NMFS Issues Final Rule on Critical Habitat for the Atlantic Sturgeon

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In 2012 the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) listed the Atlantic Sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) with one Threatened Distinct Population Segment (DPS) in the Gulf of Maine and the four remaining DPS's listed as Endangered (New York Bight, Chesapeake Bay, Carolina, and South Atlantic). Subsequent to an ESA listing is the issuance of proposed and final rules designating critical habitat. While two proposed critical habitat rules were published on June 3, 2016, one rule for the three northern DPS''s and the other rule for the two southern DPS's, a single final rule covering all five DPS's was just finalized on August 17, 2017. NMFS received and responded to numerous comments on the proposed rule, many provided by Normandeau sturgeon experts on behalf of clients. Of primary note is that the final rule generally eliminated unoccupied waters from the designation. In some cases the proposed habitat designations included areas upstream of hydropower dams prior to the advent of effective upstream passage technologies and well prior to the implementation of any safe downstream passage strategies. The final rule is a welcome compromise that acknowledges the current state of Atlantic Sturgeon passage and bounded critical habitat from the estuary upstream to the first barrier or fall line. In some cases, this provided welcome temporary relief from numerous extraneous ESA consultations. Normandeau Associates, Inc. has over 60 years of sturgeon related experience providing clients with the expertise necessary to cover a full range of services. Our fisheries team has experience to fit a variety of client needs including dredge and impingement monitoring, turbine passage survival, biotelemetry and Endangered Species Act (ESA) Section 7 and 10 consultations. Normandeau''s broad experience with sturgeon includes anadromous species (e.g., Atlantic and Shortnose Sturgeon) and potadromous species found in the Great Lakes and Mississippi drainages (Lake and Shovelnose Sturgeon). Normandeau has been involved in projects ranging from South Carolina to Maine and inland drainages in New York and Wisconsin.

 

For more information, contact: Dave Coughlan, Senior Principal Scientist dcoughlan@normandeau.com