Guardians Fight for|Guitar and Violin Fish

     WASHINGTON (CN) — Defenders of fish with funny names — including the blackchin guitar fish, the violin fish and porbeagle shark — sued the federal government Wednesday, demanding the fish be listed as threatened or endangered.
     WildEarth Guardians says the Secretary of Commerce, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service missed their 12-month deadline to rule under the Endangered Species Act.
     All five species — including the Caribbean electric ray and Hector’s dolphin — are “at significant risk of extinction,” the Montana-based conservation group says.
     Listing could protect the species from recreational and commercial fishing and development. The Endangered Species Act requires the defendant agencies to issue findings within 90-day and 12-month timeframes in most cases.
     But the National Marine Fisheries Service has “regularly ignored these statutory procedures and have consistently missed statutory listing deadlines,” WildEarth Guardians says.
     It submitted petitions in 2010 for the Caribbean electric ray, which live in the western Atlantic ocean as far north as North Carolina. The NFMS found that listing was not warranted, and conservation group submitted supplementary petitions.
     In 2013, the defendants then missed their 12-month deadlines for findings on all five species.
     The blackchin guitarfish is prized for its fins in western Africa, which has led to overfishing. The violin fish is caught as bycatch by shrimp trawlers, and is a prime target for the Asian fin trade market.
     WildEarth Guardians has butted heads with the NMFS frequently, notably in 2013, when it fought to get 20 coral species listed as endangered.
     WildEarth Guardians says the federal agencies far too often give economic concerns priority over protecting threatened wildlife.
     In 2010, after NMFS refused to protect the porbeagle shark, the group said, “the feds are refusing to take action” and are “dodging protection of a commercially valuable fish.”
     Federal agencies are not supposed to consider economic factors, but solely “scientific and commercial data” when contemplating a listing under the Endangered Species Act.
     National Marine Fisheries Service spokesman Lt. Colin Kliewer declined to comment, other than to say rulings on the five species are “in development.”
     WildEarth Guardians is represented by staff attorney Sarah McMillan, in Missoula, Mont.

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