For Immediate Release, September 5, 2008
Contact: Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185
Critical Habitat Protection From Monterey Bay to Canadian Border
Proposed for Desperately Imperiled Southern Green Sturgeon
SAN FRANCISCO— The National Marine Fisheries Service today proposed designating areas of river, estuarine, bay and coastal marine habitats in California, Oregon, and Washington as critical habitat for the southern population of the green sturgeon, an imperiled migratory fish that has survived since the Pleistocene. The proposal is a result of a 2007 settlement agreement arising out of a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity to secure critical habitat.
“One of our largest and rarest freshwater fish species may now get the habitat protection it needs for conservation and recovery,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. ”Recent surveys have shown some of the lowest recorded numbers of spawning green sturgeon in the Sacramento River. With so few sturgeon left, and the San Francisco Bay-Delta food web they depend upon unraveling, we are pleased to see critical habitat proposed for this ancient fish.”
The National Marine Fisheries Service proposal includes 325 miles of freshwater river spawning habitat in the Sacramento, lower Feather, and lower Yuba Rivers. It also encompasses 1,058 square miles of estuarine and bay habitats for sturgeon in the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta, and in Suisun, San Pablo, San Francisco, and Humboldt bays in California; Coos, Winchester and Yaquina bays in Oregon; Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor in Washington; the lower Columbia River estuary; and 11,927 square miles of coastal marine habitat from Monterey Bay, Calif., to Cape Flattery, Wash.
In response to a 2001 Center listing petition and a subsequent lawsuit, the Fisheries Service in 2006 listed the southern green sturgeon population — fish in the San Francisco Bay and Delta that spawn in the Sacramento River basin, but migrate along much of the west coast from Mexico to Canada — as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
Critical habitat provides an important additional layer of protection for imperiled species beyond listing under the Endangered Species Act . It protects specific areas essential to the conservation of the species or areas that may require special management considerations. A scientific study published in BioScience in 2005 showed that endangered species with critical habitat are twice as likely to recover as species that do not have critical habitat designated.
After a final designation, due in 2009, f ederal agencies will be required to consult with Fisheries Service before they undertake or authorize activities that may affect critical habitat, and they cannot authorize or carry out projects that would destroy or adversely modify critical habitat.
The green sturgeon, Acipenser medirostris, is one of the most ancient fish species in the world, remaining unchanged in appearance since it first emerged 200 million years ago. Green sturgeon are among the largest and longest-living fish species found in freshwater, living up to 70 years, reaching 7.5 feet in length, and weighing up to 350 pounds. Sturgeon have a prehistoric appearance, with a skeleton consisting of mostly cartilage and rows of bony plates for scales. They have snouts like shovels and mouths like vacuum cleaners that are used to siphon shrimp and other food from sandy depths.
Like salmon, sturgeon are anadromous, migrating to the ocean and returning to freshwater to spawn. Although adult green sturgeon in North America range from Alaska to Mexico in marine waters and feed in estuaries and bays from San Francisco Bay to British Columbia, only three known spawning grounds remain: in the Sacramento and Klamath rivers in California and the Rogue River in Oregon. Between four and seven spawning populations have already been eliminated in California and Oregon. The Fisheries Service declined to list the imperiled northern green sturgeon spawning population, ranging from the Eel River in California to the Columbia River in Washington.
The estimated abundance of green sturgeon in the Sacramento River plummeted by 95 percent between 2001 and 2006. The California Department of Fish and Game has estimated that as few as 50 green sturgeon may have migrated to Sacramento River spawning grounds in 2006. California adopted emergency sturgeon-fishing regulations in 2006 to protect declining populations of white and green sturgeon in the Sacramento-San Joaquin river system, prohibiting anglers statewide from keeping green sturgeon.
Severe declines in both green and white sturgeon come as scientists have documented the collapse of other fish species in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, such as delta smelt, longfin smelt, Sacramento splittail, threadfin shad and striped bass, due to the combined effects of Delta water diversions and exports, pesticides and pollution, and impacts of introduced species on the Delta’s planktonic food web. Copepods that sustain the Delta food chain and are a food source for green sturgeon have fallen to the lowest levels ever recorded.
Loss of suitable spawning habitat is a major threat for green sturgeon. The southern green sturgeon population only spawns in the Sacramento River system below Shasta Dam, making it especially susceptible to habitat destruction.
For threatened species, the Fisheries Service must also issue a special regulation defining how they will be protected from “take” and other harmful activities. The Fisheries Service has yet to issue protective regulations for green sturgeon, which are urgently needed to ensure the few remaining fish are not killed or harmed. In June 2007, at least 10 adult green sturgeon were crushed and killed by gates at the Red Bluff Diversion Dam, probably before they could spawn in the upper Sacramento River.
View the proposed critical habitat designation at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/greensturgeon_criticalhabitat_proposed.pdf
For more information about the green sturgeon visit:
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with more than 180,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.