I am happy that NOAA, through incorporating new data, has ruled that New Jersey’s economically important fisheries will not jeopardize Atlantic Sturgeon. I look forward to working with NOAA to ensure that all future decisions regarding sturgeon are based upon accurate up to date scientific data.
-New Jersey Congressmen Jon Runyan
Commercial fishers were worried a 2012 Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing for Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus) could further restrict, if not close, fisheries that are economically important to the already embattled New England and Mid-Atlantic fishing industries. A draft biological opinion released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) this week found that, while some commercial fishing activities in seven key fisheries may adversely affect Atlantic sturgeon, none of these economically valuable fisheries are likely to jeopardize the species’ survival. The biological opinion, which is based on more current data than the data used to establish the original ESA listing, is welcome news to fishers in fisheries where Atlantic sturgeon are sometimes incidentally caught.
The Result of a Section 7 Consultation
The biological opinion was drafted pursuant to section 7 of the ESA and was released Monday by NOAA. Section 7 of the ESA, called “Interagency Cooperation,” is a mechanism by which federal agencies make sure their actions don’t “jeopardize the existence of any listed species.” Under the ESA, “jeopardy” occurs when an agency’s action is reasonably expected (directly or indirectly) “to diminish a species’ numbers, reproduction, or distribution so that the likelihood of survival and recovery in the wild is appreciably reduced.” In this case, a determination that certain agency-managed fisheries could adversely affect Atlantic sturgeon, led to the formal consultation under section 7. The biological opinion is the mandated result of the consultation.
Seven Fisheries in Question
In preparing the biological opinion document, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) looked at seven major northeast federal fisheries and their potential impact on Atlantic sturgeon stocks. The seven fisheries include monkfish (Lophius americanus), skate (Leucoraja ocellata), spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthias), bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix), squid (Doryteuthis (Amerigo) pealeii), mackerel (Scomber scombrus), butterfish (Peprilus triacanthus), summer flounder (Paralichthys denatus), scup or porgy (Stenotomus chrysops), and black sea bass (Centropristis striata). The draft biological opinion was presented at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) spring meeting this week in Virginia.
Fisheries Will Likely Not Jeopardize Atlantic Sturgeon
The draft opinion concludes, according to a NOAA spokesperson, that “seven Northeast fisheries may adversely affect, but will likely not jeopardize the continued existence of five distinct population segments of Atlantic sturgeon, as well as other ESA listed species including listed marine mammals, sea turtles and Atlantic salmon.”
In cases like this where an agency’s actions may adversely affect a species, but not jeopardize its continued existence, an “incidental take statement” is prepared, which may allow harming, killing or harassing a listed species when harming, killing or harassing a species was not the purpose of the agency’s action. The “incidental take statement” lists, among other things, the anticipated take due to the agency’s action and measures taken to reduce take.
Caution and Caveats
Those close to the situation and familiar with the work that has gone into the original ESA listing and the draft biological opinion caution this is only a draft opinion and the numbers have not been fully peer reviewed. An ASMFC stock assessment for Atlantic sturgeon will start this summer and will employ a range of information, including the new data. The goal is to produce “a comprehensive and contemporary picture of these stocks.” A NOAA spokesperson said Monday:
Ultimately, what we learn from the stock assessment will be used to inform future management actions and to determine if a revision to the listing is necessary. The Commission plans to complete final stock assessment in about a year.
Regardless of caveats, many commercial fishers are breathing a sigh of relief. They are thankful that NOAA–a federal organization some distrust “because,” as one fisher recently said to me, “the data always seems to support the environmentalists, not the fishermen”–is presenting data “good for fisherman.”
The draft opinion is open for review for 60 days, and comments can be submitted by email to: email@example.com