[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 211 (Thursday, October 31, 2013)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 65249-65263]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-25358]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 224

[Docket No. 120705210-3872-02]
RIN 0648-XC101


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 12-Month Finding 
and Proposed Endangered Listing of Five Species of Sturgeons Under the 
Endangered Species Act

AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.

[[Page 65250]]


ACTION: Proposed rule; 12-month petition finding; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: We, NMFS, have completed comprehensive status reviews under 
the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of five species of foreign sturgeons 
in response to a petition. We have determined, based on the best 
scientific and commercial data available and after taking into account 
efforts being made to protect the species, that Acipenser naccarii 
(Adriatic sturgeon), and A. sturio (European sturgeon) in Western 
Europe, A. sinensis (Chinese sturgeon) in the Yangtze River basin, and 
A. mikadoi (Sakhalin sturgeon) and Huso dauricus (Kaluga sturgeon) in 
the Amur River Basin/Sea of Japan/Sea of Okhotsk region, meet the 
definition of endangered species. We are not proposing to designate 
critical habitat because the geographical areas occupied by these 
species are entirely outside U.S. jurisdiction and we have not 
identified any unoccupied areas that are currently essential to the 
conservation of any of these species. We are soliciting information 
that may be relevant to these listing and critical habitat 
determinations, especially on the status and conservation of these 
species.

DATES: Comments on this proposed rule must be received by December 30, 
2013. Public hearing requests must be made by December 16, 2013.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by 
NOAA-NMFS-2012-0142, by any of the following methods:
     Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Go to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2012-0142. click the ``Comment Now'' icon, 
complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.
     Fax: 301-713-4060; Attn: Dwayne Meadows.
     Mail: Submit written comments to Dwayne Meadows, NMFS 
Office of Protected Resources (F/PR3), 1315 East West Highway, Silver 
Spring, MD 20910, USA.
    Instructions: You must submit comments by one of the above methods 
to ensure that we receive, document, and consider them. Comments sent 
by any other method, to any other address or individual, or received 
after the end of the comment period may not be considered. All comments 
received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted 
for public viewing on http://www.regulations.gov without change. All 
personal identifying information (e.g., name, address, etc.), 
confidential business information, or otherwise sensitive information 
submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly accessible. We 
will accept anonymous comments (enter ``N/A'' in the required fields if 
you wish to remain anonymous). Attachments to electronic comments will 
be accepted in Microsoft Word, Excel, or Adobe PDF file formats only.
    You can obtain the petition, the proposed rule, and the list of 
references electronically on our NMFS Web site at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Dr. Dwayne Meadows, NMFS, Office of 
Protected Resources, (301) 427-8403.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    On March 12, 2012, we received a petition from the WildEarth 
Guardians and Friends of Animals to list 15 species of sturgeon 
(Acipenser naccarii--Adriatic sturgeon; A. sturio--European sturgeon; 
A. gueldenstaedtii--Russian sturgeon; A. nudiventris--ship sturgeon/
bastard sturgeon/fringebarbel sturgeon/spiny sturgeon/thorn sturgeon; 
A. persicus--Persian sturgeon; A. stellatus--stellate sturgeon/star 
sturgeon; A. baerii--Siberian sturgeon; A. dabryanus --Yangtze 
sturgeon/Dabry's sturgeon/river sturgeon; A. sinensis--Chinese 
sturgeon; A. mikadoi--Sakhalin sturgeon; A. schrenckii--Amur sturgeon; 
Huso dauricus--Kaluga sturgeon; Pseudoscaphirhynchus fedtschenkoi--Syr-
darya shovelnose sturgeon/Syr darya sturgeon; P. hermanni--dwarf 
sturgeon/Little Amu-darya shovelnose/little shovelnose sturgeon/Small 
Amu-dar shovelnose sturgeon; P. kaufmanni--false shovelnose sturgeon/
Amu darya shovelnose sturgeon/Amu darya sturgeon/big Amu darya 
shovelnose/large Amu-dar shovelnose sturgeon/shovelfish) as threatened 
or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As a result of 
subsequent discussions between us and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service (FWS), we have determined that 10 of the 15 petitioned sturgeon 
species are not marine or anadromous and thus not within our 
jurisdiction; therefore, those 10 species are the responsibility of the 
FWS, which will conduct the required listing analyses. We did determine 
that Acipenser naccarii, A. sturio, A. sinensis, A. mikadoi and Huso 
dauricus are within our jurisdiction. On August 27, 2012, we published 
a 90-day finding in the Federal Register (77 FR 51767) that found that 
listing these five species under the ESA may be warranted, and 
announced the initiation of status reviews for each species.
    We are responsible for determining whether species are threatened 
or endangered under the ESA (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). To make this 
determination, we first consider whether a group of organisms 
constitutes a ``species'' under the ESA, then whether the status of the 
species qualifies it for listing as either threatened or endangered. 
Section 3 of the ESA defines a ``species'' as ``any subspecies of fish 
or wildlife or plants, and any distinct population segment of any 
species of vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds when mature.'' 
Section 3 of the ESA further defines an endangered species as ``any 
species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range'' and a threatened species as one 
``which is likely to become an endangered species within the 
foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range.'' We interpret an ``endangered species'' to be one that is 
presently in danger of extinction. A ``threatened species,'' on the 
other hand, is not presently in danger of extinction, but is likely to 
become so in the foreseeable future (that is, at a later time). In 
other words, the primary statutory difference between a threatened and 
endangered species is the timing of when a species may be in danger of 
extinction, either presently (endangered) or in the foreseeable future 
(threatened). Section 4(a)(1) of the ESA requires us to determine 
whether any species is endangered or threatened due to any one or a 
combination of the following five threat factors: (1) The present or 
threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or 
range; (2) overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes; (3) disease or predation; (4) the inadequacy of 
existing regulatory mechanisms; or (5) other natural or manmade factors 
affecting its continued existence. We are required to make listing 
determinations based solely on the best scientific and commercial data 
available after conducting a review of the species' status and after 
taking into account efforts being made by any state or foreign nation 
to protect the species.
    In making listing determinations for these five species, we first 
determine whether each petitioned species meets the ESA definition of a 
``species.'' Next, using the best available information gathered during 
the status reviews, we complete an extinction risk assessment. We then 
assess the threats affecting the status of each species using the five 
listing factors identified in section 4(a)(1) of the ESA.

[[Page 65251]]

    Once we have determined the threats, we assess efforts being made 
to protect the species to determine if these conservation efforts are 
adequate to mitigate the existing threats. We evaluate conservation 
efforts using the criteria outlined in the joint NMFS/FWS Policy for 
Evaluating Conservation Efforts (PECE; 68 FR 15100; March 28, 2003) to 
determine their certainty of implementation and effectiveness for 
future or not yet fully implemented conservation efforts. Finally, we 
re-assess the extinction risk of each species in light of the existing 
conservation efforts.

Status Reviews

    In order to complete the status reviews, we compiled information on 
the species biology, ecology, life history, threats, and conservation 
status from information contained in the petition, our files, a 
comprehensive literature search, and consultation with known experts. 
This information is available in a status review report available on 
our Web site (see ADDRESSES section). In the rest of this section we 
summarize information from that report.

Sturgeon General Species Description

    Sturgeons are bony fishes most closely related to paddlefishes and 
bichirs. They all have cartilaginous skeletons, heterocercal caudal 
fins (upper lobe is larger than the lower lobe), one spiracle 
respiratory opening (like sharks), and unique ganoid scales. In 
sturgeons, these ganoid scales remain only as the five rows of bony 
``scutes'' on the sides of the body. They all have a bottom-oriented 
mouth with four barbels (sensory ``whiskers''), a flat snout and strong 
rounded body. Sturgeons have an electrosensory system similar to that 
in sharks, which they use for feeding. All of these species seasonally 
migrate into rivers to spawn. They are mostly bottom-oriented feeders 
that are normally generalist predators on benthic prey, including 
various invertebrates and fishes, except H. dauricus, which is more 
piscivorous. The following section describes specific aspects of the 
biology and ecology of the five petitioned species. Information on many 
of the species is quite sparse so we cannot provide complete 
descriptions of the species' natural history. More details can be found 
in Meadows and Coll (2013).

Natural History of the Adriatic Sturgeon (Acipenser naccarii)

Taxonomy and Distinctive Characteristics

    Acipenser naccarii has a moderate-length snout that is very broad 
and rounded at the tip. It has an interrupted lower lip at the center 
of the mouth and its barbels are short. The species has an olivaceous 
brown back with lighter flanks and a white belly. Morphological 
differences in scutes and the skull bones help distinguish A. naccarii 
from the similar A. sturio and Atlantic sturgeon, A. oxyrinchus, which 
can overlap in parts of their range.

Range and Habitat Use

    Historically, A. naccarii was known to occur in the Adriatic Sea 
ranging from lagoons in Venice, Italy, to the coastlines and rivers of 
Greece (Arlati et al., 2011). It occurred in large rivers over muddy or 
sandy bottoms (Arlati et al., 2011). Historical records of the species 
exist in the rivers Adige, Brenta, Bacchiglione, Livenza, Piave, 
Tagliamento, and Po (including the Po delta); north to Turin; at 
Carignano and Carmagnola; in the Ticino and Adda rivers; along the 
Albanian coasts; and in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Montenegro. 
The species was last recorded from Albania in 1997 in the Buna River 
(Arlati et al., 2011). It was reintroduced to Greece on one occasion 
(Paschos et al., 2003), but there is no evidence that it has 
established a viable population (Paschos et al., 2008). Recent research 
on ancient specimens suggests the species may have existed in the past 
and up to the 1980s in the Iberian Peninsula, though this hypothesis 
has been contested (Meadows and Coll, 2013). There is a landlocked 
population in the Ticino River above the Isola Serafini dam at the 
confluence of the Po and Adda rivers. Adaptation of young-of-the-year 
to brackish and marine waters is poor (McKenzie et al., 2001). The only 
remaining spawning sites recently in use are at the confluences of the 
Po River and its tributaries (Adda, Ticino, etc.), and these sites have 
dwindled to an area of occupancy of less than 10 km\2\ (Arlati et al., 
2011).

Reproduction, Feeding, and Growth

    Acipenser naccarii spawns in freshwater after a marine period of 
growth during which it remains near the shore (at the mouths of the 
rivers) at depths of 10 to 40 meters (Arlati et al., 2011). It does not 
enter pure marine waters. Between February and May, A. naccarii ascends 
rivers to spawn and reproduction occurs between February and July in 
low current along the river bank. Their lifespan is about 50 years. 
Adults usually grow to 150 centimeters with a maximum length of 200 
centimeters and weigh between 20 and 25 kilograms. Feeding preference 
is for worms. Little else is known about their life history or life 
cycle.

Distribution and Abundance

    Acipenser naccarii is thought to have declined by at least 80 
percent over the past 3 generations (Arlati et al., 2011). During the 
last few decades, the abundance of A. naccarii has dramatically 
decreased as reflected by the annual catches of 2-3 metric tons per 
year in the beginning of the 1970s with only 200 kg per year of catches 
from 1990-1992, with no decrease in demand. In 1993, only 19 specimens 
were caught (Bronzi et al., 1994). There is no longer any legal 
commercial fishery. The last known natural wild spawning in Italy 
occurred in the early 1980s (Arlati et al., 2011). Only a few fish have 
been caught recently, and they probably originated from stocked 
population releases (Arlati et al., 2011).
    The species has been reintroduced in Italy through a stocking 
program in rivers in the north central Lombardy region since 1991, and 
in the rivers of the northeast Veneto region since 1999 (Arlati and 
Poliakova, 2009). From June 1988 through April 2007, 438,633 fish were 
restocked. At present, the remaining captive parents from the wild 
stock constitute the only living Adriatic sturgeons of unequivocal wild 
origin left (Congiu et al., 2011). Evidence to confirm reproduction in 
the wild of these stocked fish remains lacking (Arlati et al., 2011).

Population Structure

    A genetic comparison between Italian and Albanian samples collected 
in the mid-20th century showed a high level of diversification and 
suggested that different populations should be considered as distinct 
conservation units (Ludwig et al., 2003). There is no other information 
on population biology or geographical patterns in morphology, ecology, 
or biology with which to draw conclusions or make inferences about 
population or DPS structure.

Natural History of the European Sturgeon (Acipenser sturio)

Taxonomy and Distinctive Characteristics

    Acipenser sturio is a large species that can reach 5 to 6 meters 
(~16.5 to 20 feet) in length and weigh up to 1000 kilograms (2,200 
pounds). The species has an elongated body with a narrow-tipped snout 
and a mouth that is

[[Page 65252]]

interrupted at the center of the lower lip. It has an olive-black upper 
body and a white belly. Recent mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) evidence 
suggests A. sturio and A. oxyrinchus occurred in sympatry in the Baltic 
Sea and that A. oxyrinchus dominated A. sturio and replaced it about 
800-1,200 years ago (Ludwig et al., 2002). Stankovic (2011) extended 
this work to show that the dominant species in the area of the Oder and 
Vistula River systems has been A. oxyrinchus since at least the third 
century B.C. Both A. sturio and A. oxyrinchus were present in France 
from 3000 years B.C. (Desse-Berset, 2009; Desse-Berset and Williot, 
2011; Desse-Berset, 2011). Acipenser oxyrinchus was present in several 
archaeological sites on the French Atlantic coast until the second 
century A.D., in the Loire River in the 11th century A.D., in the Seine 
River drainage between the 2nd century B.C. and first half of the 17th 
century A.D., as well as in the Scarpe River flowing into the Scheldt 
River (France, Belgium and the Netherlands) between the 10th and 11th 
century A.D (Desse-Berset and Williot, 2011). Tiedemann et al. (2007) 
however provide evidence of genetic introgression of A. oxyrinchus 
females and A. sturio males (which Gessner (personal communication) 
claims to be outdated and erroneous due to methodology). Thus the 
historical presence of these species in this region is complex and some 
old records and studies may have misidentified species. Analyses of the 
genetics of historical museum specimens provide evidence of a decline 
in genetic diversity in A. sturio since 1823 (Ludwig et al., 2000).

Range and Habitat Use

    Acipenser sturio was historically abundant in the North Sea, the 
English Channel, and most European coasts of the Atlantic Ocean, the 
Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea (Freyhoff et al., 2010) with an 
almost pan-European distribution across river systems. It is the only 
verified native sturgeon on the Iberian Peninsula (Almaca and Elvira, 
2000; Ludwig et al., 2009). Currently, it is restricted to a small 
population that breeds in the Gironde system (consisting of the Gironde 
estuary, and the Dordogne and Garonne rivers) in southwestern France 
and the remnants of a population that last reproduced in the Rioni 
basin in Georgia in 1991 (Meadows and Coll, 2013).
    Juvenile A. sturio in the Gironde estuary prefer habitat where 
important prey items such as tube-dwelling polychaetes exist in large 
numbers. Juveniles exhibit movements mainly oriented to follow the 
direction of the tidal current and never use intertidal areas. 
Information on adult habitat preferences in lower estuaries and the 
ocean is sparse and qualitative. It appears the species is found close 
to shore in the sea and is never found in waters deeper than 100-200 
meters (Meadows and Coll, 2013).

Reproduction, Feeding and Growth

    Acipenser sturio has probably the most detailed information on 
reproductive biology of the five petitioned species under NMFS' 
jurisdiction. They can tolerate a wide range of salinities and spend 
most of their life in salt water (close to the coast), but migrate to 
spawn in fresh waters. Juveniles can be found both in estuaries and in 
the sea. The reproductive phase begins later than in many other 
sturgeons, with males reproducing for the first time at 10 to 12 years 
and females at 14 to 18 years (Freyhoff et al., 2010), with ranges in 
the literature of 7 to 15 for males and 8 to 22 for females (Williot et 
al., 2011b). Maturity is reached at an earlier age in southern parts of 
the species' range (Williot et al., 2011b). They reach sexual maturity 
between 10 and 12 years in males and between 13 and 16 years in females 
in the Gironde system (Williot et al., 1997). Size at maturity varies 
from 90-130 cm total length (TL) in males and 95-185 cm TL in females 
(Williot et al., 2011b). Reproduction likely occurs between March and 
July (depending on location) at 2-year intervals for males and 3 to 4 
year intervals for females (Meadows and Coll, 2013). Spawning migration 
of 1000 kilometers (620 miles) or more are reached during high-water 
years. Females produce 800,000 to 2,400,000 sticky, dark eggs during a 
spawning period, with egg-laying usually done at a depth of 2 to 10 
meters in large rivers or estuaries that have gravel bottoms, to which 
the eggs adhere. Eggs hatch in 3-14 days at temperatures of 7.7 to 
20[deg]C (Rosenthal et al., 2007). Fish make the transition to the 
juvenile stage after about 1 month (Acolas et al., 2011b). Juveniles 
make a slow descent downstream to the estuary and are present in the 
upper estuary of their birth rivers at 1 year of age, where they appear 
to congregate in areas of high food density. They feed on crustaceans, 
mollusks, and especially worms; juveniles also feed on small fish 
(Brosse et al., 2000; Brosse et al., 2011). Juveniles enter the sea 
after a 2- to 6-year period during which they alternate movement 
between the sea and spending the winter in the estuary. For the next 4 
to 6 years, they leave the sea to enter the lower estuary at summer 
time, and return to the sea in the fall.

Distribution and Abundance

    Acipenser sturio is thought to have declined by at least 90 percent 
over the past 75 years (Freyhoff et al., 2010). It was an important 
commercial species until the early 20th century, but no natural 
reproduction has been documented in the wild since 1994 (in southwest 
France, Freyhoff et al., 2010). For the Weichsel or Vistula River in 
Germany, archaeological remains from the first millennium indicate that 
up to 70 percent of the protein consumed by humans derived from 
sturgeon (Kirschbaum and Gessner, 2000). The last specimen from German 
waters was caught in 1992 (Gessner et al., 2011). Quantitative data 
document the decline in catch in the lower Elbe and Rhine rivers in 
Germany from the late 1800s to 1918, when the species was commercially 
extirpated (Meadows and Coll, 2013). The species was extirpated in 
Belgium by 1840 (Rosenthal et al., 2007). It was likely extirpated in 
the Tagus River in Spain by the Middle Ages (Ludwig et al., 2011). In 
Italy, it was historically the most common sturgeon in the Po River, 
until declining from the late 1800s to the 1950s after dam construction 
and other threats increased, with complete extirpation by 1987 (Bronzi 
et al., 2011b). A decline in the Tiber River in Italy led to 
extirpation by the 1920s (Bronzi et al., 2011b)
    The only known potential spawning population remaining is in the 
Gironde system of southwestern France, but the last wild reproduction 
events occurred there in 1988 and 1994 (Williot et al., 1997). Genetic 
data strongly suggest that the cohort of 1994 derives from only one 
mating pair (Ludwig et al., 2004). Between 1951 and 1980, catches of 
sturgeon in the Gironde system dropped by 94 percent, from 2,500 fish 
per decade to only 150 (Rosenthal et al., 2007; Castelnaud, 2011). The 
current population size is roughly estimated at approximately 20 to 750 
adults (Rosenthal et al. 2007, Freyhoff et al., 2010) or 500 to 1,500 
individuals (Kirschbaum et al., 2009). Age structure of the population 
in the Gironde shifted significantly to smaller, younger individuals 
between 1985 and 1992 (Meadows and Coll, 2013). Large numbers have been 
stocked from hatchery programs in the past few years (7,000 in 2007, 
80,000 in 2008, and 46,000 in 2009) (Freyhoff et al., 2010). The first-
generation of stocked fish (the 2007 population) is expected to start 
reproducing in 2014 (Freyhoff et al., 2010). The survival rate of these 
recent releases is currently unknown; however, the survival rate for a 
previous restocking effort in 1995 was 3 to 5

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percent (Rochard et al., 1997). A population viability analysis (PVA) 
model was recently completed for the Gironde system population. The 
most influential parameters affecting the model output were the mean 
number of offspring, egg-to-age-1 natural mortality, sex ratio, and the 
age at which females reach maturity (Jari[cacute] et al., 2011). The 
PVA did not estimate extinction risk. The model did confirm the 
population has a high susceptibility to unsustainable fishing, and a 
slow recovery potential, with recovery potentially spanning a number of 
decades (Jari[cacute] et al., 2011).
    The only other place where adult sturgeon may occur is in the Rioni 
River system in Georgia (Kolman, 2011). This system has never had a 
population size estimate survey conducted (Kolman, 2011). Overfishing, 
pollution, and habitat destruction (dam construction on the spawning 
site) are all cited as causes of their decline in the system (Kolman, 
2011). The last documented reproduction there was in 1991 (Rosenthal et 
al., 2007), though a few individual fish of 1.2 to 1.75 m length were 
occasionally caught between 2002 and 2008 (Kolman, 2011). It was listed 
as endangered in the Georgian Red Book of Endangered Species in 1967 
(Kolman, 2011).

Population Structure

    Debus (1999) found some differences in the bony plates of A. sturio 
from the Gironde system and the Rioni River, but concluded that only 
one species is present in European waters. Other studies considered 
evidence of intra- and interspecific genetic variation, and some have 
suggested subspecies exist, but the current consensus is that there is 
not enough evidence to support distinct subspecies of A. sturio (Holcik 
et al., 1989; Ludwig et al., 2000). Similarly, there is morphological 
variability that has led some to suggest a Baltic subspecies (Artyukhin 
and Vecsei, 1999), but these suggestions have also not been widely 
accepted by the scientific community. Holcik (2000) discusses the 
possible occurrence of 9 to 12 historical populations, and Elivra and 
Almodovar (2000) studied morphometric and meristic variation and found 
some evidence of four populations. There is no other information on 
population biology or geographical patterns in morphology, ecology, or 
biology with which to draw conclusions or make inferences about 
population or DPS structure in this species. Based on the above, and 
the limited current distribution of the species, we conclude that no 
subspecies or DPS designations are warranted.

Natural History of the Chinese Sturgeon (Acipenser sinensis)

Taxonomy and Distinctive Characteristics

    Acipenser sinensis is a large species reaching up to 5 meters (16.4 
feet) in length and weighing up to 450 kilograms (~992 pounds). The 
species has gray-black coloring on its back, red-brown or gray coloring 
on its sides, and a white belly.

Range and Habitat Use

    Historically, A. sinensis is native to the northwest Pacific Ocean 
in China, Japan, North Korea, and South Korea (Wei, 2010a). In China, 
the species historically occurred in the Yellow, Yangtze, Pearl, 
Mingjiang and Qingtang rivers, but it is now extirpated from all of 
these rivers except for the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze 
(Wei, 2010a). At sea, A. sinensis occurs close to the shores of the 
Yellow and East China seas. Wang et al. (2012) report on acoustic 
tagging that showed spawning migrations of Chinese sturgeon occurred 
between June and October in the remaining accessible parts of the 
Yangtze River. They showed that females left the spawning ground within 
hours, but males remained for anywhere from 2.5 to 148 days.

Reproduction, Feeding and Growth

    Acipenser sinensis juveniles live in estuaries and near coastlines 
and migrate upriver when they become sexually mature (Wei, 2010a). 
Males reach sexual maturity at 8 to 18 years of age and females at 13 
to 28 years of age (Wei et al., 1997). Maximum age of reproduction is 
35. Adults reach the mouth of the Yangtze River between June and July 
and reach the middle of the river in September or October, where they 
then spawn and overwinter (Wei et al., 1997; Wei, 2010a). Spawning 
usually occurs at night in October or November at water temperatures of 
15 to 20 [deg]C in substrates the size of coarse gravel to 20-50 cm 
boulders at depths of 8 to 26m in current velocities near 1m/s (Meadows 
and Coll, 2013). The larvae hatch after 4 to 6 days at 16.5 to 18 
[deg]C and juveniles remain in the river for a year before migrating to 
the sea. Before the Gezhouba Dam was constructed on the Yangtze River 
in 1981, the migration distance for A. sinensis was as long as 2,500 to 
3,300 kilometers (Wei et al., 1997, Wei, 2010a). The Three Gorges Dam 
was completed in 2003 upstream of the Gezhouba dam, but affects the 
downstream water conditions and hydrograph. Considerable hydrodynamic 
modeling and testing has been done to determine the effects of altered 
flows due to the dams on the species' biology (reviewed in Wang et al., 
2012). Now there is just one remaining spawning ground, which is 
situated just below the Gezhouba Dam. Juveniles 7 to 38 cm TL occur in 
the Yangtze River estuary from the middle of April through early 
October (Wei et al., 1997). Acipenser sinensis feed on aquatic insect 
larvae, shrimps, crustaceans, and fishes. The female/male sex ratio has 
changed from 0.79 in 1981-1993 to 5.9 in 2003-2004, the motility of 
sperm has decreased, and intersex individuals have been observed 
(Meadows and Coll, 2013).

Distribution and Abundance

    The population size of A. sinensis is decreasing with an estimated 
97.5 percent decline in the spawning population over a 37-year period, 
from ~100,000 in the 1970s to ~2,200 individuals (95 percent confidence 
interval of 946 to 4,169) in the early 1980s (Wei, 2010a). The species 
was a major commercial fishery resource in the 1960s, but by the end of 
the 1970s yearly catch had declined to 500 fish (Wei, 2010a). Recent 
surveys between 2005 and 2007 show the total spawning population to be 
203-257 individuals (Wei, 2010a; Xiao and Duan, 2011). The estimated 
numbers of eggs spawned annually sharply declined between 1997 and 
2003; the estimates were 35.5 million in 1997, 2.2 million in 2003, and 
about 2 million per year between 2006 and 2008 (Xiao and Duan, 2011). 
Between 1983 and 2007, more than 9 million hatchery raised juveniles 
(including larvae) were released into the Yangtze River to increase 
population numbers, but the contribution of these releases to wild 
stocks is considered to be less than 10 percent (Yang et al., 2005; 
Wei, 2010a).
    In the Pearl River, the two spawning areas stopped being used in 
the late 1970s as a result of the stock decline (Zhang, 1987). A study 
sampling fish larvae from 2006 through 2008 failed to collect any 
Chinese sturgeon larvae among the 614,000 fish larvae collected (Tan et 
al., 2010). Liao et al. (1989) also document the lack of the species in 
the Pearl River.
    Gao et al. (2009) conducted a VORTEX PVA model to estimate the 
sustainability of the population and to quantify the efficiency of 
current and proposed conservation procedures. The most likely models 
predicted the observed decline of Chinese sturgeon resulting from the 
effect of the Gezhouba Dam and also predicted future declines for the 
species. The model simulations also demonstrated

[[Page 65254]]

that the current restocking program is not sufficient to sustain or 
improve the status of this species, as the capture and handling 
mortality of the artificial reproduction program induces the loss of 
more wild mature adults than the recruitment expected by the artificial 
reproduction. Thus stocking programs intended to help the species can 
have a net negative effect.

Population Structure

    Besides uncertainty about the taxonomic status of the Pearl and 
Chinese River populations (Billard and Lecointre, 2001), there is no 
information on population biology or geographical patterns in 
morphology, ecology, or biology with which to draw conclusions or make 
inferences about DPS structure in this species.

Natural History of the Sakhalin Sturgeon (Acipenser mikadoi)

Taxonomy and Distinctive Characteristics

    Acipenser mikadoi, like A. naccarii has a lower lip that is split 
down the middle and four barbels that are nearer to the mouth than the 
tip of its snout. They can grow up to 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) in length 
and weigh up to 150 kilograms (~330 pounds). It has olive to dark green 
coloring on its back and a yellowish green-white belly, with an olive-
green stripe on its side between the lateral and ventral scutes. Its 
separation from North American green sturgeon, A. medirostris, was 
recently reaffirmed by Vasil'eva et al. (2009).

Range and Habitat Use

    Historically, A. mikadoi is native to the northwest Pacific Ocean 
in Japan and Russia, with an uncertain presence in China, South Korea, 
and North Korea (Meadows and Coll, 2013). During spawning migration, 
the species historically ascended Russian coastal rivers (the Suchan, 
Adzemi, Koppi, Tumnin, Viakhtu, and Tym Rivers) and the Ishikari and 
Teshio Rivers of Japan (Shmigirlov et al., 2007; Mugue, 2010). It was 
also known from the mouths of small rivers of the Asian Far East and 
Korean Peninsula, as well as the Amur River, and rivers of the Sakhalin 
Island (Meadows and Coll, 2013). Currently, it is found throughout the 
Sea of Okhotsk, in the Sea of Japan as far east as the eastern shore of 
Hokkaido (Japan), along the Asian coast as far south as Wonsan (North 
Korea), and to the Bering Strait on the coast of the Kamchatka 
Peninsula (Shmigirlov et al., 2007; Mugue, 2010). It spawns 
persistently only in the Tumnin River in the Khabarovsk Region in 
Russia (Shmigirlov et al., 2007), though at least one mature female was 
caught in Bay Viyakhtu near the settlement of Trambus in the summer of 
2010, and a mature male was caught in the Viyakhtu River in 2011 
(Koshelev et al., 2012).

Reproduction, Feeding and Growth

    Acipenser mikadoi lives in higher salinity waters than other 
sturgeon within its range. It has an estimated generation length of 15 
years and reaches maturity between 8 to 10 years of age. They spawn in 
June through July in the Tumnin River, and in April and May in the 
rivers of Hokkaido, Japan (Mugue, 2010), with migration occurring once 
individuals reach 135cm total length (Koshelev et al., 2012). Spawning 
occurs at water temperatures of 7.2 to 11.5 [deg]C, and juveniles 
migrate to the sea in the fall of the same year they hatched (Birstein, 
1993). Estuaries are thought to be the nursery grounds for the species 
(Paul, 2007a). The species feeds mainly on shrimp, crabs, worms, 
amphipods, isopods, sand lances, and other fishes.

Distribution and Abundance

    The population size of A. mikadoi is decreasing and has been 
declining over the past century (Mugue, 2010). Anecdotal reports note 
that the species ``was common in the fish markets of Japan in the 1950s 
and now only a few specimens are found per year'' (Mugue, 2010). 
Erickson (2005) summarizes status information on the species in the 
Tumnin River until 2003. The most recent population estimates range 
from 10 to 30 adults entering the Tumnin River to spawn annually, with 
only three specimens caught in 2005, and two in 2008. These few 
specimens were used to establish aquaculture stocks (Mugue, 2010). 
Koshelev et al. (2012) report catches of 17 individuals in the Tumnin 
River and Datta Bay from 2006-2008. Recent seine fish surveys in the 
Tumnin River during the past 2 years have not caught this species 
(Zolotukhin, 2012). Five to 10 Sakhalin sturgeon are caught annually in 
the Amur River estuary where they were introduced (Krythkin and 
Svirskii, 1997c). The species is now listed as extinct in the Hokkaido 
Red Data Book in Japan (Omoto et al., 2004).

Population Structure

    Spawning is earlier in the rivers of Hokkaido than the Tumnin 
River, but it is unknown if this is simply an effect of environmental 
conditions or reflects underlying population structure. There is no 
other information on population biology or geographical patterns in 
morphology, ecology, or biology with which to draw conclusions or make 
inferences about population or DPS structure in this species.

Natural History of the Kaluga Sturgeon (Huso dauricus)

Taxonomy and Distinctive Characteristics

    Huso dauricus is one of the world's largest freshwater fishes, with 
mature individuals exceeding 5.6 meters in length (~18.4 feet) and 1 
ton in weight. It has a crescent-shaped mouth with flat barbels. The 
species has gray-green to black coloring on its back and a yellowish 
green-white belly. This species is more piscivorous than the other 
sturgeons considered herein, and as a result, it has the ability to 
project its jaws further in front of its mouth to help catch prey.

Range and Habitat Use

    Huso dauricus historically inhabited the lower two-thirds of the 
Amur River of Russia and China from its estuary to its uppermost 
sections and tributaries, including the Shilka, Onon, Argun, Nerch, 
Sungari, Nonni, Ussuri, and Neijian rivers (Ruban and Wei, 2010). It 
inhabited all types of benthic habitats in the large river and lakes of 
the Amur River basin (Ruban and Wei, 2010). All we know of current 
marine range is that young individuals appear in the Sea of Okhotsk and 
the Sea of Japan.

Reproduction, Feeding and Growth

    Huso dauricus is a semi-anadromous species, spending some of its 
life in salt water but most of its life in freshwater (Ruban and Wei, 
2010). Young enter the Sea of Okhotsk during the summer. The species 
has a generation length of 20 or more years and a spawning interval of 
4 to 5 years for females and 3 to 4 years for males (Ruban and Wei, 
2010). Females mature at 14 to 23 years of age and males mature at 14 
to 21 years of age (Meadows and Coll, 2013). Spawning occurs from May 
through July at water temperatures of 12-20 [deg]C, over pebble 
deposits in calm waters of the main riverbed in depths of 2-3m (Wei et 
al., 1997, Billard and Lecointre, 2001). Spawning is documented from 
many sites, but not the Songhuajiang and Wusulijiang rivers (Wei et 
al., 1997). Fecundity is from 3,200 to 15,000 eggs/kg body weight and 
has declined over time (Meadows and Coll, 2013). Downstream migration 
begins almost immediately after hatching. Kaluga consume mostly 
invertebrates in the first year of life, later becoming more predatory 
and less bottom oriented than most other sturgeon, switching to 
juveniles of pelagic fishes such as chum salmon, Oncorhynchus keta 
(Krykhtin

[[Page 65255]]

and Svirskii, 1997c). At the age of 3 to 4 years, Kaluga start to feed 
on adult fishes. Cannibalism is common. Kaluga do not feed during 
winter.

Distribution and Abundance

    Huso dauricus has declined sharply in both stock size and 
recruitment since the 19th century, with an 80 percent decline in 
population from the late 1800s to 1992 (Ruban and Wei, 2010). Official 
catch records in the Russian Federation and the former USSR dropped 
from 595 tons in 1881 to 61 tons in 1948, and were 89 tons in 1996 
(CITES, 2000). Between 1993 and 1997, meat of H. dauricus was still 
observed for sale in many parts of Russia (CITES, 2000). Official 
records in China indicate that the combined annual catches of A. 
schrenckii and H. dauricus have fluctuated inconsistently since the 
1950s (CITES, 2000). In the last 15 years the species has continued to 
decline and the average age is decreasing as well (Ruban and Wei, 
2010).

Population Structure

    There are four recognized populations of H. dauricus: one in the 
estuary and coastal brackish waters of the Sea of Okhotsk and Sea of 
Japan, the second in the lower Amur, the third in the middle Amur, and 
the fourth in the lower reaches of the Zeya and Bureya rivers (Krykhtin 
and Svirskii, 1997a; 1997b; 1997c). At the end of the 19th century, 
when the highest catches were recorded (more than 595 metric tons per 
annum), the largest population was that of the middle Amur, which 
constituted 87 percent of the total annual Kaluga catch on the Russian 
side, while the estuary and lower Amur populations accounted for no 
more than 2 percent each, and the Zeya-Bureya population constituted 
around 11 percent of the species' catch (Krykhtin and Svirskii, 1997b).
    The estuary population is divided into freshwater and saltwater 
morphs; 75-80 percent are the freshwater morph and the remainder are 
the saltwater morph (Krykhtin and Svirskii, 1997c). The latter winters 
in the freshwater zone, and migrates to the brackish water of the delta 
in the northern part of the Tatar Strait and the south-western part of 
the Sakhalin Gulf for feeding in June and July. They return to the 
freshwater zone in autumn when the salinity increases. For spawning, 
most of the saltwater morph migrates in winter to grounds up to 500 km 
from the river mouth, while other morphs enter the mid-Amur River. 
However, the freshwater non-migratory stock has not been assigned a 
separate population status as both stocks spawn on the same spawning 
grounds in the lower Amur River (Schmigirlov et al., 2007).
    Current populations consist predominantly of young fish, with 
mature fish accounting for only 2-3 percent of the population (Krykhtin 
and Svirskii, 1997b). As a result of the species' late maturation and 
generally low reproductive rate, the population decline is expected to 
continue, especially in the middle Amur. Since 2000, Kaluga older than 
10 years have not been observed in the Amur River channel during 
nonspawning periods, suggesting that adults from the resident stocks in 
the Amur River are absent (Schmigirlov et al., 2007). In 2007, China 
received approval for caviar export quotas of 1,595 kg for wild-caught 
H. dauricus from the Amur River. However, this quota could not be 
filled because the sturgeon population in the Amur River declined 
drastically, and the resource is considered to be exhausted (Li et al., 
2009). No more recent population assessment data are available.

Species Determinations

    Based on the best available scientific and commercial information 
described above, we have determined that Acipenser naccarii, A. sturio, 
A. sinensis, A. mikadoi and Huso dauricus are taxonomically-distinct 
species and therefore meet the definition of ``species'' pursuant to 
section 3 of the ESA and are eligible for listing under the ESA. Based 
on the information discussed above in the ``Population Structure'' 
section we determine there is insufficient information to identify DPSs 
of A. naccarii, A. sinensis and A. mikadoi. Based on the extinction 
risk status determined for A. sturio and H. dauricus discussed below, 
we determine that designating DPSs for these species is not warranted.

Extinction Risk

    We next consider the risk of extinction for Acipenser naccarii, A. 
sturio, A. sinensis, A. mikadoi and Huso dauricus to determine whether 
the species are threatened or endangered per the ESA definition 
discussed above. As part of the status review, a three-person team of 
biologists evaluated the extinction risk of each species. They used a 
modification of the methods developed by Wainwright and Kope (1999) and 
McElhany et al. (2000) to organize and summarize their findings. This 
approach has been used in the ESA review of many other species (Pacific 
salmonid, Pacific hake, walleye pollock, Pacific cod, Puget Sound 
rockfishes, Pacific herring, and black abalone) to summarize the status 
of the species according to demographic risk criteria. Using these 
concepts, the team members individually estimated the extinction risk 
for each of the five species at both the current time and anticipated 
extinction risk expected in the foreseeable future based on the 
information in the report. They voted on the likelihood of extinction 
in 10 percent probability increments, with each member allocating 10 
votes among the possible risk categories. They also performed a threats 
assessment by identifying the severity of threats that exist now and in 
the foreseeable future, organized around the five Section 4(a)(1) 
threat factors and their interaction as described in our regulations at 
50 CFR 424.11(c). They defined the ``foreseeable future'' as the 
timeframe over which threats, or the species' response to those 
threats, can be reliably predicted to impact the biological status of 
the species.
    The extinction risk analysis team found all five species to be at 
high risk of extinction in the present, with median votes for each team 
member at or above 80 percent probability of being currently in danger 
of extinction for each species. After reviewing the best available 
scientific data and the extinction risk evaluation on the five species 
of sturgeon, we concur with the findings of the extinction risk 
analysis team and conclude that the risk of extinction for all five 
species of sturgeon is currently high.

Summary of Factors Affecting the Five Species of Sturgeon

    Next we consider whether any one or a combination of the five 
threat factors specified in section 4(a)(1) of the ESA are contributing 
to the extinction risk of these five sturgeons. The extinction risk 
analysis team voted in a similar fashion for each of the five threat 
factors and their interaction as they did for overall extinction risk 
discussed above. We concur with their assessment. We discuss each of 
the five factors and their interaction in turn below, with species- 
specific information following a general discussion. More species-
specific details are available in Meadows and Coll (2013).

The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of 
Its Habitat or Range

    We identified habitat destruction, modification, or curtailment of 
habitat or range as a potential threat to all five species of sturgeons 
and determine that this factor is currently contributing significantly 
to the risk of extinction most significantly for A. naccarii, A. 
sturio, and A. sinensis (Meadows and

[[Page 65256]]

Coll, 2013). Dams, dikes and channels, pollution and poor water 
quality, and range loss are threats to all of the petitioned species to 
varying degrees.
    The hydropower dam built in the 1950s on the Po River, Italy (Isola 
Serafini's Dam), and water pollution particularly affect the last 
stronghold of A. naccarii (Bronzi et al., 1994, Arlati et al., 2011). 
The Isola Serafini dam is at the mid-point of the Po River and has 
fragmented the population and blocked migration to some spawning 
grounds (Bronzi et al., 2006).
    Dams are a particularly significant factor in the decline and range 
contraction of A. sturio (Meadows and Coll, 2013). Water pumping and 
dredging have also been identified as habitat threats (Williot et al., 
2002a). Gessner (2000) provides a graphical representation of the 
timeline and relative intensity of river habitat alterations for the 
past 1,000 years. Untreated sewage is an additional cause of the 
decline in the Elbe River in Germany and throughout Europe since the 
onset of industrial development (Gessner, 2000; Gessner et al., 2011). 
Williot and Castelnaud (2011) summarize the history of habitat-altering 
dams and mines in France. Extraction of gravel in the Garonne River was 
a threat to the species (most has now stopped but the damage remains) 
as is water pollution and dams (Williot et al., 1997, Lepage et al., 
2000, Rosenthal et al., 2007, Freyhoff et al., 2010). A dam, water 
pollution and gravel extraction are all implicated in the extirpation 
in the Guadalquivir River in Spain (Elvira et al., 1991; Fernandez-
Pasquier, 1999; Ludwig et al., 2011).
    The construction of the Gezhouba Dam limits the distribution of A. 
sinensis in the Yangtze River (Zenglong, 1998; Wei, 2010a) and affects 
recruitment and reproductive development (Wei et al., 1997). 
Historically, the spawning habitats of Chinese sturgeon were located in 
the main stream of the upper Yangtze and the lower Jinsha rivers, 
covering a stretch of about 800 km of river length. However, after the 
damming their spawning areas were limited to a 30 km reach below the 
Gezhouba Dam (Wei et al., 1997), with only two favorable sites being 
established below the dam (Ban et al., 2011). The completion of the 
Three Gorges Dam upstream of the Gezhouba dam in 2003 has further 
impacted the species by lowering the water level of the Yangtze River 
in fall and winter and affecting the water temperature and other stream 
characteristics (Wei, 2010a; Xiao and Duan, 2011). Three Gorges Dam, 
the world's largest, and only fully operational in 2010, also reduces 
the average discharge of the Yangtze by 40 percent, and this is 
expected to seriously affect the remaining spawning habitat into the 
future. The dams have a serious effect on spawning (Meadows and Coll, 
2013). A proposed hydroelectric project on the Pearl River, the 
Changzhou Dam, will block spawning migrations in that system (Wei et 
al. 1997). Water pollution is also a problem for the species, 
especially in the Yangtze River, as much untreated wastewater 
discharges into the river each year (Xue et al., 2008). Water quality 
is also affected by runoff caused by deforestation of the upper Yangtze 
Valley (Wei, 2010b). Serious morphological malformation and impairment 
of reproduction from poor water quality has been documented in the 
system and is likely due to the chemical triphenyltin (TPT) which, 
along with its chemical precursors, is used as a pesticide and 
antifouling paint ingredient (Hu et al., 2009). Perfluorinated 
compounds are also at a level that may impact reproduction (Peng et 
al., 2010). Research by Zhang et al. (2011) found that all five species 
of Chinese sturgeon prey examined in their study were contaminated by 
heavy metals.
    Pollution from agriculture, oil production, and mining is degrading 
habitat quality for A. mikadoi (Shilin, 1995; Mugue, 2010). Logging 
also occurs along the Tumnin River (Erickson, 2005). Damming of the 
Tumnin River is under discussion; this would massively affect the 
reproduction of this species (Gessner, personal communication).
    In contrast to most large rivers, the Amur River, the core of the 
range of H. dauricus, has not been dammed; however, dams are being 
planned in the main tributaries and in the middle reaches (Gessner, 
personal communication). Water pollution (including heavy metals, oil 
products, phenol, mineral fertilizers and gold mining byproducts) in 
the Amur River system has increased in recent years from both the 
Russian and Chinese sides (Matthieson, 1993; Krykhtin and Svirskii, 
1997b). Studies of the effects of pollution on this species have 
apparently not been undertaken, so it is unclear the extent to which 
this increased pollution could limit recovery of the species.

Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

    We identified overutilization for commercial, recreational, 
scientific, or educational purposes as a potential threat to all five 
species of sturgeons and determine that this factor is currently 
contributing significantly to the risk of extinction for A. naccarii, 
A. sturio, A. mikadoi and H. dauricus, and moderately to significantly 
so for A. sinensis (Meadows and Coll, 2013). The main role of this 
threat was with historical fisheries causing large declines in these 
species. Commercial and recreational sturgeon fisheries have existed 
since at least the 5th century BC and are noted in ancient Greek, 
Roman, and Chinese literature (Pikitch et al., 2005). All major 
sturgeon fisheries surpassed peak productivity levels by the mid-20th 
century, with 70 percent of major fisheries posting recent harvests 
less than 15 percent of historical peak catches and 35 percent of the 
fisheries examined crashing within 7 to 20 years of inception (Pikitch 
et al., 2005; Bronzi et al., 2011a). The commercial caviar trade 
centers have shifted geographically through time. In the archeological 
sites of Ralswiek in Germany (8th through 12th century) and of Gdansk 
in Poland (10th through 13th century) the proportion of sturgeons in 
the excavations fell from 70 percent at the start to 12-13 percent at 
the end of the occupation of both sites, suggesting a progressive 
overexploitation and decline (Debus, 1997). By the 19th century, the 
United States was the top caviar producer, primarily from A. oxyrinchus 
oxyrinchus, until those stocks declined as well (Birstein, 1997; Secor, 
2002). By the end of the 19th century, Russia was a major caviar 
trading nation and by the early 20th century Russian sturgeon harvests 
were seven times greater than historical peak U.S. catches (Taylor, 
1997; Secor et al., 2000). Next, the Caspian Sea states of Iran, 
Kazakhstan, and Russia dominated the international trade in capture 
fisheries products, while the United States, Japan, the European Union 
and Switzerland were the major importers (De Meulenaer and Raymakers, 
1996; Hoover, 1998; Raymakers, 2002). The dissolution of the Soviet 
Union is considered to be a turning point in sturgeon fisheries 
management, after which increased illegal harvest and trade ensued, 
flooding the international market with illegal, low quality, 
inexpensive caviar (Meadows and Coll, 2013). While historical 
overfishing has played a significant role in the decline of these 
species, bycatch is currently the main threat in this category for all 
species except A. sinensis and H. dauricus, where we have no 
information on bycatch.
    CITES has regulated international trade in all species of sturgeon 
since 1998 (CITES 2013). CITES Appendix II

[[Page 65257]]

listings allow sustainable commercial trade, while Appendix I listings 
ban most commercial trade. One of the petitioned species, Acipenser 
sturio, was added to CITES Appendix II in 1975, and transferred to 
Appendix I in 1983. The remaining petitioned species were added to 
CITES Appendix II in April 1998. CITES Resolution Conf. 12.7 (Revised 
at the Convention of the Parties 14 in 2007)(CITES, 2002), requires 
reporting of annual export and catch quotas to the CITES Secretariat 
and registration of processing and packaging plants. Since 2008, wild 
capture export quotas are zero under CITES. Studies of international 
trade give evidence for a high proportion (7-25 percent) of caviar with 
the wrong species origin assigned and labeled and sold on the world 
market (Meadows and Coll, 2013). In 2011, CITES appeared pessimistic 
about efforts to control illegal trade, stating: ``It is several years 
since the Secretariat received any information from sturgeon range 
States about poaching or illegal trade. The Secretariat's enforcement-
related staff, who not so long ago devoted very significant amounts of 
time in assisting the combating of illegal trade in caviar, now spend 
hardly any time on this matter'' (CITES, 2011). In a review of Chinese 
sturgeon aquaculture, Wei et al. (2011) note new markets and products, 
including medical and health products, cosmetics, and leather, have 
appeared in recent years. This could lead to increased demand that may 
increase pressure for illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. 
They also noted declines in the number of seedlings needed from the 
wild or imported from other countries, which would tend to decrease 
pressure on wild stocks.
    Bycatch (Gessner, personal communication) and recreational fishing 
(Williot, personal communication) are the main current problems in this 
category for A. naccarii. This species is fished commercially and 
recreationally. It is fished for its meat and the roe is not currently 
consumed as caviar (Kottelat and Freyhoff, 2007).
    Acipenser sturio is prized for its flesh and its caviar, and was an 
important commercial fish for centuries in some locations until early 
in the 20th century when populations declined below viable levels for a 
fishery (Williot et al., 2002a). Gessner et al. (2011) provide a 
summary of fishery data and information, largely from German waters, 
where the use of European sturgeon by humans has been documented in 
archaeological sites dating back to 100 B.C. Rough estimates of catch 
are available all the way back to the Middle Ages (Meadows and Coll, 
2013). Bycatch in other fisheries is a current threat, with an 
estimated bycatch of up to 200 fish per year from gillnets and trawling 
at sea (Rosenthal et al., 2007; Freyhoff et al., 2010). In France, a 
program was recently carried out to minimize bycatch and those efforts 
are spreading throughout Europe (Michelet, 2011).
    Acipenser sinensis was a major commercial fishery resource in the 
1960s, but by the end of the 1970s catch had declined to 500 fish and 
has not recovered (Wei, 2010a). Drift nets were used to catch it in the 
river and set nets were used at the river mouth (Wei, 2010a). 
Commercial fishing has been prohibited since 1983 (Billard and 
Lecointre, 2001).
    Acipenser mikadoi was harvested commercially in the past and 
illegal poaching continues to be a threat (Shilin, 1995; Mugue, 2010). 
Bycatch from salmon trawling off the coast is also a threat (Shilin, 
1995; Mugue, 2010).
    Overutilization is thought to be the main threat that caused the 
decline of H. dauricus (Birstein et al., 1999). The species has been 
fished commercially since the 1800s in Russia and since at least the 
1950s in China (CITES, 2000). Peak catch for the species was in 1891 
(585 tons) (Krykhtin and Svirskii, 1997b; Koshelev and Ruban, 2012). In 
the last century, catch fluctuated between 100 and 400 tons annually on 
the Chinese side of the Amur River, and since the 1990s has been below 
100 tons on the Russian side (Pikitch et al., 2005). On the Chinese 
side, fishing impacts were low before the 1970s, because few people 
lived along the Amur River. However, with increasing population and the 
high profit of sturgeon fishing, catches increased after that time (Wei 
et al., 1997). Illegal poaching for caviar remains a threat on the 
Russian side, where fishing is now severely restricted (Ruban and Wei, 
2010). International trade in caviar from H. dauricus declined from 
1999 to 2004. No CITES quota for wild caught fish was made after 2008.

Disease and Predation

    We determine disease and predation are potential threats to each of 
the five species of sturgeon, but the level of threat varies by 
species. This threat is ranked most highly for A. sinensis (moderate to 
high) and H. dauricus (low to moderate) (Meadows and Coll, 2013). 
Competition for habitat with the Wels catfish, Silurus glanis, may have 
contributed to the decline of A. naccarii (Arlati et al., 2011). 
Silurus glanis is also a potential predator of this species (Gessner, 
personal communication). In December 1999 several thousand juvenile and 
several hundred gravid female A. baerii escaped into the Gironde River 
(Bordeaux region) in France during two storms. The survival of the 
escaped fish and their short-term effect on A. sturio are documented by 
Rochard et al. (2001), but the escaped fish were not documented for 
years after and likely are now extirpated (Williot, personal 
communication). Introduced exotic sturgeon in the Yangtze River are an 
identified threat to A. sinensis (Li et al., 2009). Since the end of 
the 1990s, farmers began cage-farming many exotic sturgeon species in 
the Yangtze River (Wei et al., 1997; Shi et al., 2002). None of these 
legally farmed sturgeons (including A. schrenckii, H. dauricus, and 
their hybrids) are native to the Yangtze River system, so they could 
compete with native sturgeon. In 2006 the A. sinensis Emergency Center 
(Changshu City, Jiangsu Province) collected 221 young sturgeon from 
their fishery resources monitoring nets in the Yangtze River. Seventy 
percent were hybrids, while only 30 percent were pure A. sinensis 
(Chen, 2007). Liu (1995) notes that an estimated 90 percent of the eggs 
on the spawning site near the Gezhouba Dam are eaten by the bronze 
gudgeon, Coreius heterodon, and asserts as a result, the sturgeon 
population is further declining (Deng and Yan, 1991). No competition, 
disease or unusual predation threats have been identified for A. 
mikadoi.
    Hybrid H. dauricus (crossed with A. schrenckii) are cultured in 
China (Li et al. 2011, Wei et al., 2011) and considered by some to be a 
risk factor to the species status (Chelomina et al. 2008). About 35 
percent of Chinese caviar production from 2007-2009 came from these 
hybrids. There is no documentation of interactions with hybrids, 
however. Investigations on ovaries by Svirskii (see Krykhtin and 
Svirskii, 1997a) showed that a parasite, Polypodium hydroforme, 
decreased the fecundity of H. dauricus by approximately 19 percent.

Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    We identified inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms as a 
potential threat to each of the five species of sturgeon. We determined 
that this factor alone, or in combination with other factors, is 
currently contributing moderately to significantly to the risk of 
extinction for each species, with greater variability in the voting on 
this threat than for any of the other five threats (Meadows and Coll, 
2013). Despite listing under CITES, and species-

[[Page 65258]]

specific domestic management and conservation measures, there remains 
an overall decline in wild sturgeon populations, with historical 
overutilization, poaching, and habitat destruction among the main 
causes. There are few regulations in place that are able to manage 
population size at sustainable levels. Only A. sturio is listed on 
CITES Appendix I, and thus has a commercial trade ban. Implementation 
of the CITES Appendix II listings for the other sturgeons has been 
challenging. CITES parties had to adopt resolutions to require range 
countries to declare coordinated annual export and catch quotas, 
develop marking and labeling systems, cooperate regionally, and, where 
possible, establish a system of registration or licensing or both for 
importers and exporters of caviar. Ten sturgeon species were considered 
under the CITES Review of Significant Trade process, which resulted in 
recommendations affecting Caspian Sea range countries. Studies of 
international trade (Raymakers, 2002; Ludwig, 2006) give evidence for a 
high proportion (7-25%) of caviar with the wrong species origin 
assigned and sold on the world market. Sturgeon stocks continued to 
decline and since 2008 wild capture export quotas under CITES are zero. 
In 2011, the CITES Secretariat noted that ``Despite the best efforts of 
the CITES community, it appears that the goal of legal and sustainable 
harvest of caviar . . . appears unattainable for the present.'' (CITES, 
2011).
    Given the low to very low numbers of reproductively mature adults 
and the relatively modest stocking efforts on a range-wide scale, the 
above regulations are not likely to be sufficient to sustainably manage 
these species without conservation protections. Moreover, it is 
currently unclear whether the range countries for the petitioned 
sturgeon species have the resources and personnel to enforce existing 
regulatory measures as reports of poaching and illegal trade are 
widespread. Compliance is another problem and requires more 
consolidated efforts. We seek more detailed information on efforts in 
these areas in our public comment process (see below).
    Bycatch is a major current threat to A. naccarii, A. sturio, and A. 
mikadoi, but we are not aware of any regulations addressing this 
threat, though a voluntary program started in France has spread through 
much of the range of A. sturio (Michelet, 2011).
    For A. naccarii, fishing is prohibited in the three regions of 
Italy where a recovery plan is in place: Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna and 
Veneto (Bronzi et al., 2006). It is not otherwise protected by law in 
Italy or elsewhere in its range that we have identified. Acipenser 
naccarii is listed in Appendix II of the Bern Convention on the 
Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats. All countries 
that have signed the convention must promote national conservation 
policies, measures against pollution, and educational and informative 
measures. They must also co-ordinate efforts to protect at-risk 
species. For Appendix II species, the following is prohibited: all 
forms of deliberate capture and killing; the deliberate damage to or 
destruction of breeding or resting sites; deliberate disturbance, the 
deliberate destruction or taking of eggs from the wild or keeping these 
eggs even if empty; and the possession of and internal trade in these 
animals, alive or dead. While important and helpful, we conclude these 
regulatory mechanisms do not ensure the sustainability or status of 
this species because they are incomplete, and they may have enforcement 
difficulties.
    Acipenser sturio is currently considered by the European community 
to be a critically endangered species. A recent revision of the status 
of A. sturio by the IUCN in 2009 concluded the species status is 
``critically endangered'' (Freyhoff et al., 2010). It is protected by 
all of the nations in its present distribution area, either by their 
national laws or by international conventions and European directives 
(Rosenthal et al., 2007; Rochard, 2011). The following international 
conventions and directives protect the species: (1) Appendix I of 
CITES, which prohibits its international trade except for scientific 
research; (2) Appendix I of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS); 
(3) Appendix II of the Bern Convention; (4) Appendix II of the European 
Council Directive on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild 
Fauna and Flora, which lists animal and plant species of community 
interest whose conservation requires the designation of special areas 
of conservation; and 5) the list of threatened and/or declining species 
under the Convention Protecting and Conserving the North-East Atlantic 
and its Resources, which sets protection priorities by its parties 
(Rochard, 2011). Acipenser sturio was included in Appendix II of the 
CMS in 1999. In 2005, it was added to Appendix I, which lists migratory 
species in danger of extinction. The European sturgeon is listed as a 
strictly protected species (Annex II) in the Convention on the 
Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern 
Convention). In European Community Law, especially the Habitat 
Directive, the species is listed among the animals of Community 
interest (Annex II) whose conservation requires the designation of 
Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) (Williot et al., 2009). Eleven 
areas have been designated up to now, and six others are in the process 
of being approved (Rosenthal et al., 2007). In 2003, the ``Regional 
Strategy for the Conservation and Sustainable Management of Sturgeon 
Populations of the Northwest Black Sea and Lower Danube River in 
accordance with CITES'' was signed by Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania and 
Ukraine (Rogin, 2011). The European action plan, which particularly 
relies on in situ conservation, ex situ measures, stocking of hatchery-
reared young, and habitat restoration, was recently drafted and 
implementation has begun (Rosenthal et al., 2007). Within its current 
range, conservation actions are in place to limit incidental captures 
and poaching, and to improve the protection of habitats (Williot et 
al., 1997). A total ban on fishing and marketing of the species was 
applied in France in 1982 (Gessner, 2000). Despite these instruments 
currently in place, implementation is difficult due to lack of funds, 
fishermen who still catch and sell the species (Lepage and Rochard, 
2011), and lack of knowledge or willingness of administrations in 
charge of management to enforce current regulations (Williot and 
Castelnaud, 2011). Williot et al. (2011c) also concluded that 
inadequate implementation of fisheries regulations and species 
conservation restrictions have inhibited the species conservation and 
recovery success. Today the main driver is the low number of individual 
fish (Gessner, personal communication).
    In 1988, A. sinensis was listed as a state protected animal in 
class I in China (Wei et al., 1997). In 1996, Yichang Chinese Sturgeon 
Nature Reserve was established to protect the spawning population. In 
2002, a Chinese Sturgeon Nature Reserve in the Yangtze River estuary 
was established to protect juvenile sturgeons gathering there (Wei, 
2010a). The effectiveness of these measures is unclear, but it is 
thought that poaching still occurs (Wei, 2010a).
    Since 1983, A. mikadoi has been listed in the Red Data Book of the 
Russian Federation, which provides for a complete ban on fishing 
(Germany, 1998). The effectiveness of these measures is unclear, but 
given the population size, appears limited.

[[Page 65259]]

    In the Russian Federation, a prohibition on the commercial catch of 
H. dauricus has been in place during 1923-1930, 1958-1976 and from 1984 
to the present (Vaisman and Fomenko, 2007). However, a tolerance called 
``controlled catch'' for incidental and scientific catches is allowed. 
These catches are the current source of caviar and sturgeon meat from 
the Amur River. The ``controlled catch'' is apparently not well defined 
and difficult to control and enforce (TRAFFIC, 2000). Experts and 
government officials have reported increasing pressure from illegal 
fishing practices and criminal activities around sturgeon poaching and 
black markets that have been reported in a large part of the range 
(Medetsky, 2000; Winchester, 2000). The current situation is not known. 
In China, Heilongjiang Province authorities issued protection and 
management regulations, such as gear restrictions, harvest size, closed 
seasons and areas, and the requirement of a fishing license in the 
early 1950s. These were renewed in 1982. The Ordinance of 1982 
prescribed minimum size limits for H. dauricus at 200 cm or 65 kg. 
Fishing activities on the Heilong (Amur) River are prohibited from mid-
June to mid-July. The protocol also established areas where fisheries 
are permanently prohibited. In 1991, 2,248 sturgeon fishing licenses 
were issued, and in 2000, the number was reduced to 1,850. However, the 
regulations have not been fully implemented (Wei et al., 1997; Wei et 
al., 2004) and do not appear to be effective enough to reverse the 
species decline.

Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued Existence

    We determine that other natural or manmade factors are potential 
threats to each of the five species of sturgeon, but the level of 
threat is generally no more than moderate, except for a high threat 
level for A. sturio (Meadows and Coll, 2013). Small population size is 
a problem to varying degrees for all petitioned species. Small 
population size can lead to loss of adaptation in species through 
genetic drift and Allee effects. Small populations are also subject to 
greater variation in population size and risk of extirpation from a 
variety of density-independent disasters. Climate change may impact all 
of the petitioned species, though sturgeon-specific studies and 
predictions are rare and there is great uncertainty. Hydrologic changes 
that are likely to affect spawning grounds are probably the most likely 
effect of climate change. Lassalle and Rochard (2009) estimated impacts 
of climate change to diadromous fishes in Europe, the Middle East and 
North Africa, and predicted that the majority of species would have 
range contractions, including A. naccarii.
    Acipenser naccarii has been hybridized with A. baerii in captive 
breeding facilities (CITES 2000). These fish have been known to 
sporadically escape from rearing plants or angling ponds, or are 
released when they become too large for private aquaria (CITES, 2000). 
There is no documentation on the extent or potential damage of the 
introduction of these hybrids, but competition with hybrids is likely.
    Acipenser sturio is vulnerable to overutilization due to its late 
age at first reproduction and multi-year reproductive cycle and low 
population size (Rosenthal et al., 2007). Lassalle et al. (2011) 
modeled potential impacts of climate change on habitat availability 
throughout the species' range out to the year 2100. They found that 
much of the species' spawning habitat would be negatively affected, 
particularly in the southern part of its range. However, five basins 
where reintroductions are planned or occurring are predicted to remain 
suitable.
    The long lifespan and late maturation of A. sinensis make it 
susceptible to overexploitation. Zhang et al. (2000) screened the 
nuclear genomes of 70 samples collected in the Yangtze River from 1995 
to 1997 and found low genetic variability. Ship strikes and excessive 
sound have also been noted as threats for this species (Wang et al., 
2011). No other threats have been identified for A. mikadoi.
    Huso dauricus is vulnerable to overutilization due to its late age 
at first reproduction and multi-year reproductive cycle.

Synergistic Effects

    Recent research has shown that synergistic interactions among 
threats often lead to higher extinction risk than predicted based on 
the individual threats (Brook et al., 2008). ``Like interactions within 
species assemblages, synergies among stressors form self-reinforcing 
mechanisms that hasten the dynamics of extinction. Ongoing habitat 
destruction and fragmentation are the primary drivers of contemporary 
extinctions, particularly in the tropical realm, but synergistic 
interactions with hunting, fire, invasive species and climate change 
are being revealed with increasing frequency'' (Brook et al., 2008). 
``[H]abitat loss can cause some extinctions directly by removing all 
individuals over a short period of time, but it can also be indirectly 
responsible for lagged extinctions by facilitating invasions, improving 
hunter access, eliminating prey, altering biophysical conditions and 
increasing inbreeding depression. Together, these interacting and self-
reinforcing systematic and stochastic processes play a dominant role in 
driving the dynamics of population trajectories as extinction is 
approached'' (Brook et al., 2008). For most of these sturgeon species 
it is likely that the interactive effects of the multiple threats 
identified herein are having multiplicative effects on extinction risk. 
In particular, habitat loss, range contractions, and decreased water 
quality are likely to interact in ways to multiplicatively increase the 
extinction risk of these species, especially as populations reach such 
small sizes that Allee effects, genetic drift, and disasters can 
dominate population dynamics. Studies to determine the specific 
magnitude of these synergistic effects are lacking for all five 
species. As a result, extinction risk analysis team members' scores 
varied significantly for this category (Meadows and Coll, 2013).

Overall Risk Summary

    After considering the extinction risks for each of the five species 
of sturgeon, we have determined that Acipenser naccarii, A. sturio, A. 
sinensis, A. mikadoi and Huso dauricus are in danger of extinction 
throughout all of their ranges, largely due to (1) Present or 
threatened destruction, modification or curtailment of habitat, (2) 
overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes, and (3) inadequacy of existing regulatory 
mechanisms.

Protective Efforts

    Section 4(b)(1)(A) of the ESA requires the Secretary, when making a 
listing determination for a species, to take into consideration those 
efforts, if any, being made by any State or foreign nation to protect 
the species. In judging the efficacy of not yet implemented efforts, or 
those existing protective efforts that are not yet fully effective, we 
rely on the Services' joint ``Policy for Evaluation of Conservation 
Efforts When Making Listing Decisions'' (``PECE''; 68 FR 15100; March 
28, 2003). The PECE policy is designed to ensure consistent and 
adequate evaluation of whether any conservation efforts that have been 
recently adopted or implemented, but not yet proven to be successful, 
will result in recovering the species to the point at which listing is 
not warranted or contribute to forming the basis for listing a species 
as threatened rather than endangered. The PECE policy is expected to 
facilitate the development

[[Page 65260]]

of conservation efforts that sufficiently improve a species' status so 
as to make listing the species as threatened or endangered unnecessary.
    The PECE policy establishes two basic criteria to use in evaluating 
efforts identified in conservations plans, conservation agreements, 
management plans or similar documents: (1) The certainty that the 
conservation efforts will be implemented; and (2) the certainty that 
the efforts will be effective. We evaluated conservation efforts we are 
aware of to protect and recover sturgeon that are either underway but 
not yet fully implemented, or are only planned. We seek additional 
information on other conservation efforts in our public comment process 
(see below).
    We are aware of the stocking program in Italy for A. naccarii, as 
described in Bronzi et al. (2011a) and Meadows and Coll (2013). No 
reproduction of stocked fish has been confirmed. The certainty that 
this program will continue to be implemented in the future is unclear. 
Given this, it is impossible to determine whether these stocking 
efforts will be effective in conserving or improving the status of this 
species. In fact, as discussed above, stocking efforts can contribute 
to extinction risk if not conducted carefully, especially with 
consideration of suitable habitat and genetic composition of the donor 
populations. We are unaware of any other major conservation efforts for 
this species, though efforts to conserve A. sturio described below 
could help this species. However, these efforts are also not certain to 
be implemented.
    A large number of conservation efforts are underway for A. sturio. 
Some are discussed in the above sections and accounted for in the 
extinction risk analysis. Other efforts are discussed here for 
historical continuity, but the effectiveness of the early efforts was 
fully considered in the extinction risk analysis above. Hatchery 
releases have occurred in a number of places starting in 1995 in France 
and 1996 in Germany (Kirschbaum et al., 2000; Williot et al., 2002b), 
with both countries cooperating extensively in these efforts (Williot 
and Kirschbaum 2011). The first results in France indicated that A. 
sturio is rather difficult to grow under controlled conditions compared 
to most other sturgeon species (Williot et al., 1997). Kirschbaum et 
al. (2000) however, were more recently able to achieve growth rates in 
the German program similar to those in the wild, though captive 
temperatures were warmer. Williot and Castelnaud (2011) and Williot et 
al. (2011d) summarize conservation measures implemented for France. 
Williot et al. (2009) describe many years of efforts to establish a 
successful conservation hatchery program in France. Hatchery rearing 
first started in 1995 in a facility in the Gironde system in France, 
with successful artificial propagation only occurring in 1995 and 2007 
(Williot et al., 2009). Hatchlings (2000) and later fingerlings (5,000 
of ~1g weight in June 1995 and 2,000 ~6.5 g in August 1995) were 
released in equal numbers into the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers from the 
first event (Williot et al., 2009). The 2007 event was the first 
successful reproduction of fish reared in captivity their entire lives 
(Williot et al., 2009). Since 2007, improved rearing success has 
resulted in successful propagation every year, with about 135,000 
juveniles being released from the French facility through 2010 (Acolas 
et al., 2011a; Rochard and Lambert, 2011). However, poor sperm quality 
and a limited number of reproductive females limit the ability to 
increase hatchery production and restrain genetic diversity (Tiedemann 
et al., 2011).
    Gessner (2000) documents conservation efforts in place in the late 
1990s in Germany. In 1994, efforts to reestablish A. sturio in Germany 
were launched by scientists and aquaculturists at the Society to Save 
the Sturgeon, with Federal government support (Kirschbaum and Gessner, 
2000). A broodstock program was developed with 1,600 animals donated 
from France. These broodstock fish, however, have low genetic 
diversity, as most of the fish are full siblings (Kirschbaum et al., 
2011). Kirschbaum et al. (2011) update the above information with 
discussion of more recent restoration efforts in Germany, which have 
most prominently included the release of 200 juvenile fish from 2008-
2010. According to Gessner (personal communication), that number has 
reached 10,000 juveniles through 2013.
    European countries have completed a draft conservation action plan 
for the species (Rosenthal et al., 2007; Moreau, 2011) that details 
specific objectives and actions for the species' conservation. 
Nevertheless, the plan guarantees no funding and thus implementation, 
let alone effectiveness, is highly uncertain. The certainty that all of 
the above described conservation efforts for A. sturio will be 
implemented or continued is unclear. Given all of the above, it is 
impossible to determine whether these stocking efforts will be 
effective in conserving or improving the status of this species.
    We are aware of the stocking program for A. sinensis as described 
above and in Bronzi et al. (2011a) and Meadows and Coll (2013). The 
certainty that this program will continue to be implemented in the 
future is unclear. The small amount of spawning habitat available 
likely limits the potential effectiveness of this program. Given all of 
the above, it is impossible to determine whether these stocking efforts 
will be effective in conserving or improving the status of this 
species.
    An artificial propagation programs exists for A. mikadoi, and 
reintroductions have occurred with a total of 60 individuals being 
released in 2005 and 2009 into Lake Tunaicha in the southeast of 
Sakhalin (Koshelev et al., 2012). No reproduction of stocked fish has 
been confirmed. The certainty that this program will continue to be 
implemented in the future is unclear. Given all of the above, it is 
impossible to determine whether these stocking efforts will be 
effective in conserving or improving the status of this species.
    We are aware of the stocking programs for H. dauricus as described 
above and in Bronzi et al. (2011a) and Meadows and Coll (2013). Russia 
cultures pure H. dauricus, releasing about 1 million per year in the 
late 1990s (Chebanov and Billard, 2001) and with only small production 
continuing through the 2000s (Li et al., 2009). The species is also 
cultured in China and released into the Amur River in unknown 
quantities (Wei et al., 2004). No reproduction of stocked fish has been 
confirmed. The certainty that these programs will continue to be 
implemented in the future is unclear. Given all of the above, it is 
impossible to determine whether these stocking efforts will be 
effective in conserving or improving the status of this species.
    We are aware of no other conservation efforts that have been 
recently adopted or implemented, but not yet proven to be successful, 
that could modify the risk of extinction for any of these species and 
that would require consideration under the PECE policy. Therefore, we 
conclude that the identified conservation efforts do not alter the 
extinction risk assessments for any of the five petitioned sturgeon 
species.

Proposed Determination

    Section 4(b)(1) of the ESA requires that we make listing 
determinations based solely on the best scientific and commercial data 
available after conducting a review of the status of the species and 
taking into account those efforts, if any, being made by any state or 
foreign nation, or political subdivisions thereof, to protect and 
conserve the species. We have reviewed the best available scientific 
and

[[Page 65261]]

commercial information, including the petition, and the information in 
the review of the status of the five species of sturgeon, and we have 
consulted with species experts. We are responsible for determining 
whether Acipenser naccarii (Adriatic sturgeon), A. sturio (European 
sturgeon), A. sinensis (Chinese sturgeon), A. mikadoi (Sakhalin 
sturgeon) and Huso dauricus (Kaluga sturgeon) are threatened or 
endangered under the ESA (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). Accordingly, we have 
followed a stepwise approach as outlined above in making this listing 
determination for these five species of sturgeon. We have determined 
that Acipenser naccarii (Adriatic sturgeon), A. sturio (European 
sturgeon), A. sinensis (Chinese sturgeon), A. mikadoi (Sakhalin 
sturgeon) and Huso dauricus (Kaluga sturgeon) constitute species as 
defined by the ESA.
    Based on the information presented, we find that all five species 
of sturgeon are in danger of extinction throughout all of their ranges. 
We assessed the ESA section 4(a)(1) factors and conclude the Adriatic, 
European, Chinese, Sakhalin and Kaluga sturgeon all face ongoing 
threats from habitat alteration, overutilization for commercial and 
recreational purposes, and the inadequacy of existing regulatory 
mechanisms throughout their ranges. Acipenser sturio also face high 
risks from its life history and published predictions of the effects of 
climate change (Lassalle et al., 2011). All of the threats attributed 
to the species' decline are ongoing except the largely historical 
threat from directed fisheries. After considering efforts being made to 
protect these sturgeon, we could not conclude that the proposed 
conservation efforts would alter the extinction risk for any of these 
five species.

Effects of Listing

    Conservation measures provided for species listed as endangered or 
threatened under the ESA include recovery actions (16 U.S.C. 1533(f)), 
concurrent designation of critical habitat if prudent and determinable 
(16 U.S.C. 1533(a)(3)(A)); Federal agency requirements to consult with 
NMFS under Section 7 of the ESA to ensure their actions do not 
jeopardize the species or result in adverse modification or destruction 
of critical habitat should it be designated (16 U.S.C. 1536); and 
prohibitions on taking (16 U.S.C. 1538). Recognition of the species' 
plight through listing promotes conservation actions by Federal and 
state agencies, foreign entities, private groups, and individuals. 
Therefore, the main effects of this proposed listing are prohibitions 
on take, including export and import.

Identifying Section 7 Consultation Requirements

    Section 7(a)(2) (16 U.S.C. 1536(a)(2)) of the ESA and NMFS/USFWS 
regulations require Federal agencies to consult with us to ensure that 
activities they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to 
jeopardize the continued existence of listed species or destroy or 
adversely modify critical habitat. Section 7(a)(2) (16 U.S.C. 
1536(a)(2)) of the ESA and NMFS/USFWS regulations also require Federal 
agencies to confer with us on actions likely to jeopardize the 
continued existence of species proposed for listing, or that result in 
the destruction or adverse modification of proposed critical habitat. 
It is possible that the listing of the five species of sturgeon under 
the ESA may create a minor increase in the number of section 7 
consultations, though consultations are likely to be rare given that 
these species mostly occur in foreign territorial waters.

Critical Habitat

    Critical habitat is defined in section 3 of the ESA (16 U.S.C. 
1532(5)) as: (1) The specific areas within the geographical area 
occupied by a species, at the time it is listed in accordance with the 
ESA, on which are found those physical or biological features (a) 
essential to the conservation of the species and (b) that may require 
special management considerations or protection; and (2) specific areas 
outside the geographical area occupied by a species at the time it is 
listed upon a determination that such areas are essential for the 
conservation of the species. ``Conservation'' means the use of all 
methods and procedures needed to bring the species to the point at 
which listing under the ESA is no longer necessary. Section 4(a)(3)(A) 
of the ESA (16 U.S.C. 1533(a)(3)(A)) requires that, to the extent 
prudent and determinable, critical habitat be designated concurrently 
with the listing of a species. However, critical habitat shall not be 
designated in foreign countries or other areas outside U.S. 
jurisdiction (50 CFR 424.12 (h)).
    The best available scientific and commercial data as discussed 
above identify the geographical areas occupied by Acipenser naccarii, 
A. sturio, A. sinensis, A. mikadoi and Huso dauricus as being entirely 
outside U.S. jurisdiction, so we cannot designate critical habitat for 
these species. We can designate critical habitat in unoccupied areas in 
the United States if the area(s) are determined by the Secretary to be 
essential for the conservation of the species. Regulations at 50 CFR 
424.12 (e) specify that we shall designate as critical habitat areas 
outside the geographical range presently occupied by the species only 
when the designation limited to its present range would be inadequate 
to ensure the conservation of the species.
    The best available scientific and commercial information on these 
species does not indicate that U.S. waters provide any specific 
essential biological function for any of them. Based on the best 
available information, we have not identified unoccupied area(s) that 
are currently essential to the conservation of any of the sturgeons 
proposed for listing. Therefore, based on the available information, we 
do not intend to designate critical habitat for Acipenser naccarii, A. 
sturio, A. sinensis, A. mikadoi or Huso dauricus.

Identification of Those Activities That Would Constitute a Violation of 
Section 9 of the ESA

    On July 1, 1994, NMFS and FWS published a policy (59 FR 34272) that 
requires us to identify, to the maximum extent practicable at the time 
a species is listed, those activities that would or would not 
constitute a violation of section 9 of the ESA. Because we are 
proposing to list all five sturgeons as endangered, all of the 
prohibitions of Section 9(a)(10) of the ESA will apply to all five 
species. These include prohibitions against the import, export, use in 
foreign commerce, or ``take'' of the species. Take is defined as ``to 
harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or 
collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.'' These 
prohibitions apply to all persons subject to the jurisdiction of the 
United States, including in the United States, its territorial sea, or 
on the high seas. The intent of this policy is to increase public 
awareness of the effects of this listing on proposed and ongoing 
activities within the species' range. Activities that we believe could 
result in a violation of section 9 prohibitions of these five sturgeons 
include, but are not limited to, the following:
    (1) Take within the United States or its territorial sea, or upon 
the high seas;
    (2) Possessing, delivering, transporting, or shipping any sturgeon 
part;
    (3) Delivering, receiving, carrying, transporting, or shipping in 
interstate or foreign commerce any sturgeon or sturgeon part, in the 
course of a commercial activity;

[[Page 65262]]

    (4) Selling or offering for sale in interstate commerce any part, 
except antique articles at least 100 years old;
    (5) Importing or exporting sturgeon or any sturgeon part to or from 
any country;
    (6) Releasing captive sturgeon into the wild. Although sturgeon 
held non-commercially in captivity at the time of listing are exempt 
from certain prohibitions, the individual animals are considered listed 
and afforded most of the protections of the ESA, including most 
importantly, the prohibition against injuring or killing. Release of a 
captive animal has the potential to injure or kill the animal. Of an 
even greater conservation concern, the release of a captive animal has 
the potential to affect wild populations of native sturgeon through 
introduction of diseases or inappropriate genetic mixing;
    (7) Harming captive sturgeon by, among other things, injuring or 
killing a captive sturgeon, through experimental or potentially 
injurious veterinary care or conducting research or breeding activities 
on captive sturgeon, outside the bounds of normal animal husbandry 
practices. Captive breeding of sturgeon is considered experimental and 
potentially injurious. Furthermore, the production of sturgeon progeny 
has conservation implications (both positive and negative) for wild 
populations. Experimental or potentially injurious veterinary 
procedures and research or breeding activities of sturgeon may, 
depending on the circumstances, be authorized under an ESA 10(a)(1)(A) 
permit for scientific research or the enhancement of the propagation or 
survival of the species.
    We will identify, to the extent known at the time of the final 
rule, specific activities that will not be considered likely to result 
in a violation of section 9 of the ESA. Although not binding, we are 
considering the following actions, depending on the circumstances, as 
not being prohibited by ESA Section 9:
    (1) Take of a sturgeon authorized by an ESA section 10(a)(1)(A) 
permit authorized by, and carried out in accordance with the terms and 
conditions of an ESA section 10(a)(1)(A) permit issued by NMFS for 
purposes of scientific research or the enhancement of the propagation 
or survival of the species;
    (2) Continued possession of sturgeon parts that were in possession 
at the time of listing. Such parts may be non-commercially exported or 
imported; however the importer or exporter must be able to provide 
evidence to show that the parts meet the criteria of ESA section 
9(b)(1) (i.e., held in a controlled environment at the time of listing, 
in a non-commercial activity);
    (3) Continued possession of live sturgeon that were in captivity or 
in a controlled environment (e.g., in aquaria) at the time of this 
listing, so long as the prohibitions under ESA section 9(a)(1) are not 
violated. Facilities must provide evidence that the sturgeon were in 
captivity or in a controlled environment prior to listing. We suggest 
such facilities submit information to us on the sturgeon in their 
possession (e.g., size, age, description of animals, and the source and 
date of acquisition) to establish their claim of possession (see For 
Further Information Contact); and
    (4) Provision of care for live sturgeon that were in captivity at 
the time of listing. These individuals are still protected under the 
ESA and may not be killed or injured, or otherwise harmed, and, 
therefore, must receive proper care. Normal care of captive animals 
necessarily entails handling or other manipulation of the animals, and 
we do not consider such activities to constitute take or harassment of 
the animals so long as adequate care, including veterinary care, such 
as confining, tranquilizing, or anesthetizing sturgeon when such 
practices, procedures, or provisions are not likely to result in 
injury, is provided; and
    (5) Any interstate and foreign commerce trade of sturgeon already 
in captivity. Section 11(f) of the ESA gives NMFS authority to 
promulgate regulations that may be appropriate to enforce the ESA. NMFS 
may promulgate future regulations to regulate trade or holding of these 
sturgeon, if necessary. NMFS will provide the public with the 
opportunity to comment on future proposed regulations.

Role of Peer Review

    In December 2004, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued 
a Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review establishing a 
minimum peer review standard. Similarly, a joint NMFS/FWS policy (59 FR 
34270; July 1, 1994) requires us to solicit independent expert review 
from qualified specialists, concurrent with the public comment period. 
The intent of the peer review policy is to ensure that listings are 
based on the best scientific and commercial data available. We 
solicited peer review comments on the status review report from 12 
outside scientists and two NMFS scientists familiar with sturgeons. We 
received comments from four of these scientists and their comments are 
incorporated into the status review report and this document. Prior to 
a final listing, we will solicit the expert opinions of several 
qualified specialists selected from the academic and scientific 
community, Federal and State agencies, and the private sector on these 
listing recommendations to ensure the best biological and commercial 
information is being used in the decision-making process, as well as to 
ensure that reviews by recognized experts are incorporated into the 
review process of rulemakings developed in accordance with the 
requirements of the ESA.
    We will consider peer review comments in making our final 
determination, and include a summary of the comments and 
recommendations, if a final rule is published.

References

    A complete list of the references used in this proposed rule is 
available upon request (see ADDRESSES).

Classification

National Environmental Policy Act

    The 1982 amendments to the ESA, in section 4(b)(1)(A), restrict the 
information that may be considered when assessing species for listing. 
Based on this limitation of criteria for a listing decision and the 
opinion in Pacific Legal Foundation v. Andrus, 675 F. 2d 825 (6th Cir. 
1981), NMFS has concluded that ESA listing actions are not subject to 
the environmental assessment requirements of the National Environmental 
Policy Act (NEPA) (See NOAA Administrative Order 216-6).

Executive Order 12866, Regulatory Flexibility Act, and Paperwork 
Reduction Act

    As noted in the Conference Report on the 1982 amendments to the 
ESA, economic impacts cannot be considered when assessing the status of 
a species. Therefore, the economic analysis requirements of the 
Regulatory Flexibility Act are not applicable to the listing process. 
In addition, this proposed rule is exempt from review under Executive 
Order 12866. This proposed rule does not contain a collection-of-
information requirement for the purposes of the Paperwork Reduction 
Act.

Executive Order 13132, Federalism

    In accordance with E.O. 13132, we determined that this proposed 
rule does not have significant Federalism effects and that a Federalism 
assessment is not required. In keeping with the intent of the 
Administration and Congress to provide continuing and meaningful 
dialogue on issues of mutual state and Federal interest, this proposed 
rule will be given to the relevant governmental agencies in the 
countries in which the

[[Page 65263]]

species occurs, and they will be invited to comment. We will confer 
with the U.S. Department of State to ensure appropriate notice is given 
to foreign nations within the range of all five species. As the process 
continues, we intend to continue engaging in informal and formal 
contacts with the U.S. State Department, giving careful consideration 
to all written and oral comments received.

Public Comments Solicited

    We intend that any final action resulting from this proposal will 
be as accurate as possible and informed by the best available 
scientific and commercial information. Therefore, we request comments 
or information from the public, other concerned governmental agencies, 
the scientific community, industry, environmental groups or any other 
interested party concerning this proposed rule. We particularly seek 
comments containing:
    (1) Information concerning the location(s) of any sightings or 
captures of the species;
    (2) Information concerning the threats to the species;
    (3) Taxonomic information on the species;
    (4) Biological information (life history, genetics, population 
connectivity, etc.)
    (5) Efforts being made to protect the species throughout their 
current ranges;
    (6) Information on the commercial trade of these species; and
    (7) Historical and current distribution and abundance and trends.
    We request that all information be accompanied by: (1) Supporting 
documentation such as maps, bibliographic references, or reprints of 
pertinent publications; and (2) the submitter's name, address, and any 
association, institution, or business that the person represents.
    Public hearing requests must be made by December 16, 2013.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 224

    Administrative practice and procedure, Endangered and threatened 
species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and record keeping requirements, 
Transportation.

    Dated: October 22, 2013.
Alan D. Risenhoover,
Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, performing the functions and 
duties of the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, 
National Marine Fisheries Service.

    For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 224 is 
proposed to be amended as follows:

PART 224--ENDANGERED MARINE AND ANADROMOUS SPECIES

0
1. The authority citation for part 224 continues to read as follows:

    Authority:  16 U.S.C. 1531-1543 and 16 U.S.C 1361 et seq.

0
2. In Sec.  224.101, paragraph (a), add entries for five species at the 
end of the table to read as follows:


Sec.  224.101  Enumeration of endangered marine and anadromous species.

* * * * *
    (a) * * *.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                     Species \1\                                            Citation(s) for     Citation(s) for
-----------------------------------------------------    Where listed           listing         critical habitat
           Common name              Scientific name                         determination(s)     designation(s)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
Adriatic sturgeon...............  Acipenser naccarii  Everywhere Found..  Insert Federal                      NA
                                                                           Register citation
                                                                           and date when
                                                                           published as a
                                                                           final rule].
European sturgeon...............  Acipenser sturio..  Everywhere Found..  Insert Federal                      NA
                                                                           Register citation
                                                                           and date when
                                                                           published as a
                                                                           final rule].
Chinese sturgeon................  Acipenser sinensis  Everywhere Found..  Insert Federal                      NA
                                                                           Register citation
                                                                           and date when
                                                                           published as a
                                                                           final rule].
Sakhalin sturgeon...............  Acipenser mikadoi.  Everywhere Found..  Insert Federal                      NA
                                                                           Register citation
                                                                           and date when
                                                                           published as a
                                                                           final rule].
Kaluga sturgeon.................  Huso dauricus.....  Everywhere Found..  Insert Federal                      NA
                                                                           Register citation
                                                                           and date when
                                                                           published as a
                                                                           final rule].
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Species includes taxonomic species, subspecies, distinct population segments (DPSs) (for a policy statement,
  see 61 FR 4722, February 7, 1996), and evolutionarily significant units (ESUs) (for a policy statement, see 56
  FR 58612, November 20, 1991.

* * * * *
[FR Doc. 2013-25358 Filed 10-30-13; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P