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Dr. Ellen Pikitch Comments at NOAA Fisheries Service Sturgeon Hearing

Stony Brook, New York
November 08, 2010

Good evening. Thank you for the opportunity to comment here tonight.
My name is Ellen K. Pikitch and I am a Professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University where I direct the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science. I have conducted research on several species of sturgeon, including the Atlantic sturgeon, for more than a decade. I also serve on the IUCN’s sturgeon specialist group.

Sturgeon have the dubious distinction of being the most valuable fish in the world, as well as the most endangered. In fact, a higher percentage of sturgeon are classified as critically endangered than any other organism comprehensively assessed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The extreme vulnerability of sturgeon to human impacts stems largely from their unusual life history characteristics. The scientific record is clear that these fish are highly susceptible to severe declines, local extirpation, and extinction. The continued survival of these fish requires a strongly precautionary approach to their conservation and management.

Dr. PikitchThe scientific evidence is also clear that Atlantic sturgeon are endangered and that current management measures have not sufficed to effect a recovery of the species. Thus, additional measures must be taken, and an Endangered Species listing for Atlantic sturgeon would provide the mechanism needed to implement such measures. Thus. I agree with NOAA’s proposal that Atlantic sturgeon should be listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

I would like to take this opportunity to submit additional information which I believe is pertinent to an ESA listing for Atlantic sturgeon. I am providing a scientific paper, which has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Applied Ichthyology, and is now in press. It provides details of the results of a study wherein pop-off satellite archival tags were placed on adult Atlantic sturgeon caught in the Hudson River during the spawning season. Of the 15 tagged fish for which ocean location information was obtained, 13 of the fish were heard from in the mid-Atlantic Bight, one was heard from off the coast of Georgia, and one went as far north as the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia. For fish in the mid-Atlantic Bight, aggregation areas were identified off Southwest Long Island, along the New Jersey Coast, off Delaware Bay and off Chesapeake Bay.

Thus, our research demonstrates that adult Atlantic sturgeon can migrate large distances once they return to the Atlantic Ocean, and that distinct population segments mix during their oceanic phase. Given the mixing of populations out at sea, I believe that listing all five distinct population segments as “endangered” – rather than four out of five as endangered and one as threatened – is warranted. In addition, the impact of Canadian fisheries for Atlantic sturgeon in the Bay of Fundy on populations which spawn in the United States must be factored into the recovery plan for these fish.

Thanks again for the opportunity to comment.

NOAA Proposes Five Atlantic Sturgeon for Listing as Endangered or Threatened

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