U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R.-N.C., continues to push back against the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) ongoing effort to protect Atlantic sturgeon as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.
In February of 2012, NMFS decided to create a Carolina “distinct population segment” of Atlantic sturgeon and to list that segment as endangered.
Jones raised serious questions about the process and the suspect data the agency used to come to that decision.
Since the listing, the agency has started work on a variety of federal regulations – including recovery actions, critical habitat designations, and federal agency consultation requirements – that the Endangered Species Act mandates to “recover” the species.
These regulations could impose severe restrictions on Eastern North Carolina commercial fishermen, and as a result, have a negative impact on the coastal economy.
In a letter sent to NMFS Administrator Eric Schwaab on last week, Jones and two of his Republican congressional colleagues from New Jersey – Reps. Frank LoBiondo and Jon Runyan – asked for answers to a number of questions about the agency’s deliberations on the regulations to implement the ESA listing for sturgeon.
Many of the questions related to the fact that the agency’s listing decision and subsequent regulatory initiatives are moving forward even though a benchmark stock assessment on the species has yet to be completed. That assessment is still being developed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC).
“A lot of fishermen’s livelihoods are at stake here,” said Jones. “The agency needs to make sure they act prudently and with the best information available. Rushing to judgment without having a good handle on how many fish are actually in the water could unnecessarily put a lot of people out of business, and we just cannot afford that during these economic times.”