, and the Federal Agency for Nature 
Conservation. Bonn, Germany.
    Messier, M. 1998. The beluga sturgeon: caviar in danger? In TED 
Case Studies: http://www.american.edu/projects/mandala/TED/STURGEON.HTM

    Moiseev, A. 2002. Total allowable catch (TAC) estimation for 
sturgeon species in the Caspian Sea. Management Authority for 
Sturgeon of the Russian Federation. 19pp.
    Padeco Co. Ltd. 2002. Executive Summary of the Draft Final 
Report--The World Bank Ecotoxicological Study: Investigation into 
toxic contamination accumulation and related pathology in the 
Caspian sturgeon, seal and bony fish (ECOTOX study). The World Bank. 
7 pp.
    Petitioners (Natural Resources Defense Council, Wildlife 
Conservation Society, and SeaWeb). 2000. A petition to list beluga 
sturgeon (Huso huso) as an endangered species. 29 pp.
    Petrossian. 2003. Petrossian Paris: Exquisite food and gifts. 23 
    Petrossian. 2003. http://www.petrossian.com.

    Pirogovskii, M. I., L. I. Sokolov, and V. P. Vasilev. 1989. Huso 
huso (Linnaeus, 1758), pages 295-344, in Document Doc. 10.89; Prop. 
10.65. 1997 Proposal to list all Acipenseriformes in Appendix II. 
Submitted by Germany and the United States of America.
    Raspopov, V. M. 1993. Growth rate of Caspian Sea beluga. Journal 
of Ichthyology, 33(9) 72-84.
    Russian Federation, Republic of Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan Republic, 
Turkmenistan, and the Islamic Republic of Iran. 2002. Report on 
Results of Complex Interstate All-Caspian Sea Expedition on the 
Assess[ment] of Sturgeon Species Stocks. 85 pp.
    Secor, D.H., V. Arefjev, A. Nikolaev, and A. Sharov. 2000. 
Restoration of sturgeon: lessons from the Caspian Sea Sturgeon 
Ranching Programme. Fish and Fisheries, 1:215-230.
    Speer, L., L. Lauck, E. Pikitch, S. Boa, L. Dropkin, V. Spruill. 
2000. Roe to ruin: The decline of sturgeons in the Caspian Sea and 
the road to recovery. Natural Resources Defense Council, Wildlife 
Conservation Society, SeaWeb. 26pp.
    Todd, R. M. 1998. Sturgeon and Paddlefish Commercial Fishery in 
North America. in: Proceedings of the Symposium on Harvest, Trade 
and Conservation of North American Paddlefish and Sturgeon. May 7-8, 
1998. Chattanooga, Tennessee. TRAFFIC North America/World Wildlife 
Fund. Pp. 42-50. TRAFFIC. 2000. Huso huso: beluga sturgeon. CITES 
Doc. AC.16.7.2. pp. 105-118
    TRAFFIC/Europe.1999. Estimation of the stock and population 
conditions of sturgeons in Russia and monitoring domestic trade in 
sturgeon products. TRAFFIC Europe-Russia field investigations. 18pp.
    UNEP. 2003. Draft Framework Convention for the Protection of the 
Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea. http://www.un.org.

    UNISCI NEWS. 2000. Predator Destroys Black Sea Fishing, Moves to 
    Volkov, K. 2001. The Caviar Game Rules. Reuters-IUCN. 6 pp.


    The primary author of this final rule is Marie T. Maltese, Division 
of Scientific Authority, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 North 
Fairfax Drive, Room 750, Arlington, Virginia 22203; telephone, (703-

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and 
recordkeeping requirements, Transportation.

Regulation Promulgation

Accordingly, we amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter I, title 50 of 
the Code of Federal Regulations, as follows:


1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows:

[[Page 21438]]

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361-1407; 16 U.S.C. 1531-1544; 16 U.S.C. 
4201-4245; Pub. L. 99-625, 100 Stat. 3500; unless otherwise noted.

2. Amend Sec.  17.11(h) by adding the following, in alphabetical order 
under FISHES, to the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife:

Sec.  17.11  Endangered and threatened wildlife.

* * * * *
    (h) * * *

                        Species                                                    Vertebrate
--------------------------------------------------------                        population where                                  Critical     Special
                                                            Historic range       endangered or         Status      When listed    habitat       rules
           Common name                Scientific name                              threatened

                                                                      * * * * * * *
              Fishes               ....................  ...................  ...................  ..............  ...........  ...........           NA

                                                                      * * * * * * *
Sturgeon, beluga.................  Huso huso...........  Azerbaijan,          Entire.............  T               ...........           NA  ...........
                                                          Bulgaria, Croatia,
                                                          Czech Republic,
                                                          Georgia, Hungary,
                                                          Islamic Republic
                                                          of Iran,
                                                          Republic of
                                                          Moldova, Romania,
                                                          (Caspian Sea,
                                                          Black Sea,
                                                          Adriatic Sea, Sea
                                                          of Azov, and all
                                                          rivers in their

                                                                      * * * * * * *

    Dated: March 19, 2004.
Marshall P. Jones, Jr.,
Acting Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 04-8934 Filed 4-20-04; 8:45 am]