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Alabama Sturgeon To Receive Federal Protection Under Endangered Species Act


May 2, 2000 Contact: Tom MacKenzie 404/ 679-7291


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today listed the Alabama sturgeon, a rare fish of prehistoric origins, as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. A species is listed as endangered when it is at risk of extinction through all or a significant portion of its range.

The decision was largely based on the species' small population size and inability to sustain a viable population. The Alabama sturgeon has disappeared from approximately 85 percent of its historic range. Only five Alabama sturgeon have been captured in the last four years despite intensive efforts by Federal and State biologists. Two Alabama sturgeons, both male, remain in captivity. The listing protects the Alabama sturgeon from take including killing, harming, harassing, possessing, or removing the species from the wild; requires Federal agencies to protect the species and its habitat; and makes additional funding available to support recovery, including grants to State conservation programs.

"After many months of careful review, consideration and discussion of the best available scientific information and more than 4,000 public comments, and taking into account ongoing conservation efforts by the State of Alabama and others, I am confident that listing the Alabama sturgeon as endangered is the right decision," said Sam Hamilton, the Service's regional director for the Southeast Region. "When a species is as imperilled as the Alabama sturgeon, the Fish and Wildlife Service is required by law to take action."

"We have worked closely with the community to protect this fish and other resources of the Alabama-Tombigbee River Basin, and we've listened closely to what people have had to say on this listing proposal," Hamilton said. "In the final analysis, we are required to go where the science takes us, and the science tells us that this fish needs all the protection it can get."

Of the more than 4,000 public comments that were submitted on the March 1999 proposal to list the Alabama sturgeon and related issues, those supporting the listing generally said there is no doubt that the species is endangered and that the Endangered Species Act requires that it be listed. Those opposing the listing expressed generally three categories of concern - the potential that the listing would result in economic decline, that current conservation actions are adequate to protect the fish, and that questions remain over the status of the species.

"Concerns about economic decline on the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers as a result of listing the Alabama sturgeon are unfounded," said Hamilton. "There are four protected aquatic species already in these rivers, and negative economic impacts have not occurred. Putting the Alabama sturgeon on the endangered species list will not change the status quo on these rivers. Current activities, such as navigation channel dredging, hydroelectric power production, agricultural and silvicultural will not be stopped."

The Service, for example, has worked with the Army Corps of Engineers to address concerns about the potential effects of listing the Alabama Sturgeon on navigation and other uses of the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers. The Corps and the Service developed a written analysis, known as a White Paper, that states that navigation channel maintenance, among other activities, will not adversely affect the Alabama sturgeon.

Much has already been done for the conservation of the species. In February, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Alabama Tombigbee Rivers Coalition, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service signed a Conservation Agreement and Strategy for the species. The agreement will expedite measures needed to ensure the Alabama sturgeon's existence and recovery.

"With the Conservation Agreement and Strategy in place we have certainly taken a major step in the recovery process, but still we're just starting. We absolutely need all of the original partners to continue their good work and new partners to join us as we work to bring the Alabama sturgeon back from the brink of extinction," Hamilton said.

The Alabama sturgeon is a slender, golden-yellow, freshwater fish that was historically widespread in the Mobile River Basin of Alabama and Mississippi. It grows to about 30 inches in length and weighs two to three pounds. It was once so abundant it was caught and sold commercially. Biologists attribute the decline of the species to over-fishing, loss and fragmentation of its habitat due to navigation-related development, and decline in water quality. Scientific evidence supports the Alabama sturgeon as a distinct species. The American Society of Herpetologists and Ichthyologists and the American Fisheries Society, both national scientific organizations, recognize the Alabama sturgeon as a separate species.

The Service will designate critical habitat for the Alabama sturgeon next year. Critical habitat is a term used in the Endangered Species Act to refer to specific geographic areas that are essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and may require special management considerations.

The Service will publish its decision to list the Alabama sturgeon as an endangered species in the Federal Register on Friday, May 5.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 520 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

Release #: R00-014

2000 News Releases



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