Press Releases

Federal regulators deny petition to list overfished species as “threatened”

By Colleen Valles The Associated Press
Friday November 15, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — The federal government has denied a petition by environmentalists to list a type of Pacific red snapper as “threatened,” despite government estimates the population is at less than 4 percent of its unfished level and has a 50 percent chance of rebuilding in the next 170 years. 

The National Marine Fisheries Service found the petition by the Natural Resources Defense Council unwarranted Thursday. NRDC sought the listing of the population of bocaccio that ranges from Northern California to Mexico under the Endangered Species Act, and also hoped to get protection for its habitat. 

In its ruling issued Thursday, the fisheries service said with steps taken by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council to protect bocaccio, a rockfish that can live more than 40 years, it’s not expecting the fish’s population to decline dramatically in the next 170 years. 

“It will be going the opposite way from extinct,” said Rod McInnis, acting regional administrator for the fisheries service’s southwest region. 

Drew Caputo, an attorney for NRDC, said the group was disappointed by the fisheries service decision and would review it before deciding what to do. 

“The thing that’s amazing is it admits that the species has suffered a 96 percent population decline and that it happened because of the way NMFS managed the fish, but it claims it’s going to do a better job moving forward,” he said. “There’s no reason to believe they’re going to do a better job moving forward.” 

The fisheries service acknowledged it thought bocaccio was doing better than it actually was, projecting the fish would take 37 years to rebuild its population, and the government had allowed fishermen to take more fish than the population could handle. Bocaccio was formally declared overfished in 1999. 

When it realized the fish was in more danger than it thought, and that bocaccio actually had a 50 percent chance of rebuilding in 170 years instead of 37 years, the Pacific Fisheries Management Council proposed eliminating fishing for bocaccio in 2003, and limiting the amount of bocaccio taken incidentally to 20 metric tons. At its height in the mid-1970s, fishermen were taking 12,000 metric tons of the fish. 

McInnis said the fisheries service will keep bocaccio on its list of candidates for Endangered Species Act protection. 

NRDC submitted its petition in January 2001, and sued the fisheries service when it missed its January 2002 deadline. On Thursday, the fisheries service was sued again, this time by a group seeking a decision on whether to list the North American green sturgeon. 

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Protection Information Center filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Northern California. The groups say the sturgeon population is at critically low levels, and that it has declined in almost 90 percent of its range.