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Trump Administration Delays Necessary Endangered Species Act Protections for Guitarfish

February 8, 2017
Taylor Jones, (720) 443-2615, tjones@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Additional Contact:
Bethany cotton, (406) 414-7227, bcotton@wildearthguardians.org

Washington, DC—Today the National Marine Fisheries Service announced it is delaying much needed protections for two species of guitarfish under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because of a Jan. 20 memo from the Trump White House postponing the effective date of any final rules published in the Federal Register.

“There’s nothing efficient about delaying long-awaited protections for imperiled species,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “These regulations have already undergone ‘extreme vetting’ through a years-long process involving expert review and public comment: The White House should let expert federal agencies do their job.”

The White House memo cites the need to review “questions of fact, law, and policy [the regulations] raise,” yet federal safeguards for guitarfish are the result of a multi-year process based on science, longstanding federal law and public process. The guitarfish safeguards went through significant layers of vetting and review, including a complete analysis of the best available science on the status of the species, two separate and well publicized 30-day public comment periods (one in 2014 and one in 2016) and review by experts at the National Marine Fisheries Service.

“Extinction is non-partisan, and preventing it shouldn’t be either,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. “Delaying implementation of these long needed protections serves no purpose, but it does make it more likely that guitarfish will continue to decline toward extinction.”

WildEarth Guardians submitted a petition to list 81 marine species and subpopulations—including the guitarfish—under the ESA in July of 2013 due to significant threats to our oceans. Blackchin guitarfish (Rhinobatos cemiculus) live in marine and brackish waters from the northern coast of Portugal to Angola, and throughout coastal Mediterranean waters. Substantial fishing pressure has already led to population declines and extirpation from some areas. Existing regulations do not protect the species. Common guitarfish (Rhinobatos rhinobatos) live in the Atlantic from the southern Bay of Biscay southward to Angola, and in the southern and eastern waters of the Mediterranean. They are threatened by fishing and habitat degradation in their nursery grounds.

More than half of all marine species may be at risk of extinction by 2100 without significant conservation efforts. Despite this grave situation, the U.S. largely fails to protect marine species under the ESA. Of the over 2,000 species protected under the Act, only about six percent are marine species.

Recognizing the decline of ocean health, on July 22, 2010, President Obama issued an Executive Order requiring agencies, including the Fisheries Service, to “protect, maintain, and restore the health and biological diversity of ocean…ecosystems,” and to “use the best available science and knowledge to inform decisions affecting the ocean.” The guitarfish listing is a step in the right direction toward living up to that mandate, which is now needlessly delayed.

Protection under the ESA is an effective safety net for imperiled species: more than 99 percent of plants and animals protected by the law exist today. The law is especially important as a defense against the current extinction crisis; species are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due to human activities. Scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinct by 2006 if not for ESA protections. Listing species with global distributions can protect them from trade and help focus U.S. resources toward enforcement of international regulations and recovery of the species.


Other Contact
Bethany cotton, (406) 414-7227, bcotton@wildearthguardians.org