WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is giving the shovelnose sturgeon the same protections as the endangered pallid sturgeon in rivers and streams where the species coexist, because the pallid fish are being collected along with their similar-looking shovelnosed cousins.
The Endangered Species Act contains similarity of appearance provisions for protecting species that are closely related and not easily distinguishable in the wild. The shovelnose is harvested for its roe, which are sold as American caviar, and the pallid sturgeon frequently ends up in fishing nets with the shovelnose. The two species inhabit overlapping parts of the Missouri and Mississipi River basins.
The pallid sturgeon, which was first listed by the agency in 1990, is primarily threatened by the curtailment of range by infrastructure improvements on the rivers and streams it inhabits, habitat destruction and modification, low population size, and commercial harvest.
The USFWS worked with state agencies to develop fishing guidelines to protect the pallid sturgeon from shovelnose harvest but has determined that measures taken to date do not sufficiently protect the pallid.
Under the new protections for the shovelnose, no “taking” will have occurred under the act if the fish is released at the point of capture with its roe intact. The protections are effective Oct. 1.