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On March 12, 2012, we received a petition from the WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals to list 15 species of sturgeon (
We acknowledged receipt of this petition in a letter dated April 14, 2012, and informed the petitioners that we would determine, pursuant to section 4 of the ESA, whether the petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted. As a result of subsequent discussions between us and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), we have determined that 10 of the 15 petitioned sturgeon species are not marine or anadromous and thus not within our jurisdiction; therefore, those 10 species are the responsibility of the FWS. Accordingly, this 90-day finding considers whether the petitioned actions may be warranted for only the five marine or anadromous sturgeon species included in the petition:
Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the ESA of 1973, as amended (U.S.C. 1531
Under the ESA, a listing determination may address a “species,” which is defined to also include subspecies and, for any vertebrate species, any distinct population segment (DPS) that interbreeds when mature (16 U.S.C. 1532(16)). A joint NOAA-FWS policy clarifies the agencies' interpretation of the phrase “distinct population segment” for the purposes of listing, delisting, and reclassifying a species under the ESA (“DPS Policy”; 61 FR 4722; February 7, 1996). A species, subspecies, or DPS is “endangered” if it is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, and “threatened” if it is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range (ESA sections 3(6) and 3(20), respectively; 16 U.S.C. 1532(6) and (20)). Pursuant to the ESA and our implementing regulations, we determine whether species are threatened or endangered because of any one or a combination of the following five section 4(a)(1) factors: The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of habitat or range; overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; disease or predation; inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and any other natural or manmade factors affecting the species' existence (16 U.S.C. 1533(a)(1), 50 CFR 424.11(c)).
ESA-implementing regulations issued jointly by NMFS and FWS (50 CFR 424.14(b)) define “substantial information” in the context of reviewing a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species as the amount of information that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the measure proposed in the petition may be warranted. In evaluating whether substantial information is contained in a petition, the Secretary must consider whether the petition: (1) Clearly indicates the administrative measure recommended and gives both the scientific and any common name of the species involved; (2) contains detailed narrative justification for the recommended measure, describing, based on available information, past and
Court decisions clarify the appropriate scope and limitations of the Services' review of petitions at the 90-day finding stage, in making a determination whether a petitioned action “may be” warranted. As a general matter, these decisions hold that a petition need not establish a “strong likelihood” or a “high probability” that a species is either threatened or endangered to support a positive 90-day finding.
We evaluate the petitioner's request based upon the information in the petition including its references, as well as the information readily available in our files. We do not conduct additional research, and we do not solicit information from parties outside the agency to help us in evaluating the petition. We will accept the petitioner's sources and characterizations of the information presented, if they appear to be based on accepted scientific principles, unless we have specific information in our files that indicates the petition's information is incorrect, unreliable, obsolete, or otherwise irrelevant to the requested action. Information that is susceptible to more than one interpretation or that is contradicted by other available information will not be dismissed at the 90-day finding stage, so long as it is reliable and a reasonable person would conclude it supports the petitioner's assertions. In other words, conclusive information indicating the species may meet the ESA's requirements for listing is not required to make a positive 90-day finding. We will not conclude that a lack of specific information alone negates a positive 90-day finding, if a reasonable person would conclude that the unknown information itself suggests an extinction risk of concern for the species at issue.
To make a 90-day finding on a petition to list a species, we evaluate whether the petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the subject species may be either threatened or endangered, as defined by the ESA. First, we evaluate whether the information presented in the petition, along with the information readily available in our files, indicates that the petitioned entity constitutes a “species” eligible for listing under the ESA. Next, we evaluate whether the information indicates that the species at issue faces extinction risk that is cause for concern; this may be indicated in information expressly discussing the species' status and trends, or in information describing impacts and threats to the species. We evaluate any information on specific demographic factors pertinent to evaluating extinction risk for the species at issue (e.g., population abundance and trends, productivity, spatial structure, age structure, sex ratio, diversity, current and historical range, habitat integrity or fragmentation), and the potential contribution of identified demographic risks to extinction risk for the species. We then evaluate the potential links between these demographic risks and the causative impacts and threats identified in section 4(a)(1).
Information presented on impacts or threats should be specific to the species and should reasonably suggest that one or more of these factors may be operative threats that act or have acted on the species to the point that it may warrant protection under the ESA. Broad statements about generalized threats to the species, or identification of factors that could negatively impact a species, do not constitute substantial information that listing may be warranted. We look for information indicating that not only is the particular species exposed to a factor, but that the species may be responding in a negative fashion; then we assess the potential significance of that negative response.
Many petitions identify risk classifications made by other organizations or agencies, such as the International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the American Fisheries Society, or NatureServe, as evidence of extinction risk for a species. Risk classifications by other organizations or made under other Federal or state statutes may be informative, but the classification alone may not provide the rationale for a positive 90-day finding under the ESA.
For example, as explained by NatureServe, their assessments of a species' conservation status do “not constitute a recommendation by NatureServe for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act” because NatureServe assessments “have different criteria, evidence requirements, purposes and taxonomic coverage than government lists of endangered and threatened species, and therefore these two types of lists should not be expected to coincide.” (
All five of the petitioned species for which we have jurisdiction are migratory and spawn in freshwater habitats while spending part of their life cycle in marine or estuarine waters (i.e., they are anadromous). They are benthic oriented feeders, eating mostly invertebrates and small fishes. All five of the species are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
We have determined, based on the information provided in the petition and readily available in our files, that the petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned actions may be warranted for the five species under our jurisdiction. The petition contains a detailed narrative justification for the recommended measure, species taxonomic description, geographic distribution, preferred habitat characteristics, population status and trends, threats contributing to the species' decline, and is accompanied by appropriate supporting documentation. We agree that each of the five petitioned species is a valid taxonomic species. We have no specific information in our files that indicates the petition's status information is incorrect, unreliable, or obsolete. Below is a synopsis of our analysis of the status information provided in the petition and readily available in our files for each species.
The IUCN first rated
The IUCN first assessed
The IUCN first assessed
The IUCN first assessed
The IUCN first assessed
After reviewing the information contained in the petition, as well as information readily available in our files, we conclude the petition presents substantial scientific information indicating the petitioned actions of listing five species of sturgeon, or DPSs of these species, under our jurisdiction as threatened or endangered may be warranted. Therefore, in accordance with section 4(b)(3)(B) of the ESA and NMFS' implementing regulations (50 CFR 424.14(b)(2)), we will commence a review of the status of these species and make determinations within 12 months of receiving the petition as to whether the petitioned actions are warranted.
To ensure that the status review is based on the best available scientific and commercial data, we are soliciting information on whether these five sturgeon species are endangered or threatened. Specifically, we are soliciting information in the following areas throughout the range of these species: (1) Historical and current distribution and abundance; (2) historical and current population trends; (3) biological information (life history, genetics, population connectivity, DPS structure, etc.); (4) landings and trade data; (5) management, regulatory, and enforcement information; (6) any current or planned activities that may adversely impact the species; and (7) ongoing or planned efforts to protect and restore the species and their habitats. We request that all information be accompanied by: (1) Supporting documentation such as maps, bibliographic references, or reprints of pertinent publications; and (2) the submitter's name, address, and any association, institution, or business that the person represents.
A complete list of references is available upon request from NMFS Protected Resources Headquarters Office (see
The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531