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Jurassic fish will get closer examination
By John Driscoll The Times-Standard

Followed by report regarding green sturgeon by NMFW and NOAA and comment deadline

A federal fisheries team will take another look at whether the green sturgeon -- an ancient denizen of West Coast rivers -- needs protection.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is reconvening its biological review team, following a U.S. District Court order issued in March. The agency will consider the most recent scientific and commercial information available on the biological status of the fish, according to a notice published Friday in the Federal Register.

The bony-plated green sturgeon grows to be 7 feet long and 350 pounds. It spends more time at sea than any other sturgeon, but spawns in rivers. The Klamath-Trinity river system appears to be the last major breeding ground for the sturgeon, which hails from the Jurassic period.

Once, however, the green sturgeon frequented the Eel, the South Fork of the Trinity, the San Joaquin and other rivers, and were more abundant in the Sacramento River. Environmental groups have pushed for the fish's inclusion on the endangered species list because its spawning range has shrunk so much.

The Environmental Protection Information Center in 2001 petitioned the fisheries agency to consider protecting the fish. The fisheries service found protection was not warranted, a decision the federal court overturned in March.

The court was not satisfied with NMFS' assertion that the lost spawning habitat didn't constitute a significant portion of the sturgeon's range.

http://frwebgate4.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/waisgate.cgi?WAISdocID=66182512760+2+0+0&WAISaction=retrieve[Federal Register: June 18, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 117)]
[Page 34135-34136]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

[I.D. 060904A]

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants: Updated Status 
Review of the North American Green Sturgeon

AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.

ACTION: Status review update; request for information.


SUMMARY: Following receipt of a petition to list the North American 
green sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris; hereafter ``green sturgeon'') as 
threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), NMFS 
conducted a status review and determined that the petitioned species is 
comprised of two distinct population segments (DPSs) that qualify as 
species under the ESA, but that neither DPS warranted listing as a 
threatened or endangered species. Because of uncertainties regarding 
their population structure and status, however, NMFS determined that 
both DPSs should be identified as candidate species. NMFS also 
committed to re-evaluating the status of both DPSs in 5 years, provided 
sufficient new information was available indicating that a status 
review was warranted. However, on March 2, 2004, a U.S. District Court 
set aside NMFS' finding and remanded the matter back to the agency for 
re-consideration of whether the green sturgeon is endangered or 
threatened in a significant portion of its range. NMFS intends to 
reconvene its Biological Review Team (BRT) to consider the most recent 
scientific and commercial information available regarding the 
biological status of green sturgeon. NMFS is requesting that interested 
parties submit pertinent information to assist the agency in updating 
its status review and making a new listing determination.

DATES: Information must be received by August 17, 2004.

ADDRESSES: Information on this action should be submitted to the 
Assistant Regional Administrator, Protected Resources Division, 
Southwest Region, NMFS, 501 W. Ocean Blvd., Suite 4200, Long Beach, CA 
90802-4213. In response to NMFS's solicitation for new information, 
comments may be sent via email to GreenSturgeon.Comments@noaa.gov or to 
the Federal eRulemaking website: http://www.regulations.gov.

(562) 980-4021; Melissa Neuman, NMFS, Southwest Region (562) 980-4115; 
Scott Rumsey, NMFS, Northwest Region (503) 872-2791; or Lisa Manning, 
NMFS, Office of Protected Resources (301) 713-1401.


Electronic Access

    The 2003 green sturgeon biological status review is available on 
the Internet at: http://www.nwr.noaa.gov/1salmon/salmesa/pubs/GSstatus_review.pdf


    On June 12, 2001, NMFS received a petition from the Environmental 
Protection Information Center, Center for Biological Diversity, and 
Waterkeepers Northern California requesting that NMFS list the green 
sturgeon as threatened or endangered under the ESA and that critical 
habitat be designated for the species concurrently with any listing 
determination. On December 14, 2001, NMFS provided notice of its 
determination that the petition presented substantial information that 
a listing may be warranted and requested information to assist with a 
status review to determine if green sturgeon warranted listing under 
the ESA (66 FR 64793). To assist in the status review, NMFS formed a 
Biological Review Team (BRT) comprised of scientists from the Agency's 
Northwest and Southwest Fisheries Science Centers and from the United 
States Geological Survey. NMFS also requested technical information and 
comments from State and Tribal co-managers in California, Oregon, and 
Washington, as well as from scientists and individuals having research 
or management expertise pertaining to green sturgeon from California 
and the Pacific Northwest. The BRT considered information presented in 
the petition and the best available scientific and commercial 
information provided in response to NMFS' information request to 
prepare a final review of the biological status of green sturgeon 
(NMFS, 2002).
    Under the ESA, a listing determination may address a species, 
subspecies, or a DPS of any vertebrate species which interbreeds when 
mature (16 U.S.C. 1532(15)). On February 7, 1996, the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service and NMFS adopted a policy describing what constitutes 
a DPS of a taxonomic species (51 FR 4722). The joint DPS policy 
identified two elements that must be considered when making DPS 
determinations: (1) The discreteness of the population segment in 
relation to the remainder of the species (or subspecies) to which it 
belongs; and (2) the significance of the population segment to the 
remainder of the species (or subspecies) to which it belongs. After 
conducting the status review, NMFS determined that green sturgeon is 
comprised of two DPSs that qualify as species under the ESA: (1) a 
northern coastal DPS consisting of populations in coastal watersheds 
northward of and including the Eel River; and (2) a southern DPS 
consisting of coastal or central valley populations south of the Eel 
River, with the only known population in the Sacramento River.
    The BRT considered the following information in order to assess 
risk factors for each green sturgeon DPS: (1) Abundance trends by 
examining fisheries data; (2) the effects of harvest bycatch; (3) the 
possible loss of spawning habitat in, for example, the Eel, South Fork 
Trinity, and San Joaquin Rivers; (4) concentration of spawning in the 
Klamath (northern DPS) and Sacramento (southern DPS) River systems; (5) 
lack of adequate population abundance data; (6) potentially lethal 
water temperatures and adverse effects by contaminants (southern DPS); 
(7) entrainment by water projects (southern DPS); and (8) adverse 
effects by exotic species (southern DPS). Based on this risk 
assessment, NMFS determined that neither DPS warranted listing as 
threatened or endangered (68 FR 4433; January 23, 2003). Uncertainties 
in the structure and status of both DPSs led NMFS to add them to its 
species of concern list (formerly the candidate species list; 69 FR 
19975; April 15, 2004). The biological status review is available 
online (see Electronic Access), and bound copies of the biological 
status review and other documents supporting the finding are available 
upon request from NMFS (see ADDRESSES). Along with the finding, NMFS 
announced that it would reevaluate the status of green sturgeon in 5 
years provided that sufficient new information warrants an update of 
the status review.
    On April 7, 2003, the Environmental Protection Information Center 

[[Page 34136]]

other plaintiffs) challenged NMFS' not warranted finding. The U.S. 
District Court for the Northern District of California issued an order 
on March 2, 2004, which set aside NMFS's not warranted finding and 
remanded the matter back to NMFS for redetermination of whether green 
sturgeon is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant 
portion of its range, or is likely to become endangered within the 
foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range. Therefore, these DPSs are now considered candidate species, as 
well as species of concern. NMFS will make this determination on or 
before March 2, 2005.

Information Solicited

    For the original status review, NMFS solicited information 
concerning the status of green sturgeon to ensure that the review was 
complete and based on the best available science (66 FR 64793; December 
14, 2001). Specifically, the Agency requested available information on: 
(1) relevant biological data that could help identify DPSs of green 
sturgeon (e.g., age structure, genetics, migratory patterns, 
morphology); (2) the range, distribution, habitat use and abundance of 
green sturgeon, including information on the spawning populations of 
the species; (3) current or planned activities and their potential 
impact on green sturgeon (e.g., harvest impacts, habitat impacting 
activities or actions); and (4) green sturgeon protection efforts 
underway in California, Oregon, Washington and Canada.
    NMFS also requested information on areas that include the physical 
and biological features essential to the recovery of the species and 
that may qualify as critical habitat for green sturgeon. Essential 
features included, but were not limited to the following: (1) habitat 
for individual and population growth, and for normal behavior; (2) 
food, water, air, light, minerals, or other nutritional or 
physiological requirements; (3) cover or shelter; (4) sites for 
reproduction and rearing of offspring; and (5) habitats that are 
protected from disturbance or are representative of the historic 
geographical and ecological distributions of the species. For areas 
potentially qualifying as critical habitat, NMFS requested information 
describing: (1) the activities that affect the area or could be 
affected by the designation; and (2) the economic costs and benefits of 
additional requirements of management measures likely to result from 
the designation.
    The U.S. District Court's March 2004 remand was issued because the 
Court was not satisfied with NMFS's examination of whether purported 
lost spawning habitat constituted a significant portion of either DPS's 
range. To ensure that the forthcoming status review update is 
comprehensive, based on the best available data, and specifically 
addresses the deficiencies outlined by the Court, NMFS is soliciting 
any new information beyond that considered in the 2002 green sturgeon 
status review or the January 2003 1-year finding on the following 
topics for the northern and southern DPSs of green sturgeon: (1) new 
genetic, morphological, physiological, or ecological information 
relevant to DPS identification; (2) current or historic information 
documenting the geographic extent (e.g., area, river mile distance) and 
magnitude (e.g., abundance of spawning females, reproductive output) of 
spawning in particular river systems (e.g., Fraser River, Umpqua River, 
South Fork Trinity River, Eel River, Feather River, and San Joaquin 
River) where spawning is reported to have occurred historically, but 
apparently no longer does; (3) information documenting the current 
geographic extent and magnitude of spawning in areas other than where 
it is known to presently occur (i.e., areas other than the Sacramento 
River, Klamath River and Rogue River); (4) the legitimacy of references 
used to support information regarding current or historic spawning in 
the systems mentioned above in (2) and (3), particularly citations by 
Houston (1988) for the Fraser River, Lauman et al. (1972) and the 
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (2002) for the Umpqua River, 
Moyle et al. (1992) and references therein for the South Fork Trinity 
River, Puckett (1976), Moyle et al. (1992) and references therein for 
the Eel River; Wang (1986) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (1995) 
for the Feather River, and Moyle et al. (1992) and references therein 
for the San Joaquin River; (5) historic, current or future factors that 
may be responsible for the reported loss of spawning habitat and 
associated spawning populations; and (6) fishery-dependent and -
independent abundance data for analysis of population trends.
    Information on item above one will assist NMFS in determining 
whether the DPS structure previously identified is correct or needs 
modification. Items two and three should provide the following types of 
information: (1) abiotic and biotic characteristics of spawning habitat 
(e.g., amount, substrate type, water temperature, flow rates, 
sedimentation rates); (2) abundance of spawning females from each river 
system; (3) measures of reproductive output from spawning habitats; and 
(4) age/size structure of populations from spawning habitats. Item five 
information should not only identify factors that may be responsible 
for lost spawning habitat, but should also provide qualitative and/or 
quantitative data (e.g., changes in mortality rates, growth rates, 
behavior) that suggest a direct or indirect link to the identified 
threat(s). Item six will provide updated information for abundance 
trends analysis that was conducted during the first biological status 
    Information submitted to NMFS should be accompanied by references 
and a commentary by the presenter on the veracity of the data and 
whether the information is based on published or unpublished scientific 
data, professional judgment, or anecdotal accounts. This will be 
particularly crucial in helping NMFS determine whether purported 
historic spawning in the Fraser River, Umpqua River, South Fork Trinity 
River, Eel River, Feather River, and San Joaquin River can be 
substantiated. In addition, suggestions of novel methods for addressing 
any of the above topics, in particular assessing the amount and 
importance of spawning habitat that may have been lost, is requested.


    The 2003 biological status review of green sturgeon is available 
via the Internet (see Electronic Access) and a complete list of all 
references used in this notice is available upon request (see 

    Dated: June 14, 2004.
Laurie Allen,
Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
[FR Doc. 04-13802 Filed 6-17-04; 8:45 am]

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