|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 27, 1998
|Diana M. Hawkins or
Vicki M. Boatwright
Designation of critical habitat for the Gulf sturgeon would not increase protection for
the species and is not necessary, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National
Marine Fisheries Service announced today. The sturgeon, a threatened species, is found in
the Gulf of Mexico and in the rivers of several Gulf Coast states.
In 1994, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, on behalf of the Orleans Audubon Society
and the Florida Wildlife Federation, sued both Services for their failure to designate
critical habitat for the fish. In a January 31, 1996 ruling, the U.S. District Court,
Eastern District for Louisiana rejected the Services' motion to dismiss the suit and on
October 28, 1997, remanded the issue back to the agencies for further consideration.
Critical habitat is applied to areas deemed necessary for a species' conservation and
recovery. The designation only prohibits Federal agencies from carrying out actions that
might destroy or adversely modify habitat. The designation does not apply to private
landowners, local or state governments or to other non-Federal entities. The U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers is the primary Federal agency involved in river activities in the range
of the Gulf sturgeon, which includes navigation and flood control projects.
The Gulf sturgeon was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1991. It
is a large, bottom-feeding fish with a cylindrical body, long snout and ventral mouth.
Adults may reach six to eight feet in length. The species was once found from Tampa Bay in
Florida and around the eastern Gulf of Mexico to the Mississippi River and in every
coastal state from Florida to Louisiana and in some rivers in Georgia. The population went
into decline around the turn of the century after years of commercial harvesting.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for
conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the
continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages 511 national wildlife
refuges covering 92 million acres, as well as 65 national fish hatcheries.
The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, manages migratory bird populations, restores
nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as
wetlands, administers the Endangered Species Act, and helps foreign governments with their
conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes Federal
excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state wildlife agencies. This program is
a cornerstone of the Nation's wildlife management efforts, funding fish and wildlife
restoration, boating access, hunter education, shooting ranges, and related projects
The National Marine Fisheries Service is a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration and administers NOAA's programs which support the domestic and
international conservation and management of living marine resources. NMFS provides
services and products to support domestic and international fisheries management
operations, fisheries development, trade and industry assistance activities, enforcement,
protected species and habitat conservation operations, and the scientific and technical
aspects of NOAA's marine fisheries program. NMFS has primary responsibility under the
Endangered Species Act for protecting most endangered marine species.
The decision regarding critical habitat was published in today's edition of the Federal
Register. Additional information is available from Dr. Michael Bentzien of the
Service's Jacksonville, Florida, Field office, at 904-232-2580, extension 106, or Ms.
Colleen Coogan, NMFS, St. Petersburg, Florida, at 813-570-5312.
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Release #: R98-013
1998 News Releases