(CN) - The status of a rare fish known as the Alabama shad has not been properly determined in accordance with the Endangered Species Act, a nonprofit organization claims in federal court.
In a complaint filed in the Tampa, Fla. Federal Court, the Center for Biological Diversity claims the U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Marine Fisheries Service failed to make a "statutorily-required finding on whether to list the Alabama shad as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act."
According to the Center, the Alabama shad, which has historically been found in the Southeastern United States, has seen its range shrink significantly in recent years "due to habitat loss and degradation."
"The Alabama shad is a short-lived, anadromous fish that spawns in flowing rivers from the Mississippi River drainage to the Suwannee River in Florida," the complaint states. "At one time, the shad supported a commercial fishery and was found in freshwater systems as far inland as eastern Oklahoma, Iowa, and West Virginia, but it is now rarely found only as far inland as central Missouri and eastern Arkansas."
In 2004, the National Marine Fisheries Service categorized the Alabama shad as a "species of concern." In 2010, the Center petitioned the agency to list the fish under the Endangered Species Act.
The Fisheries Service initially found that a listing was unwarranted, but the Center challenged the finding and a new decision was issued in 2013, "finding that protections may be warranted."
The group failed to issue a required 12-month finding, however, giving rise to the Center's current action.
From the complaint: "More than five years have passed since National Marine Fisheries Service received the petition to list the Alabama shad. Nearly two years have passed since NMFS issued its positive 90-day finding. NMFS has not issued a 12-month finding."
The plaintiff claims that defendants' failure to respond to the petition within the required 12-month timeframe violates the Endangered Species Act.
According to the complaint, the listing process includes "mandatory, nondiscretionary deadlines that the secretary must meet so that imperiled species receive the ESA's substantive protections in a timely fashion."
Recognition under the Act as a listed species would provide "federal safeguards and habitat protections" for the Alabama shad.
The Center seeks a declaratory judgment finding that the defendants violated the Act as well as the Administrative Procedure Act. It also seeks an order that defendants be required to issue a finding "as to whether listing the Alabama shad is warranted."
The Center for Biological Diversity, which is headquartered in Tucson, Ariz., is a national nonprofit organization committed to protecting biological diversity around the world. It boasts over 50,000 members and has offices in nine different states, plus Washington, D.C.
A spokesperson for the National Marine Fisheries Service said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
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