FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Vicki M. Boatwright or August 21, 1995 or Diana M. Hawkins U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE RECOMMENDS NO CRITICAL HABITAT TO BE DESIGNATED FOR THE GULF STURGEON
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service will not recommend that critical habitat be designated for the Gulf sturgeon, a threatened species found in the Gulf of Mexico and in rivers of several Gulf Coast states, says the Service's Southeast Regional Director Noreen K. Clough. The decision, Clough noted, is based on the belief that critical habitat designation would not benefit the fish at this time.
Critical habitat is defined as those areas necessary for the conservation and recovery of a species listed as endangered or threatened. Areas designated as critical habitat are not sanctuaries, but Federal activities within those areas are subject to review by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Gulf sturgeon is a large, bottom-feeding fish that can grow to a length of 6 to 8 feet. The species feeds mainly in the Gulf of Mexico, but spends much of the year in the coastal rivers in which it breeds. Formerly, its range extended from Tampa Bay, Florida, and around the eastern Gulf of Mexico to the Mississippi River, occurring in every coastal state from Florida to Louisiana and in some rivers in Georgia.
The Gulf sturgeon once supported commercial fishing throughout much of its range. It was heavily overfished at the turn of the century and suffered a sharp decline, and it now occurs in greatly reduced numbers, with significant breeding populations restricted to a few river systems.
The Gulf sturgeon was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act on September 30, 1991. At the time of listing, critical habitat was not designated for the species because little information was available on the feeding and breeding areas used by the fish, making it difficult to determine what areas should be included in critical habitat.
In the years subsequent to the listing, the Service has found that existing protections afforded the Gulf sturgeon by its listing as a threatened species would not be increased by the designation of critical habitat. Specifically, the prohibition of actions by Federal agencies that are likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species already provide the sturgeon significant protection. For additional information, contact Dr. Michael M. Bentzien of the Service's Jacksonville, Florida Field Office at 904-232-2580.
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1995 News Releases