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Endangered Species Act: Our Update on Recovery Progress

Endangered Species Act

The purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to conserve threatened and endangered species and their ecosystems. It provides criteria for designating a species as endangered or threatened, as well as the tools and procedures used by NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the species and their habitat. 

Endangeredin danger of extinction in all or a significant portion of its range

Threatened considered likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future

Shortnose sturgeon. Credit: Bob Michelson. Courtesy of 
Photography by Michelson, Inc.

This year we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, signed into law on December 28th, 1973. By passing this law, Congress recognized that the natural heritage of the United States is of “esthetic, ecological, educational, recreational, and scientific value to our Nation and its people.” They understood that without protection from human actions many of our nation’s living resources would become extinct.

We are pleased to release our 2010-2012 Biennial Report to Congress on the Recovery Program for Threatened and Endangered Species, which includes the known population status of the imperiled species in our charge. During the period of this report, we were responsible for 70 listed domestic species.

This report includes highlights of nine recovery stories that illustrate the types of partnerships and scientific research necessary to put our species on the road to recovery. Below is an excerpt from the report on new short nose sturgeon research that is helping us unravel mysteries to aid the recovery of this ancient species.

Shortnose Stugeon—Unraveling Mysteries to Aid Recovery

Shortnose sturgeon are found in most major river systems along the East Coast, from the Saint John River in New Brunswick, Canada, to the St. Johns River in Florida. Recent data from the University of Maine, Maine Department of Marine Resources, and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Conte Lab in Massachusetts have provided an intriguing view of the migration patterns and habitat use of northern populations of shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum).

Contrary to the prevailing perception that they were confined to large coastal rivers, the data show these northern populations of shortnose sturgeon migrate to and use small coastal rivers as well. Researchers have documented extensive coastal migrations between the Kennebec and Penobscot Rivers as well as other small coastal rivers in Maine, and the Merrimack River, Massachusetts, and rivers in New Hampshire and Maine. Telemetry data from 2008 to 2010 in the Gulf of Maine indicate that up to 70 percent of adult shortnose sturgeon frequently moved between the Kennebec and Penobscot Rivers and that over half of these coastal migrants used small coastal rivers in between the two larger rivers. Telemetry data also indicate that 80 percent of shortnose sturgeon using smaller coastal river systems during these migrations moved more than 6.2 miles upstream.

Although the motivations for their migration patterns are not well understood, these coastal migration data have revealed new and critical information on shortnose sturgeon population dynamics, habitat use, and life history. Managers will be able to use this information to more accurately identify critical habitat and potential habitat restoration projects, benefiting sturgeon recovery and with the potential to restore populations to what might have been their historic range.

The use of new river systems as potential foraging areas and refugia, as well as the potential expansion of spawning populations into additional river systems, are extremely positive steps toward recovery of shortnose sturgeon in the Gulf of Maine and eventually throughout their range along the East Coast.