For Immediate Release, October 8, 2009
Contact: Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185
Green Sturgeon Gains Habitat Protection From Monterey Bay to Canadian Border
SAN FRANCISCO— The National Marine Fisheries Service today announced that areas of river, estuarine, bay, and coastal marine habitats in California, Oregon, and Washington will be protected as critical habitat for the southern population of the green sturgeon, an imperiled migratory fish that has survived since the Pleistocene. The critical habitat designation, to be published in tomorrow’s Federal Register, 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 will now have the habitat protection it needs for conservation and recovery,” said Jeff Miller, a 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 designated for this ancient fish.”
The National Marine Fisheries Service proposal includes 320 miles of freshwater river spawning habitat in the Sacramento, lower Feather, and lower Yuba Rivers, as well as 487 square miles of habitat in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. It also encompasses 897 square miles of estuarine and bay habitats for sturgeon including the San Francisco, Suisun, San Pablo, and Humboldt bays in California; Coos, Winchester, Nehalem, 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. While today’s designation includes the most essential habitat for the green sturgeon, it excludes several areas that are also important to the fish.
The Endangered Species Act requires that critical habitat be designated when a species is listed. 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. Congress has emphasized the importance of critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act by stating that “the ultimate effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act will depend on the designation of critical habitat.” Recent studies have shown that species with critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering than species without.
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. Critical habitat means that federal agencies will be required to consult with the 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 the 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. 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 estimated abundance of green sturgeon in the Sacramento River plummeted by 95 percent between 2001 and 2006. 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.
For more information about the green sturgeon visit:
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with more than 240,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.