Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.



Contact: Cynthia Elkins (707) 923-2931, Environmental Protection Information Center

Jeff Miller (510) 499-9185, Center for Biological Diversity

Wendell Wood (541) 891-4006, Oregon Natural Resources Council

Click here for copy of decision.

San Francisco, CA - A Northern District of California Court ruled yesterday in favor of three conservation organizations seeking to protect the green sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris) under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Magistrate Judge Elizabeth D. Laporte remanded a January 2003 decision by the Bush Administration to reject listing the species back to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for reconsideration. The Court concluded that NMFS “arbitrarily and capriciously” failed to consider “whether lost spawning habitats together constitute a major geographical area in which the sturgeon once was viable, but is no longer.” The Court concluded that “this matter must be remanded for further analysis and decision of the issue of whether the green sturgeon are endangered or threatened in a significant portion of its range.”

The successful legal challenge was brought by the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), and Oregon Natural Resources Council (ONRC). The plaintiffs were represented by Center for Biological Diversity attorney Brent Plater.

The court opinion cited a memo by a NMFS scientist in support of accepting the petition and conducting a status review which stated: “the most alarming condition is the reduction of spawning range of green sturgeon.” The Court opinion noted that “despite the scientific evidence of the 'alarming reduction in spawning range of the green sturgeon,' in the words of its own scientist, the National Marine Fisheries Service downplayed the threat” and “failed to analyze whether the species was threatened in a significant portion of its range in reaching its listing decision.”

The Court noted that NMFS acknowledges the loss of spawning populations and habitat in many rivers, including the San Joaquin, Eel, and South Fork Trinity Rivers in California and the Umpqua River in Oregon, with NMFS concluding that “green sturgeon no longer spawn in several former spawning river systems.”

In 2001, conservationists first submitted a formal scientific research petition documenting the precipitous decline in green sturgeon populations in the last 100 years and requested that the species be
listed as endangered under the ESA. According to NMFS, only limited spawning still takes place in the Sacramento and Klamath Rivers in California and the Rogue River in Oregon, a far more concentrated area than in the past.

“We are gratified by the court's ruling,” said Cynthia Elkins of EPIC. “Between four and seven spawning populations of green sturgeon have already been lost forever. How many does it take before the Bush Administration will admit there is a problem?" Elkins asked.

NMFS has defined two remaining “distinct population segments” of the green sturgeon, drawing a north-south boundary at the Eel River in California. It estimates there are only a few hundred to 2,000 individuals in the southern population. Conservationists have sought Endangered Species Act protection for both populations including the population in northern most California and southern Oregon.

“Green sturgeon were among the fish that perished in the large fish kill that occurred in the Klamath River in September 2002 that also resulted in the death of over 33,000 salmon. The precarious status of this magnificent fish makes it imperative to restore the flows to the Klamath, considered to be the center of the world for the green sturgeon,” said Wendell Wood of ONRC.

“The three remaining spawning runs are each thought to contain only a few hundred females of spawning age, at most. We are glad the court agrees that this is significant cause for concern--as these runs are depleted well below the abundance of other sturgeon species listed as endangered,” said Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Green sturgeon are among the largest and longest living species found in freshwater, living up to 70 years, reaching 7.5 feet in length, and weighing up to 350 pounds. The ancient fish species looks prehistoric,
with a skeleton consisting of mostly cartilage and rows of bony plates for scales. They have snouts like shovels and mouths like vacuum cleaners that are used to siphon shrimp and other food from sandy depths. Green sturgeons are anadromous, meaning they migrate to the ocean and return to freshwater to spawn.

More information about the green sturgeon, a copy of the listing petition, and color photos of the species are available on the EPIC website at, the CBD web site at, and the ONRC web site at An illustration of the green sturgeon is available courtesy of NOAA at


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