Fish Agency Proposes Listing for Two Groupers

     WASHINGTON (CN) – In response to a 2013 WildEarth Guardians petition, the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed gulf groupers and island groupers for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The petition to list 81 marine species as endangered or threatened under the ESA included three hagfishes, three sea snakes, 22 sharks, five marine mammals, 10 skates and rays, and 15 bony fishes, so the agency has responded to the petition by taxonomic group. The gulf and island groupers proposed for listing Wednesday are among the five bony fish species the agency has determined may warrant listing protection.
     “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 more than 2,200 species protected under the Act, only 5 percent are marine species,” Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate with the WildEarth Guardians, said in the group’s response to the listing proposal.
     The gulf grouper is a large fish over five feet long, weighing around 200 pounds with a life span up to 50 years. It is found in the Gulf of California, and in the Pacific from southern California to Mazatlan, Mexico. It lives in shallow waters and is found in rocky reefs and kelp beds.
     Because groupers aggregate for spawning and are easily found and harvested, overfishing has decimated populations. The California commercial gulf grouper fishery “crashed to near zero landings by 1970,” according to the action. The population of this species has declined further since the 1970s due to coastal development, dredging and pollution from effluents. Potential tidal power development, repeated algal blooms, invasive species and climate change may intensify the threats to the gulf grouper. The NMFS has proposed the gulf grouper for endangered species status, meaning they are currently at high risk for extinction.
     A small portion of the historical northern limit of the gulf grouper’s range extends into U.S. waters, but because that region does not provide any essential biological or physical function for the gulf grouper, the agency does not intend to designate critical habitat for this species, according to the action.
     The island groupers, found in the eastern Atlantic around the Azores and Canary Islands, are seldom observed larger than 15 inches, which is half of the known maximum size due to fishing pressure that targets the largest fish. They can live 30 to 40 years. The primary threat to this species is overfishing because they gather at predictable places and times to spawn. The NMFS has proposed island groupers for threatened species status, meaning they are at risk for extinction within the foreseeable future.
     The island grouper occurs entirely outside of U.S. waters, so the agency is unable to designate critical habitat for that species, according to the action.
     “Species are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due to human activities. Scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinct by 2006 if not for ESA protections. Listing species with global distribution can both protect the species domestically, and help focus U.S. resources toward enforcement of international regulations and recovery of the species,” Jones said.
     Comments on the listing proposal are due Nov. 23, and requests for public hearings are due by Nov. 9.

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