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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Issues Proposed Special Rule on Beluga Imports



June 29, 2004

Patricia Fisher, 202/208-1459


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced it is proposing a special rule under the Federal Endangered Species Act to describe specific conditions under which U.S. trade in beluga sturgeon products would be allowed. All populations of beluga sturgeon were listed as threatened under the Act on April 21, 2004.

Implementation of the threatened listing was delayed until October 21, 004, to allow time for the Service to propose this special rule, gather public comments, and issue a final rule.

"The Service is proposing specific exemptions from threatened species permits required under the Endangered Species Act for trade in certain beluga sturgeon caviar and meat," Service Director Steve Williams said. "Specifically, our proposal is to allow continued trade in these products contingent upon Black and Caspian Sea countries developing cooperative management plans, sharing information concerning policy decisions, and reducing the illegal trade."

The special rule, as proposed in the June 29, 2004 Federal Register, , would conditionally exempt the import, re-export, and foreign or interstate commerce in beluga caviar and meat from the Act's permit requirements. The proposed exemption is limited to economically valuable beluga caviar and by-products such as cosmetics, and to beluga sturgeon meat harvested either from the wild or from hatcheries in the countries around the Black and Caspian Seas. In order for U.S. importers to use this exemption, these countries must provide written management plans, annual reports, and copies of national fishing laws on a specified schedule. If a country with native beluga sturgeon populations does not meet that schedule, then U.S. importers would have to comply with all the permitting requirements under the Act. The Service's proposed special rule is designed to enhance the recovery of the species in the wild wherever it is found and improve the exchange of information between the U.S. and the countries harvesting threatened beluga sturgeon.

If the special rule is adopted, U.S. traders and the beluga sturgeon-producing countries stand to benefit economically from the allowable activities. Without the special rule, commercial activities would be either prohibited or limited by the threatened listing as detailed in the Endangered Species Act. In addition to the United States, the countries affected by this proposed special rule are: Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine. Only seven of these countries currently allow the commercial harvest and export of beluga sturgeon: Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Iran, Kazakhstan, Romania, Russia, and Turkmenistan.

As currently proposed, these countries would have six months from the special rule's effective date to submit their beluga sturgeon conservation and management plans to the Service for review. During this time, imports, re-exports, and interstate and foreign commerce of certain beluga sturgeon products would not require threatened species permits, but must have legal documentation under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species or CITES.

In 1998, beluga and all other previously unlisted sturgeons and paddlefish were included in Appendix II of CITES which allows sustainable and controlled international trade for commercial and noncommercial purposes through a system of permits. All sturgeon, including beluga, must always be accompanied by valid CITES documents to be legally imported into or exported from the United States.

Although the proposed special rule would conditionally exempt commerce in caviar and meat derived from beluga sturgeon that are either wild-caught or hatchery reared in the country of origin from permit requirements, it would not exempt the trade in live or commercially raised beluga sturgeon. The Service believes that countries without native beluga populations, if exempted from the provisions of the Act under the special rule, might use broodstock from countries with native wild populations to generate products for export to the U.S. marketplace. This would not afford any conservation benefit to those wild populations. Also the agency is concerned that any additional aquaculture of foreign sturgeon species in the United States might pose a risk to domestic recovery efforts for several native sturgeon species listed under the Act or under interstate recovery plans.

The general public has 30 days from the June 29, 2004 publication in the Federal Register to comment on the proposed rule.

Public Comments may be submitted to: Chief, Division of Scientific Authority, U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Room 750, Arlington, VA 22203; or by fax, 703-358-2276; or by e-mail,

For more information on the Service's final decision to list the beluga sturgeon as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, please visit:

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 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 544 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 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 and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.


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