WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Walter B. Jones (NC-3) is raising troubling questions about the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) handling of comments and scientific data on Atlantic Sturgeon submitted by various state fisheries agencies, fishing associations and the public. NMFS is currently reviewing a proposed rule to list multiple East Coast population segments of Atlantic Sturgeon as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. This comes despite the fact that the agency has never conducted a single stock assessment on any Atlantic Sturgeon population segment proposed for listing.
Before the public comment period on the proposal closed Thursday, February 3rd of this year, the states of North Carolina and Virginia along with several fishing organizations submitted new, detailed scientific data documenting the presence of more Atlantic Sturgeon, and particularly more large, mature fish, than previously thought to exist. But on February 8th, just two working days after the comment period closed, NMFS publicly stated at a Sturgeon Workshop that the final rule on the Sturgeon listing proposal had already been circulated for peer review. The agency announcement calls into question whether it took the time to analyze and incorporate the new scientific data into their decision-making, which it is required to do by law.
In a letter sent this week to NMFS Chief Eric Schwaab, Congressman Jones and colleagues Congressmen Jon Runyan (R-NJ) and Robert Wittman (R-VA) raised a series of troubling questions about the way the agency appears to be handling the new scientific data it received. These questions include:
- How did the agency analyze the new data submitted during the comment period?
- Who did the analysis and how was the data submitted for peer review?
- Who is the agency using to conduct the peer review?
- How can the agency propose to list several distinct population segments without ever assessing the status of any of these segments?
- Does the agency plan to reconvene the Atlantic Sturgeon Status Review Team to examine the new scientific data?
“On the surface, the agency’s actions give the appearance that they’re attempting to ram through a rule to list Atlantic Sturgeon as endangered while ignoring the scientific evidence to the contrary. That’s totally unacceptable,” said Jones. “The agency is required by law to use the best scientific information available in a transparent and open process, and it must be held accountable for doing so.”