NANFA-- U.S. to Protect Gulf Sturgeon
Sat, 8 Jun 2002 08:42:50 EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) - Gulf sturgeon, already listed as a threatened species,
would gain further protection under a court-ordered government proposal to
designate regions of ``critical habitat'' for the fish.

Four public hearings on the proposal are planned in August in Florida,
Mississippi and Louisiana. A final decision is due by Feb. 28, 2003.

``This is a great thing, because in the big picture, the environment is the
economy, and so there will be an enormous economic benefit from the recovery
of Gulf sturgeon,'' said David Guest, a lawyer who heads the Florida office
of San Francisco-based Earthjustice, the environmental law firm that filed
suit over sturgeon for the Sierra Club.

The proposal Thursday by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National
Marine Fisheries Service outlines specific geographic areas that are
essential for conservation of Gulf sturgeon and may require special
management and protection.

Georgia Cranmore, an assistant regional administrator for the National Marine
Fisheries Service in St. Petersburg, Fla., said the areas are based on
historic data as well as information collected as recently as May.

Federal officials would have to take a closer look at any activities that
might affect the fish along portions of rivers, estuaries and coastline in
Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

But it is unclear how the critical habitat designation, made in response to
an order by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana,
might affect government projects.

Environmentalists say it could affect dredging of the Apalachicola River by
the Army Corps of Engineers or construction of a dam envisioned for the
Yellow River in Florida's western Panhandle.

Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Christine Eustis in Atlanta said federal
agencies are already studying ways to minimize damage to the Gulf sturgeon.

``Our assessment is it's not going to have any extra burden or impact beyond
the consultations we're already doing with federal agencies,'' she said.

The oldest living species of fish, the sturgeon's fossil ancestry dates back
more than 200 million years. It can live up to 70 years, grow longer than 9
feet and weigh more than 300 pounds.

The fish thrived in the Gulf of Mexico before 1900 but has been threatened
with extinction by overfishing, dams and pollution. Since the late 1800s, it
was harvested for its edible flesh and eggs. Sturgeon gained protection under
the Endangered Species Act in 1991.

On the Net:

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