FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 27, 1998

Diana M. Hawkins or

Vicki M. Boatwright

CRITICAL HABITAT FOR GULF STURGEON NOT NECESSARY,

WOULD NOT UPGRADE PROTECTION OF SPECIES

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 across America.

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

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