Lawsuit Threat Forces Grouper Listing Action

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The Nassau grouper has been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act after an environmental group threatened to sue over the agency’s foot-dragging. The WildEarth Guardians petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service regarding the grouper and 80 other marine species in September 2010.
     The ESA stipulates a two-year listing process from the receipt of a petition. Two years after the petition was received, in October 2012, the agency finally published a seriously overdue 90-day finding that the petitioned action for the grouper merited further review, and the 12-month status review/listing proposal was published in September 2014.
     Two months ago, at the end of April, the Guardians issued a formal notice of intent to sue over the agency’s failure to complete the listing process within the legally required timeframe.
     “We’re thrilled to see the Nassau grouper take the first step on the road to recovery,” Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians, said. “We call on the agency to more quickly respond to the threats to our oceans by providing protections for this and other imperiled marine species.”
     Nassau groupers have been estimated to live up to 29 years, grow up to four feet long and weigh up to 25 pounds. Normally solitary, during spawning, the fish congregate in known locations during the full moon, and have been intensely fished during those times, resulting in serious declines in the species’ population. The fish are now considered to be “commercially extinct,” meaning they are no longer viable for fishery purposes, the agency said.
     “Reining in human exploitation of Nassau grouper spawning aggregations is key to protecting these magnificent fish,” Jones said. “The agency should also designate critical habitat in the U.S. portions of the species’ range to protect the coral reefs and spawning sites these fish need to survive.”
     The agency requests information to help in the formulation of a critical habitat designation. According to the ESA, critical habitat is required to be designated within one year of a listing determination, and can only be designated for those areas essential to the conservation of the species that fall within U.S. jurisdiction.
     Groupers are found in coral reefs off the coast of Florida, through the Caribbean and south off the coast of Brazil.
     “Listing species with global distributions can both protect the species domestically, and help focus U.S. resources toward enforcement of international regulation and recovery of the species,” the Guardians said in their response to the listing. “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 2,258 species protected under the Act, only 139 (about 6 percent) are marine species.”
     The listing is effective July 29, and information supporting critical habitat designation is due Aug. 29.

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