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A Single Coral Reef Fish Listed as Threatened

WASHINGTON (CN) - The National Marine Fisheries Service listed the Banggai cardinalfish as a threatened species due to diminishing coral reefs, climate change and aquarium trade collection, Wednesday. The listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) does not have a critical habitat designation because the fish does not occur in waters under U.S. jurisdiction.

The action was spurred by a 2013 petition from the WildEarth Guardians (WEG) to list 81 marine species. The agency found that only 27 of those 81 species might warrant listing protection. The cardinalfish was considered in a group of six species proposed for listing in December 2014. Of those six, three coral species and the dusky sea snake were listed as endangered under the ESA, and the Harrisson's dogfish, a shark found in Australian waters, was not listed because the agency determined that conservation efforts by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority were sufficient to address its threats.

In 2010, President Obama issued an Executive Order addressing the protection of ocean ecosystems. The "Guardians' multi-species marine petition sought to compel the Service to live up to this mandate," WEG's endangered species advocate, Taylor Jones, said. "An estimated 50-80 percent of all life on earth is found in the oceans. More than half of marine species may be at risk of extinction by 2100 without significant conservation efforts. Despite this grave situation, the U.S. largely fails to protect marine species under the ESA. Of the 2,245 species protected under the Act, only 130 (about six percent) are marine species."

The agency determined that the cardinalfish was likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future. The difference in listing a species as endangered or as a threatened species rests on the determination of whether the extinction risk is imminent (endangered status) or within the foreseeable future (threatened status). The agency concluded that conservation efforts could alter the extinction risk for this species, and therefore listed the fish as a threatened species, even though it acknowledged that enforcement and compliance with existing regulations and voluntary conservation efforts were weak.

Under the threatened species status, the agency has more flexibility in enforcing various sections of the ESA, and it plans to announce an advance notice of proposed rulemaking regarding further implementation of specific protections under the act, mainly in conjunction with the threat posed by the aquarium trade.

"The Service should quickly finalize regulations prohibiting removal of these beautiful fish from the wild. Endangered Species Act protection will mean much less for these fish if it does not address the main threat: collection from the wild for the aquarium trade," Jones said.

"The cardinalfish is the tenth most common aquarium fish imported into the United States. After nearly two decades of intensive capture, populations of cardinalfish in their native habitat, the Banggai Archipelago of Indonesia, have drastically shrunk. In combination with destruction and fragmentation of the species' small range and climate change impacts on coral reefs, human exploitation puts these fish at risk of extinction," the WEG noted in their reaction statement to the final listing action.

The final listing is effective Feb. 19.


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