STURGEON LISTING CAUSES NO FEARED ECONOMIC DOWNTURNS
One year ago the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a final rule to
add the Alabama sturgeon to the Federal list of threatened and endangered
species. Fears that this listing would restrict the navigation and other
human uses of the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers have proven to be unfounded.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Regional Director, Sam D.
Hamilton, noted recently that since this rare, freshwater fish was
officially classified as endangered, there have been no reported incidents
of endangered species-related stoppages or interference with shipping,
boating, barge movements, dredging, or other activities on these Alabama
rivers. The Endangered Species Act is a Federal law that recognizes and
protects rare animals and plants that are endangered with extinction, or
threatened with becoming endangered in the near future.
Since the sturgeon was listed, the Service has reviewed approximately 25
federal actions taking place in the Alabama River area for possible impacts
to the sturgeon as well as to other previously listed species such as the
Gulf sturgeon and three species of freshwater mussels.
"We have determined that none of these actions, which included waste
water discharge permits, highway repairs, borrow pits, and housing
projects, would affect any of the listed species," Hamilton said.
The Alabama sturgeon is a freshwater fish once so abundant in the Mobile
River basin of Alabama and Mississippi that it was caught and sold
commercially. The sturgeon's decline began more than a century ago as a
result of over-fishing, navigation-related development, and water quality
degradation. Today, the species is found only in the lower Alabama River
and its numbers are believed to be too low for natural reproduction to
replace sturgeon lost to natural mortality.
The Service, in cooperation with the Alabama Department of Conservation
and Natural Resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the
Alabama-Tombigbee Rivers Coalition, began efforts in 1997 to capture
sturgeon, breed them in captivity, and release hatchery-reared sturgeon
into the river.
"Working with the Fish and Wildlife Service on the sturgeon listing
produced a partnership between Alabama and the Federal government that we
hope to continue," said Riley Boykin Smith, Commissioner, Alabama
Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Only five Alabama sturgeon have been captured so far and only a single
fish has survived in captivity. Nevertheless, much was learned about this
fish's survival habits and needs. For instance, a proper diet has been
developed, disease treatments have been successfully administered, specific
water quality and holding conditions have been identified, and methods to
artificially induce spawning have been developed. In addition to
collection and propagation efforts, the Service, the State, and the Corps
have worked together to identify important habitats in the Alabama river
and to develop strategies for the protection and management of these
Collection efforts for sturgeon in the Alabama River have doubled since
the 2000 listing was published and no additional fish have been caught.
However, the partners in recovery of the Alabama sturgeon remain committed
to a cooperative approach to protection and management of the Alabama
sturgeon and its habitat. By working together to develop and apply
research and new information about this species and its needs, it is
unlikely that economic conflicts will arise due to conservation efforts
undertaken to recover the fish.
The Alabama sturgeon is a slender fish, growing to about 30 inches in
length and is a golden-yellow color. A mature fish weighs 2 to 3 pounds.
The head is broad, and flattened shovel-like at the snout. Bony plates
cover the head, back, and sides. The body narrows abruptly to the rear to
form a narrow stalk between the body and tail. The upper lobe of the tail
fin is elongated and ends in a long filament.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency
responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and
plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American
people. The Service manages the 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge
System which encompasses more than 535 national wildlife refuges, thousands
of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70
national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological
services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws,
administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations,
restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife
habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their
conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that
distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and
hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
216-661-6500 ex 4485
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