MARINE FISHERIES EXTINCTION RECONSIDERED - The November 2000 issue of Fisheries, a publication of the American Fisheries Society, reports that 82 species and stocks of fish in North American waters are at risk of extinction. These findings represent a significant shift in the views of fisheries managers, who have long thought that the ocean was too vast and resilient for humans to entirely extirpate a species. It was recognized that overfishing could reduce stocks but extinction was not a management consideration. Lead author John A. Musick, a professor of vertebrate ecology at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and a team of 18 scientists drawn from academia, from state and federal regulatory agencies and from the private sector, attempted to identify stocks at risk at a sufficiently early stage of decline to avoid listing as threatened or endangered. They used the same definitions as federal law for endangered, threatened and vulnerable species. They found that in some cases, 90% or more of a species already is gone. The review included the coastal waters of the continental United States, Alaska, Mexico, and Canada. The list represents the culmination of a decade-long effort to identify marine fish stocks that may be at risk of extinction. The U.S. endangered and threatened species list includes 102 species and stocks of freshwater, estuarine and anadromous fish but no non-anadromous oceanic fish. The National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency with responsibility for offshore fish, partly financed the new study and has used the findings to update its list of candidates for further research to determine if government listing is warranted. The full article is available online at http://www.fisheries.org/fisheries/FISHNov06-30.pdf.
NAS RECOMMENDS EXPANDED MARINE RESERVES - The National Academy of Sciences has recommended that the United States expand its currently small system of protected marine reserves. According to a new National Research Council report - Marine Protected Areas: Tools for Sustaining Ocean Ecosystem - current management that relies on fishing limits is insufficient to protect ocean ecosystems from the growing stresses of human activity. Within some protected areas are marine reserves where the removal or disturbance of some or all living resources is completely prohibited. However, these reserves currently cover less than 1 percent of U.S. waters, as opposed to terrestrial reserves, which cover about 10 percent of public land and are used extensively for conservation purposes. The NRC report endorses increased use of marine reserves, in concert with conventional management approaches, as tools for managing ocean resources. Conventional approaches to marine management, especially for fisheries, usually focus on individual species, the report says. Regulators typically restrict the length of the fishing season, type of gear fishermen can use, and the amount and size of fish taken in an effort to maintain the population necessary to preserve the reproductive potential of a particular species in a given area. However, these strategies overlook other impacts of fishing efforts, including habitat damage caused by fishing gear (such as bottom trawling equipment used to harvest shellfish) and bycatch problems. In addition, it is difficult and costly to accurately assess the abundance and health of individual fish stocks on which to base regulations. Meanwhile, a growing body of scientific literature documents the potential effectiveness of marine reserves for replenishing overexploited fish stocks, conserving biodiversity, and restoring habitats, the committee found. "Because they are defined by geographical boundaries, marine protected areas offer an approach to conservation that takes the entire ecosystem of particular area into consideration, rather than targeting specific species for protection," said Edward Houde, chair of the committee that wrote the report, and professor at the University of Maryland's Center for Environmental Sciences. "Declining or poorly managed fish populations and damage to marine habitats are discouraging signs that conventional ocean-management practices are insufficient, while recent research demonstrates that properly designed reserves can be effective tools for protecting and restoring ocean ecosystems." Copies of MARINE PROTECTED AREAS: TOOLS FOR SUSTAINING OCEAN ECOSYSTEMS will be available early next year from the National Academy Press.
LAWSUITS HAMPER ENDANGERED SPECIES LISTINGS - A flood of lawsuits from environmental groups, demanding the designation of critical habitat for hundreds of threatened and endangered species, is hindering the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's effort to determine if other species should be added to the endangered species list. On 22 November 2000, the USFWS announced that it will have to delay pending listing decisions because its staff is spending all its time responding to the litigation. The USFWS will make exceptions for species in imminent danger of extinction. Although funding for listings increased to $6.35 million for FY2001 (over $6.2 million for the previous year), this funding covers both for listing new species and designating critical habitat. Virtually all of the funding will be used to issue 57 critical habitat proposals or final rules that will cover about 300 species, as a result of court orders and legal settlements of lawsuits.
WILD ATLANTIC SALMON IN MAINE PROTECTED AS ENDANGERED SPECIES - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries announced November 13 that the wild Atlantic salmon in Maine's rivers will be listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The listing covers the wild population of Atlantic salmon found in rivers and streams. The federal agencies found that less than 10 percent of the fish needed for the long-term survival of wild Atlantic salmon are returning to Maine rivers. The USFWS found that without the protection and recovery programs afforded by the Endangered Species Act, chances are this population will die out completely. The State of Maine Atlantic Salmon Commission halted salmon fishing nearly a year ago in response to the low number of adult fish returning to Maine rivers. In addition to the threat of three fish diseases, the wild salmon are threatened by interbreeding with and competition from escaped farm-raised salmon from Maine's aquaculture industry also threaten the wild salmon population in the Gulf of Maine. The industry has expanded its use of European salmon strains. The Services will develop a recovery plan that will address threats such as disease, competition from or interbreeding with aquaculture escapees (especially non-North American farmed fish), predation, and modification to salmon habitat. The listing comes after years of controversy and despite strong political opposition from most elected officials in Maine. They fear that the new protections that come with the listing will destroy the $65 million salmon industry that has grown along the Maine coast in the past 15 years. They question whether a distinct population of wild salmon even exists in Maine rivers, which have been stocked with salmon from different rivers for decades. The State of Maine is reportedly considering a legal challenge to the listing. Additional information is available on the Internet at this site: http://www.nero.nmfs.gov/atsalmon/
MONTANA AND IDAHO TO HOST GRIZZLY BEAR REINTRODUCTIONS, WITH EXTENSIVE INPUT FROM THE PUBLIC - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has completed the planning process for the reintroduction of grizzly bears into the Bitterroot Mountains of western Montana and central Idaho. Under the plan, the Service would introduce a minimum of 25 bears over five years into 5,785 square miles of wilderness area surrounded by more than 15,000 square miles of public land in the Selway-Bitterroot and Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. This is the first time a reintroduction effort will be overseen by a citizen's group. The USFWS believes the involvement of local residents is crucial to a successful reintroduction effort. The 15-member Citizen Management Committee will be composed of a cross-section of local citizens and agency representatives from Federal and State agencies and the Nez Perce Tribe. Committee members will be appointed by the Secretary of the Interior, based on recommendations from the governors of Idaho and Montana and the tribal managers of the Nez Perce tribe. Meetings will be open to the public. The mission of the Citizen Management Committee is to facilitate recovery of the grizzly bear in the Bitterroot Ecosystem while accommodating the needs of the public. Decisions by the Committee will serve as guidance to the Federal and State agencies involved in grizzly bear management. Establishment of a grizzly population in the remote Bitterroot wilderness would contribute significantly to long-term conservation and recovery of the species. The recovery goal for the Bitterroot ecosystem is approximately 280 grizzly bears, which is expected to take a minimum of 50-100 years to achieve. Bears will not be relocated into this area for a year or more. The reintroduced bears will be designated as a nonessential, experimental population. This special designation allows more flexibility in the management of reintroduced species for example, if removing a bear from the area is necessary. The grizzly bear is a native species of the Bitterroot Ecosystem and was once common there. Grizzlies were eliminated from the Bitterroots by the 1940's after a century of intensive persecution. Specific details on the Service's plan to reintroduce grizzly bears in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana and Idaho can be found on the Service's website at http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/bitterroot or www.r6.fws.gov/endspp/grizzly.
COMMISSION APPROVES $25 MILLION FOR WETLANDS PROJECT - Thirty eight separate wetland habitat projects in the United States, Canada and Mexico will receive $25 million in federal grants this fall through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the efforts of conservation partnerships among the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal and state agencies, private landowners and conservation organizations. In the United States, the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission approved 19 wetland conservation projects in 18 states at its quarterly meeting in Washington D.C., committing almost $15 million in matching grants to private and public organizations involved in habitat conservation and restoration. The commission also approved an additional $10 million for 19 projects in Mexico and Canada. The seven Mexico projects are located in seven separate Mexican states and will go to habitat restoration, management and education efforts. Grant funds totaling nearly $1 million
will be combined with $1.13 million in partner funds for the Mexican projects. The 12 Canadian projects occur in 10 provinces, with a total of more than $9 million in grant funds matched by more than $17 million in partner contributions. The North American Wetlands Conservation Act provides matching grants to private and public organizations and to individuals to carry out wetland conservation projects. For every grant dollar spent on U.S. projects approved March 22, project partners will add four dollars raised from other sources. Grants funding comes from Congressional appropriations, moneys received from fines, penalties, and forfeitures under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918; and from interest accrued on the fund established under the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937. Amendments to the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act of 1950 directed that a portion of the funds collected from federal fuel excise taxes on small gasoline engines be allocated for use under the Act for coastal ecosystem projects. Over the last four years of the program, an average of about $44 million has been available annually from all sources.