[Coral-List] Bumphead Parrotfish Receives Positive Finding in U.S.

Douglas Fenner dfenner at blueskynet.as
Fri Apr 2 19:59:42 EDT 2010

Fellow coral-listers,
     As was announced back in January, a petition was submitted by a U.S. NGO to National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of NOAA asking that bumphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum) be listed as an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).  It is already listed as "Vulnerable" by IUCN, which means it is threated with extinction.
      WildEarth Guardians is the NGO that submitted the petition.  Their press release below gives the website address (URL) for the Federal Register notice announcing this.  That Federal Register notice has a lot of good info in it, including an explanation of the process as mandated by law, and facts about the biology of this species.  They had 90 days to review the petition and decide if there was enough info to merit review, and they have decided there is.  Now they have a year from the petition date in January to make a final decision after reviewing all available evidence.  The law mandates they decide based on the best scientific evidence.  So they need any and all additional scientific data and information on this topic to evaluate whether the species merits protection in the U.S. as an endangered species.  They need info from throughout the species range, not just in U.S. waters.  So anyone having such information is urged to provide it to them within one month, before the deadline May 3.  This decision should be based on the best scientific evidence, both pro and con, so that the decision is based on the best, unbiased, information.  I will be submitting information, and I will submit info no matter whether it fits with the view that they are endangered, or not.  As a scientist you have to, we are in the truth business not the propaganda business.  If we are in the propaganda business we will loose credibility, and science at the basic level is a method of persuation, based on facts and evidence and logic, if we stray from that we loose credibility.
     Anyhow, likely you will notice that this petition, while for only one species, will go through the same legally mandated process as for the petition for 82 corals.  The outcome is very much not fore-ordained or pre-decided.  It will be based on the evidence, and all relevant evidence is needed.  Again, the Federal Register notice contains information that is relevant to some of the questions about the process, so I urge interested parties to read it in some detail.  
     I remind readers that the press release below was produced by WildEarth Guardians, not me.  I personally think that they have done the coral reefs and our community a service by putting together this petition.  One way or the other, we need to know if these fish are endangered 'in all or part of their range' (words from ESA), and if they are endangered get them protected.  Fishing pressure has been indicated as the likely cause of the reported local delines, so if that is the case, then protection can make a difference.  But a full review of all the info is needed, which NMFS will be doing.
     For some general background information on the situation for this species and other large reef fish species, including some references to read, see

Fenner, D.  2009.  The largest reef fish species were gone most places in the world even before scientists knew about it.  http://www.sharksavers.org/en/education/sharks-are-in-trouble/399-loss-of-large-fish-on-coral-reefs.html


Douglas Fenner
American Samoa


WildEarth Guardians News

For immediate release: April 2, 2010

Contact: Nicole Rosmarino, Ph.D., Wildlife Program Director, 505-699-7404, nrosmarino at wildearthguardians.org 

Bumphead Parrotfish Progresses Toward Federal Protection

Group Applauds Government Decision for “Polar Bear of the South Pacific”

Denver, CO—April 2.  The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a positive preliminary finding today on a petition by WildEarth Guardians requesting federal Endangered Species Act protection for the Bumphead Parrotfish.  With today’s decision, NMFS will now conduct a review as to whether the Parrotfish merits federal protection.

WildEarth Guardians requested Bumphead Parrotfish protection on December 31, 2009, during the launch of its “BioBlitz,” an eight-week long effort to encourage the U.S. federal government to bring more endangered plants and animals under the protection of the Endangered Species Act during 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity. 

“We’re pleased that the Fisheries Service will carefully consider Endangered Species Act protection for the bumphead parrotfish.  This species desperately needs federal safeguards, as each adult bumphead requires 5 tons of coral per year to survive and therefore faces extreme peril from climate change,” stated Dr. Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians.

The Bumphead Parrotfish occurs on coral reefs in U.S. territories and many other countries in the Southern Pacific Ocean, as well as portions of the Indian Ocean.  WildEarth Guardians’ petition explained how this large, wide-ranging fish is rapidly vanishing.  Its fate is tied to coral reefs, as each individual Bumphead Parrotfish (which can grow up to four feet long) consumes more than five tons of coral every year.  It excretes the white sands that create beautiful beaches, which attract millions of tourists each year.  Scientists consider this fish a keystone species, as it increases coral reef resilience to extreme weather events.  But climate change-induced ocean warming is causing widespread coral bleaching and acidification is stunting coral growth. 

“In some ways, the bumphead parrotfish is the polar bear of the South Pacific.  If climate change is not arrested and reversed, the parrotfish’s fate may be sealed,” said Rosmarino.

Other threats documented in the petition include overfishing, to which this parrotfish is particularly vulnerable due to its behavior of sleeping in large groups at night near reefs. In addition to being targeted by fishers, it is slow to mature and has low reproductive rates.  Further concerns include coastal development and pollution and consequent degradation of coral reefs.  These threats are driven by a rapidly growing human population within the parrotfish’s range.  Scientists have demonstrated that when human numbers rise, large fish in an area tend to decline. 

Today’s finding acknowledges that Bumphead Parrotfish populations have been declining throughout their range.  NMFS calls for information on the species’ population numbers and threats indicated by the petition.  Comments are due May 3, 2010.

WildEarth Guardians’ petition for the Bumphead Parrotfish was during “Climate Week” of the BioBlitz, following on the heels of the disappointing Copenhagen climate talks. Climate Week featured four animals whose imperilment is caused by various effects from the destabilization of the planet’s climate: the Mist Forestfly, whose fate is tied to the vanishing glaciers of Glacier National Park in Montana; the Bay Skipper, a Gulf Coast butterfly imperiled due to increasingly intense hurricanes, such as Hurricane Katrina; the Jemez Mountains Salamander, a New Mexico amphibian that suffers from drought, as it requires moisture to breathe through its skin; as well as the Bumphead Parrotfish.

“The Endangered Species Act is an important approach to forcing cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, to safeguard imperiled wildlife from the many harmful effects of global climate change,” stated Rosmarino.

WildEarth Guardians has been at the forefront of endangered species enforcement in the U.S.  The group is a formal partner in the United Nation’s Year of Biodiversity (http://www.cbd.int/2010/welcome/), in which “The world is invited to take action in 2010 to safeguard the variety of life on earth: biodiversity.”

Today’s finding is online at: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/pdf/2010-7495.pdf.  A factsheet, photos, and videos of the unique and distinct-looking Bumphead Parrotfish are online at www.wildearthguardians.org.  For more information, contact Nicole Rosmarino at 505-699-7404 or nrosmarino at wildearthguardians.org.

More information about the Coral-List mailing list