For Immediate Release, November 11, 2009
Contact: Miyoko Sakashita, (510) 845-6703
One Spawning Ground Left: Rare Green Sturgeon to Get Needed Recovery Plan
SAN FRANCISCO— The National Marine Fisheries Service announced that it will develop a recovery plan for threatened green sturgeon. The notice will appear in Thursday’s Federal Register. A recovery plan is a legally mandated roadmap to how an endangered animal or plant species can be brought back from the brink and eventually be secure enough from the risk of extinction to be removed from the endangered species list.
Loss of suitable spawning habitat is a major threat to green sturgeon; the southern green sturgeon population only spawns in the Sacramento River system below Shasta Dam, making it especially susceptible to habitat destruction. In October, as the result of a settlement that arose from a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit, the Service protected 8.6 million acres of critical habitat for the southern population of green sturgeon in California, Oregon, and Washington. Including river habitat, estuary, and coastal habitat, that includes the Sacramento River, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and coastal areas from Monterey Bay to Cape Flattery, Washington.
“Recovery planning and habitat protection are the keys to bringing this rare and majestic fish back from the brink of extinction,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center. “Recent surveys have shown some of the lowest recorded numbers of spawning green sturgeon in the Sacramento River. With so few sturgeon left, recovery planning is essential to help green sturgeon regain some lost ground.”
The Endangered Species Act requires recovery planning and critical habitat for species that are listed as threatened or endangered. In response to a 2001 listing petition and a subsequent lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, 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. Subsequent pressure from the Center pushed the agency to designate habitat.
Recent studies have shown that species with critical habitat and recovery plans are much more likely to recover than species without. The recovery plan for green sturgeon will provide a blueprint for actions that will promote recovery and identify goals for its conservation. The National Marine Fisheries Service is soliciting information and comments for the development of the green sturgeon’s recovery plan.
Green Sturgeon Background
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.