NANFA-- Alabama sturgeon press release

Christopher Scharpf (
Tue, 02 May 2000 16:41:30 -0400

Alabama Sturgeon To Receive Federal Protection Under Endangered Species Act
May 2, 2000 Contact: Tom MacKenzie 404/ 679-7291
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today listed the Alabama sturgeon, a rare
fish of prehistoric origins, as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. A
species is listed as endangered when it is at risk of extinction through all or
a significant portion of its range.

The decision was largely based on the species' small population size and
inability to sustain a viable population. The Alabama sturgeon has disappeared
from approximately 85 percent of its historic range. Only five Alabama sturgeon
have been captured in the last four years despite intensive efforts by Federal
and State biologists. Two Alabama sturgeons, both male, remain in captivity. The
listing protects the Alabama sturgeon from take including killing, harming,
harassing, possessing, or removing the species from the wild; requires Federal
agencies to protect the species and its habitat; and makes additional funding
available to support recovery, including grants to State conservation programs.

"After many months of careful review, consideration and discussion of the best
available scientific information and more than 4,000 public comments, and taking
into account ongoing conservation efforts by the State of Alabama and others, I
am confident that listing the Alabama sturgeon as endangered is the right
decision," said Sam Hamilton, the Service's regional director for the Southeast
Region. "When a species is as imperilled as the Alabama sturgeon, the Fish and
Wildlife Service is required by law to take action."

"We have worked closely with the community to protect this fish and other
resources of the Alabama-Tombigbee River Basin, and we've listened closely to
what people have had to say on this listing proposal," Hamilton said. "In the
final analysis, we are required to go where the science takes us, and the
science tells us that this fish needs all the protection it can get."

Of the more than 4,000 public comments that were submitted on the March 1999
proposal to list the Alabama sturgeon and related issues, those supporting the
listing generally said there is no doubt that the species is endangered and that
the Endangered Species Act requires that it be listed. Those opposing the
listing expressed generally three categories of concern - the potential that the
listing would result in economic decline, that current conservation actions are
adequate to protect the fish, and that questions remain over the status of the

"Concerns about economic decline on the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers as a result
of listing the Alabama sturgeon are unfounded," said Hamilton. "There are four
protected aquatic species already in these rivers, and negative economic impacts
have not occurred. Putting the Alabama sturgeon on the endangered species list
will not change the status quo on these rivers. Current activities, such as
navigation channel dredging, hydroelectric power production, agricultural and
silvicultural will not be stopped."

The Service, for example, has worked with the Army Corps of Engineers to address
concerns about the potential effects of listing the Alabama Sturgeon on
navigation and other uses of the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers. The Corps and the
Service developed a written analysis, known as a White Paper, that states that
navigation channel maintenance, among other activities, will not adversely
affect the Alabama sturgeon.

Much has already been done for the conservation of the species. In February, the
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Alabama Tombigbee
Rivers Coalition, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife
Service signed a Conservation Agreement and Strategy for the species. The
agreement will expedite measures needed to ensure the Alabama sturgeon's
existence and recovery.

"With the Conservation Agreement and Strategy in place we have certainly taken a
major step in the recovery process, but still we're just starting. We absolutely
need all of the original partners to continue their good work and new partners
to join us as we work to bring the Alabama sturgeon back from the brink of
extinction," Hamilton said.

The Alabama sturgeon is a slender, golden-yellow, freshwater fish that was
historically widespread in the Mobile River Basin of Alabama and Mississippi. It
grows to about 30 inches in length and weighs two to three pounds. It was once
so abundant it was caught and sold commercially. Biologists attribute the
decline of the species to over-fishing, loss and fragmentation of its habitat
due to navigation-related development, and decline in water quality. Scientific
evidence supports the Alabama sturgeon as a distinct species. The American
Society of Herpetologists and Ichthyologists and the American Fisheries Society,
both national scientific organizations, recognize the Alabama sturgeon as a
separate species.

The Service will designate critical habitat for the Alabama sturgeon next year.
Critical habitat is a term used in the Endangered Species Act to refer to
specific geographic areas that are essential for the conservation of a
threatened or endangered species and may require special management

The Service will publish its decision to list the Alabama sturgeon as an
endangered species in the Federal Register on Friday, May 5.

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