US sturgeon petition status

Two agencies within the U.S. Federal Government have been petitioned to list 15 species of sturgeon as endangered under a U.S. law called the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The two government agencies are the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

The USFWS will make the determination for 10 of the sturgeon species, the NMFS has already made the determination for 5 of the species.

The 10 sturgeon species under USFWS jurisdiction are:

Siberian Sturgeon (Acipenser baerii),
Yangtze Sturgeon (Acipenser dabryanus),
Russian Sturgeon (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii),
Ship Sturgeon (Acipenser nudiventris),
Persian Sturgeon (Acipenser persicus),
Amur Sturgeon (Acipenser schrenckii),
Stellate Sturgeon (Acipenser stellatus),
Syr-Darya Sturgeon (Pseudoscaphirhynchus fedtschenkoi),
Dwarf Sturgeon (Pseudoscaphirhynchus hermanni),
Amu Darya Sturgeon (Pseudoscaphirhynchus kaufmanni). 

The 5 species under NMFS jurisdiction are:
Adriatic sturgeon (Acipenser naccarii)
European sturgeon (Acipenser sturio)
Chinese sturgeon (Acipenser sinensis)
Sakhalin sturgeon (Acipenser mikadoi)
Kaluga sturgeon (Huso dauricus)

The NMFS has determined that the 5 species listed above do qualify for protection under the ESA. As of July, 2014, it is illegal to import any of these 5 species (or products from these species) into the United States. Similarly, it is now illegal to culture any of these 5 species within the United States.

The USFWS is still deciding on the other 10 species. Both agencies have to follow the same law. There is a legal mechanism within the ESA that could allow for captive culture of species such as sturgeon, but based on the current USFWS interpretation/implementation of this rule, it is impossible for sturgeon farms to comply with the requirements imposed upon them.

In 2014, the Sturgeon ESA Coalition has engaged a legal/lobbying firm to engage the U.S. Congress and the USFWS in an effort to create a viable way for the USFWS to abide by the ESA laws but also allow for continued commercial captive breeding and culture of sturgeon.

Jim Michaels, the organizer of the Sturgeon ESA Coalition (along with three lawyers representing our ESA coalition) met with the USFWS during October, 2014. Originally, the USFWS was scheduled to make a determination by November 2014. We were told during our October meeting that the Agency analyses of these 10 species had been placed on the "2015 workplan". We believe that this was in part due to the additional scientific information that our Coalition has submitted to the Agency as well as the political pressure we were able to generate.

I have recently received an email from a sturgeon colleague that indicates that a decision might not be finalized until late 2016/early 2017. I don't have any direct confirmation of this change in schedule.

The Sturgeon ESA Coalition has done a good job of making the USFWS aware of the catastrophic consequences to the sturgeon industry if these 10 sturgeon species are listed without creating a viable mechanism to allow for continued commercial culture. But our work in not done. It is essential that our efforts continue both scientifically and politically to find a solution to this problem.

This effort will not happen without financial costs. The Sturgeon ESA Coalition needs  additional monetary support so that we can continue collecting scientific information, developing legal arguments and working on political solutions so that an aquaculture exemption of some sort is developed.

Both Agencies are giving ESA presentations at Aquaculture America in a few weeks. I hope to have further discussions with all involved at that time.

Jim Michaels