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Six Foreign Marine Species May Get Help

WASHINGTON (CN) - The National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed listing six foreign marine species for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The action addresses seven out of 81 species originally petitioned by the WildEarth Guardians (WEG) in 2013, according to the proposal published Tuesday.

The NMFS determined that the Eastern Taiwan Strait Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin does not meet the criteria for a distinct population segment, and therefore does not warrant listing. The agency did propose listing Banggai cardinalfish and the Harrisson's dogfish as threatened, and the dusky sea snake and three coral species as endangered under the ESA. No critical habitat was proposed because all of these species occur in areas outside U.S. jurisdiction.

The brightly colored cardinalfish is an Indonesian species threatened by the aquarium trade, loss of coral reefs and climate change. It is estimated that a million cardinalfish a year are harvested for the aquarium trade, but "only one out of every four to five fish collected makes it to the buyer for export due to high mortality and discard practices," the action noted.

The dogfish, a deep-water shark found off the coast of Australia, was historically overharvested for squalene oil, which is used in the cosmetic trade. Deep water sharks have high concentrations of this oil in their livers, and the dogfish have the highest concentrations of any deep water sharks, up to 89 percent. The livers were harvested, but the carcasses were discarded due to mercury contamination. This shark also has high mortality due to by-catch discarding in the trawl and longline fisheries. "It is worth noting that discards have outnumbered landings in recent years and at a rate that was deemed likely to result in further declines of the species," the agency said. The sharks are long-lived and slow to reproduce, which has slowed recovery of this species.

The primary threat to dusky sea snakes is hybridization due to the breakdown of reproductive barriers between populations of the dusky and the olive sea snake. The cause is currently not known, according to the agency. The snakes also face threats from climate change, loss of coral reefs and water pollution from development, and gas and oil production. The dusky sea snake is closely associated with the coral reefs of Australia.

Of the three proposed coral species, one is found primarily in Indonesia, another is found near the Pacific Ocean side of the Panama Canal in only five known populations, and the third is found in the area around the Galapagos Island chain in only one known population. These shallow-water corals face risks from habitat changes due to climate change, such as ocean warming and sea level rise. Small population and range size, pollution, and disease also threaten these corals.

"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 2,198 species protected under the Act, only 125 (about 5 percent) are marine species," the WEG said in its response to the listing proposal. "Findings on an additional 20 imperiled marine species included in the multi-species petition are currently five months overdue," the group noted.

Comments on the listing proposal are due Feb. 17, and public hearing requests are due Jan. 30, 2015.

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