Sturgeon considered for federal protection
CHARLESTON -- The reclusive Atlantic sturgeon might be placed on the endangered species list two years after a federal review concluded such a move was unnecessary.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Thursday accepted a petition filed in October by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocate. The petition forces NOAA to come up with a proposed list designation in one year; the designation must take effect by October 2012.
The petition came after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service -- spurred by concerns among fishery professionals that the sturgeon was being wiped out -- conducted a status review that concluded the fish was likely to become endangered but recommended giving it only a threatened status along the northern half of the East Coast.
Nobody knows what effect it or its absence has on the bottom habitat.
The sturgeon was once plentiful enough to be a cash crop for the Jamestown colony in Virginia, so thick in the Hudson River in New York it was called "Albany beef" at the turn of the 20th century, when 3,000 tons per year were being netted along the East Coast. By the time a moratorium was put in place in 1998, the catch had dropped to 1 ton per year, even though the roe sold as caviar for $250 per pound.
Federal officials said no to putting the sturgeon on the endangered species list in 1998 because the moratorium was already in place, set to last at least 40 years to allow a generation of the fish, and its offspring, to mature and spawn. An endangered or threatened status would make it a crime to take or harass the species, as well as the current ban on its catch. The species also is considered threatened by boat strikes, water pollution and dredging.
"We haven't seen recovery since [the catch restriction in]1998. Without seeing a recovery you have to wonder if something else is going on," Manning said. Enough new data has been collected since the 2007 recommendations that "it's definitely open to us coming to a different conclusion."