Species Petition Nets Grouper Protections


     WASHINGTON (CN) — The National Marine Fisheries Service listed the gulf grouper as an endangered species and the island grouper as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The listings were prompted by a petition from the WildEarth Guardians conservation group to list 81 marine species under the act that was filed in 2013.
     The agency responded to the petition by preparing its 90-day findings according to taxonomic groupings. Only 27 out of the 81 species or distinct population segments were found to merit further review, the agency said. The island and gulf groupers were included in the five bony fishes the agency considered, and were proposed for listing in September 2015.
     Of the 27 considered species, three coral species and the dusky sea snake were listed as endangered last October, the Banggai cardinalfish in Indonesia was listed as a threatened species in January and a distinct population segment of the coelacanth was listed as threatened in March. The Nassau grouper was listed as threatened in June, three angelsharks were listed as endangered in August, and six South American shark-family species proposed for listing last December are still awaiting the agency’s final determination.
     Three of the 27 considered species have been dropped from the listing process because the agency decided they had sufficient protections already in place, and three population segments were dropped because they did not meet the definition of a distinct population segment.
     The agency is still working on the remaining species, and proposed two dolphins and a guitarfish for protections just last month.
     The two listed groupers are at risk due to overfishing. Groupers aggregate for spawning at predictable places and times. They are also long-lived (40 to 50 years), but also late to reach reproductive maturity. Many of the fish are harvested before they reproduce.
     Gulf groupers, which can grow up to five feet in length, are found in the Gulf of California, where they are threatened by damming, pollution, dredging and construction, in addition to the main threat of over-harvesting.
     Island groupers are smaller, only reaching three feet, but most harvested island groupers are half that size, according to the agency’s status review. They are found in the eastern Atlantic near the Azores and Canary Islands. Fishing regulations are inconsistent and poorly enforced, the agency said.
     “Listing species with international or global distribution can both protect the species domestically, and help focus U.S. resources toward enforcement of international regulation and recovery of the species,” the WildEarth Guardians said. More than half of the world’s ocean species may disappear by 2100 without strong protections, and of the 2,200 species currently protected under the ESA, only about six percent are marine species, the group said.
     “We’re thrilled that island and gulf groupers are now safeguarded by the powerful protections of the Endangered Species Act. These rare species need a chance to recover from decades of overfishing and habitat destruction. The Endangered Species Act is a proven tool for preventing extinction and aiding imperiled species on the path to recovery, yet it is underused in protecting imperiled marine species and habitats,” Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians, said. “Endangered Species Act protections provide the island grouper and gulf grouper the best possible chance to survive and recover.”
     The listings are effective Nov. 21.

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