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North American green sturgeon

Times-Standard, September 6, 2008

Feds pitch protections for southern green sturgeon
By John Driscoll

The federal government is proposing to protect hundreds of miles of river and thousands of square miles of ocean to safeguard green sturgeon on the West Coast.

The southern population of the ancient fish was found to be threatened with extinction in April of 2006, after environmental groups took the National Marine Fisheries Service to court and won. Sturgeon to the north of the Eel River and anchoring populations in the Klamath and Trinity were not protected.

Green sturgeon habitat, under the new proposal, would be protected during any federal agency's activities or federally permitted or funded activities in the Sacramento River, the lower Feather River, the lower Yuba River, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Suisun, San Pablo and San Francisco bays.

Coastal waters to 361 feet deep would also get that protection, as would the lower Columbia River estuary, Humboldt Bay, Coos Bay, Winchester Bay and Yaquina Bay, Ore., and Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor, Wash.

The green sturgeon spends more time than any other sturgeon in the ocean, feeding on shrimp, crabs, worms and injured fish. They grow to be 7 feet long and 350 pounds. They run up rivers to spawn, but not until they are 15 to 17 years old.

The fish range as far north as Grays Harbor, Wash., and Puget Sound. Historically, their range is believed to have been from the Bering Sea to Ensenada, Mexico, and they spawned in many more rivers than they do today.

Many of the areas proposed as critical habitat area are also used by the population of sturgeon north of the Eel River.

”To the extent that those habitats where green sturgeon venture are protected,” said Yurok Tribe senior biologist Dave Hillemeier, “that's good news for Klamath River green sturgeon and the tribe.”

The Environmental Protection Information Center and the Center for Biological Diversity first petitioned the government for protection of the green sturgeon in 2001.

Jeff Miller with the center said that the proposed protection of freshwater, estuarine and marine areas would be important. Miller said the proposal leaves open the possibility of protecting areas that green sturgeon don't currently occupy, but once did. He said protection for the population is critical, pointing to a California Department of Fish and Game estimate that only 50 sturgeon spawned in the Sacramento River in 2006.

”I'd say it's a comprehensive proposal,” Miller said. “If the final looks anything like this ... it's going to be an important tool for actually recovering the species.”

NMFS fisheries biologist Melissa Neuman said that the proposal is open to suggestions, including what other habitat may be important to protect. Also, Neuman said, the fisheries service has been criticized for failing to account for the economic costs associated with the proposal, including its effects on LNG terminals, hydropower projects and wave and tidal energy projects.

”We make a pledge to consider those before the final rule,” Neuman said.

The final rule is scheduled to be filed June 30, 2009.

A link to the full proposal can be found at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/.

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