pspan style=”font-size:14px;”For immediate release: July 25, 2013/span/ppnbsp;/ppspan style=”font-size:14px;”Contact: Taylor Jones, WildEarth Guardians: (303) 353-1490, style=”font-size:14px;”Mike Harris, Friends of Animals: (720) 949-7791, style=”text-align: center;”Advocates Challenge Fedsrsquo; Failure to Protect Imperiled Marine Species/h2h3 style=”text-align: center;”Species Need the Protections of the Endangered Species Act/h3pspan style=”font-size: 14px;”Washington, DC ndash;Today WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals sued the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for failure to grant Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections to severalnbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”imperiled marine species. The agency missed statutory deadlines for decisions on petitions to list five species of sturgeon, the Nassau grouper, queen conch, whale shark, and the Gulf of Mexiconbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of the sperm whale. nbsp;a href=”/sites/default/files/kcfinder/files/Marine_complaint.pdf”Read complaint./a/span/ppspan style=”font-size: 14px;”ldquo;Imperiled species canrsquo;t afford delays ndash; the law imposes deadlines on Agency decisions for a reason,rdquo; said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. ldquo;These speciesnbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”are not protected until they are added to the list of threatened and endangered species, and their populations continue to dwindle as they wait.rdquo;/span/ppspan style=”font-size: 14px;”More than half of marine species may be at risk of extinction by 2100 without significant conservation efforts. Despite this grave situation, the U.S. has largely failed to protect marinenbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”species under the ESA. Of the over 2,000 species protected under the Act, less than 5 percent are marine species. Among the most serious threats to marine species worldwide is the voraciousnbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”human appetite for seafood. Many groups of marine species, including sharks, groupers, and whales, are heavily impacted by anthropogenic threats including destructive fishing methods likenbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”trawling and long-lining, pollution, climate change and ocean acidification. Bycatch – when species other than the target species are caught and killed during fishing operations – is also a serious threat./span/ppspan style=”font-size:14px;”ldquo;The Secretaryrsquo;s failure to fulfill her duties under the ESA subjects these marine species to further human exploitation and very possible extinction,rdquo; said Mike Harris, Wildlife Law Program Directornbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”for Friends of Animals./span/ppspan style=”font-size:14px;”The lawsuit seeks to compel NMFS to make determinations for each of the imperiled species as required by the Endangered Species Act. Listing species under the Endangered Species Act is annbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”effective safety net for imperiled species: more than 99 percent of plants and animals listed under the Act persist today. The law is especially important as a bulwark against the current extinctionnbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”crisis. Plants and animals are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due to human activities. Scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinct if not for ESAnbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”listing. Listing species with a global distribution can both protect the species domestically, and help focus U.S. resources toward enforcement of international regulation and recovery of the species./span/pp style=”text-align: center;”span style=”font-size: 14px;”# nbsp; nbsp; nbsp; nbsp; nbsp;# nbsp; nbsp; nbsp; nbsp; nbsp;#/span/ph3strongspan style=”font-size: 14px;”SPECIES/span/strong/h3pspan style=”font-size: 14px;”strongNassau groupers/strong are medium-sized sea bass, growing to a maximum size of about 39 inches and 55 pounds. They are found in the Western North Atlantic from Bermuda, Florida, Bahamas,nbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”Yucatan Peninsula, and throughout the Caribbean to southern Brazil, including coral reef habitats in the Gulf of Mexico. Nassau groupers can live up to 29 years and mature at between 4-7 years ofnbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”age. Though normally solitary, Nassau groupers form large spawning aggregations (from a few dozen to historically over 100,000 individuals) on or near full moons from November throughnbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”February when water temperatures are 25-26 degrees Celsius. These aggregations are vulnerable to fishing as they are predictable in location and timing. Often, the discovery of a spawningnbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”aggregation is followed by heavy human exploitation, and the local population can be extirpated in as little as a few years./span/ppspan style=”font-size: 14px;”strongQueen conch/strong are large mollusks with distinctive spiral shells with blunt spikes and pearly pink or orange interiors. The species can grow to 12 inches in shell-length and weigh up to 5 pounds. Thenbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”species occurs throughout the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, from Bermuda and Florida in the northern extent of its range to Brazil in the south. Conch are prized for their meat and their large,nbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”flared shells, and are commercially harvested in 25 countries. Queen conch have been so heavily exploited in many areas that a viable fishery no longer exists, yet the population continues to benbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”steadily depleted. The United States is the largest importer of queen conch, importing approximately 78 percent of the queen conch meat in international trade (about 2,000 – 2,500 tonsnbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”annually). Listing the queen conch under the ESA would provide essential protection for this species by restricting U.S. take and import./span/ppspan style=”font-size: 14px;”strongWhale sharks/strong are one of only three species of filter-feeding shark. Divers prize encounters with these gentle giants. Whale sharks are sparsely distributed in tropical and warm temperate seas,nbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”except the Mediterranean. The species is highly migratory and tends to congregate in different areas at different times of the year, possibly following the growth of plankton and other small organismsnbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”that are their primary food-source. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the whale shark as ldquo;vulnerablerdquo; on its Red List, but the designation offers no regulatory protection.nbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”Whale sharks have very high commercial value in international trade; they are known as ldquo;tofu sharksrdquo; because of the consistency of their flesh. Their large fins are also valuable in the shark finnbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”trade. They are also threatened by purse seine fishing, which involves setting a net around a large fish or mammal in order to catch the smaller fish that gather underneath. Purse seining is usednbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”extensively to capture tuna that school under whale sharks and led to the reported deaths of at least 50 whale sharks in 2010 and 19 in 2011. Whale sharks are losing coral reef habitat to coralnbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”bleaching and other impacts of climate change and ocean acidification, and losing coastal habitat because of lsquo;dead zonesrsquo; caused by run-off from urban and agricultural pollution./span/ppspan style=”font-size: 14px;”Although the worldwide population of strongsperm whales/strong is listed as endangered, the resident population in the Gulf of Mexico faces unique threats including continued oil and gas development,nbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”high levels of shipping traffic and noise, and ongoing impacts of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Protecting sperm whales in the Gulf as a Distinct Population Segment (DPS) would ensurenbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”that this genetically, morphologically, and behaviorally distinct population remains a part of the Gulf ecosystem. Sperm whales in the Gulf are unique from other populations in several ways. Theynbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”are a resident population that generally does not migrate beyond the Gulf. They use a different repertoire of vocalizations than other sperm whales. These vocalizations, called ldquo;codas,rdquo; havenbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”distinct patterns and are likely culturally learned, much like human language. Sperm whales in the Gulf have a dialect that is rarely encountered outside the Gulf. They are smaller than other spermnbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”whales, group in smaller numbers, and have been observed foraging in shallower water than other sperm whales. Because of these unique adaptations, if the Gulf sperm whales were to becomenbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”extirpated, there is little evidence that other sperm whales would or could colonize the area. /span/ppspan style=”font-size: 14px;”strongSturgeon /strongare described by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as the mostnbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”threatened group of animals on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. They have suffered from intensive human exploitation for their caviar and flesh. All sturgeon reproduce slowly, and manynbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”species require decades to reach maturity. Dams impede their ability to spawn, and the loss of eggs and breeding adults to the caviar trade means that depleted populations may take decades tonbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”recover./span/ppspan style=”font-size: 14px;”The olive-hued emAcipenser naccarii /em(Adriatic sturgeon) once ranged throughout the Adriatic from Italy to Greece. Their numbers have declined from exploitation for their flesh. Currently only aboutnbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”250 individuals remain in the wild population./span/ppspan style=”font-size: 14px;”emAcipenser sturio/em (Baltic sturgeon) can grow to 16 feet in length. Fished aggressively for caviar, they have been reduced to a single reproductive population in the Garonne River in France./span/ppspan style=”font-size:14px;”emAcipenser mikadoi /em(Sakhalin sturgeon) can grow to 8 feet in length and were historically common in Japanese markets. Now, only 10-30 spawning adults survive./span/ppspan style=”font-size:14px;”Native to China and Russia, emHuso dauricus/em (Kaluga or Great Siberian sturgeon) are among the worldrsquo;s largest freshwater fishes, exceeding 18 feet in length and one ton in weight. They arenbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”heavily poached for caviar./span/ppspan style=”font-size: 14px;”The massive emAcipenser sinensis/em (Chinese sturgeon) were deemed a major commercial resource in the 1960s. Less than 300 wild individuals remain./span/pp style=”text-align: center;”span style=”font-size: 14px;”# nbsp; nbsp; nbsp; nbsp; nbsp;# nbsp; nbsp; nbsp; nbsp; nbsp;#/span/ppspan style=”font-size: 14px;”WildEarth Guardians, a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization, works to protect wildlife, wild places, and wild waters in the United States and beyond. The organization maintains offices innbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona. style=”font-size: 14px;”Friends of Animals, a nonprofit animal welfare organization, advocates for the interests of animals in living free, on their own terms, and supports projects to protect at-risk animals, including marinenbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”species. The organization maintains offices in Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Colorado and British Columbia.nbsp;/spanspan style=”font-size: 14px;”