WASHINGTON (CN) – The American eel faces “substantial risk of extinction” because Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service refuse to do their jobs, an environmental group claims in Federal Court.
The Center for Environmental Science Accuracy and Reliability, known as CESAR, claims the defendants missed their deadline to respond to a petition to list the American eel as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
“The American eel (Anguilla rostrata) is at substantial risk of extinction due to habitat loss and modification, overutilization, inadequate regulatory protection, disease, and other natural and manmade factors,” the complaint states. “The eel faces increasing dangers from hydropower turbines, disease, and unchecked commercial harvesting. Absent the protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the species population will become critically and irreversibly low.”
CESAR says it petitioned the government in April 2010, but the defendants have yet to publish their findings, a task that the ESA gives them 12 months to perform.
Eels are catadromous, meaning they breed in the ocean and live in fresh water. But habitat disruption and a host of other factors have nearly wiped out European eels, and American eels have seen a 72 percent decline in recent decades, according to the complaint.
“The eels have been eliminated in many areas of their historic range,” CESAR says. “Much of this loss is attributable to reduced accessibility to freshwater streams due to habitat changes limiting access in coastal tributaries and drainage systems. Accessibility has been particularly limited by the construction of dams, preventing eels from migrating upstream to freshwater habitats and downstream to the ocean to spawn, and killing large, fecund females as they travel downstream to spawn, thus disproportionately affecting reproductive ability.”
CESAR, formerly known as the Council for Endangered Species Act Reliability, says the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission reported in 2008 that eel numbers are near a historic low.
“CESAR believes that the regulatory agencies responsible for preserving eel populations have failed in their responsibility,” the complaint states.
The environmentalists say the defendants have failed to halt the population decline and regulatory agencies have failed to maintain oversight of the population while continuing to allow excessive commercial harvesting.
Without ESA protections, the eel population in America could become “irreversibly low,” CESAR says.
It wants an injunction forcing Salazar to issue the government’s finding on its petition to list the eels as threatened, along with reasonable attorneys’ fees and expert witness fees.
CESAR is represented by David Bernhard, with Brownstein Hyatt.