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For Immediate Release, January 18, 2012

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681

Lawsuit Seeks Endangered Species Act Protection for Alabama Shad

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service today over its denial of Endangered Species Act protection to the Alabama shad. The shad was once so abundant that it supported commercial fisheries in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana and Iowa, but because of a combination of dams, pollution and habitat destruction is now rarely found in most of its former range.

“There’s no question the Alabama shad has suffered dramatic declines and needs Endangered Species Act protection to survive,” said Tierra Curry, conservation biologist with the Center. “The Endangered Species Act has a 99 percent success rate at saving species from extinction, but before the law can pull an animal back from the brink, the species has to be given threatened or endangered status. The shad should be granted that status.”

The Alabama shad once occurred in rivers from Florida to Oklahoma, but today only a handful of populations survives. The shad’s decline is typical of many freshwater animals in the Southeast, where longstanding abuse and neglect of the region’s waterways have led to the imperilment of hundreds of species in what is widely recognized as a region of unparalleled freshwater biodiversity.

In 2010 the Center petitioned for Endangered Species Act protection for 404 species dependent on southeastern rivers and streams, including the shad. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently issued a positive initial finding on 374 of these species, meaning they will all get a status review to determine if protection is warranted. For the shad, however, the National Marine Fisheries Service rejected protection even before a status review was conducted.

“The Fisheries Service has recognized threats to the shad since at least 1997, yet refused to even conduct a formal status review of the rare fish,” said Curry. “Endangered Species Act protection for the shad could restore a commercial fishery and help restore the region’s rivers — which would benefit people as well as the shad.”

The shad was recognized as a candidate for protection by the Fisheries Service in 1997. It was switched to a “species of concern” in 2004, at which time the Fisheries Service said it would conduct a status review, which has yet to occur.

Alabama shad spend most of their six-year life in the ocean, returning to freshwater rivers to breed. Juvenile shad remain in fresh water for the first six to eight months of their lives, feeding on small fishes and invertebrates. Populations of the shad are thought to remain in the Apalachicola River, Fla.; the Choctawhatchee and Conecuh rivers, Ala.; the Pascagoula River, Miss.; the Ouachita River, Ark.; and the Missouri, Gasconade, Osage and Meramec rivers, Mo.

Learn more about our campaign to stop the Southeast freshwater extinction crisis.

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