Environmental groups sue feds to protect Nassau grouper habitat in Florida, elsewhere

Endangered Species Act threatened Florida fish, Nassau grouper
Nassau grouper. From NOAA.gov

Three conservation organizations have sued the federal government for not protecting the nearshore habitat for a threatened fish, the Nassau grouper. The groups say the Nassau grouper is threatened by pollution, ocean acidification, sea-level rise and other impacts of climate change.

In their lawsuit filed against the National Marine Fisheries Service Tuesday, the environmental groups want the government to protect grouper habitat in nearshore waters of South Florida, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands. The suit was filed in federal district court in Washington D.C.

The Nassau grouper is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The groups maintain that the ESA “prohibits federal agencies from authorizing activities that will destroy or harm a listed species’ critical habitat. Animals with federally protected critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be recovering as species without it.”

In an email press release, the Florida director of one of the groups, Jaclyn Lopez with the Center for Biological Diversity, said, “Protected habitat will help set these fish on the path to recovery, but the federal government has stalled this designation for years. We need the courts to intervene. Safeguarding grouper habitat is essential for its survival and it’ll also benefit many other South Florida and Caribbean species.”

According to the press release, the grouper was listed as threatened under the ESA by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2016 “in response to a scientific petition from WildEarth Guardians,” one of the environmental groups filing Tuesday’s lawsuit.

Taylor Jones, an endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians, said, “To paraphrase ‘Finding Nemo,’ these fish are friends, not food. Nassau groupers are playful, intelligent creatures that need the protections critical habitat designation provides.”

The third environmental group involved in the lawsuit is Miami Waterkeeper. Its executive director, Rachael Silverstein, wrote, “Nassau groupers depend on their coral reef habitat to survive. Failing to designate the Nassau groupers’ critical habitat, as required by the Endangered Species Act, leaves even fewer protections for our already rapidly disappearing coral reefs.”

The press release continues:

“The Nassau grouper used to be one of the most common groupers in the United States, but overfishing contributed to a 60% population decline in recent years.

“The Nassau grouper is native to South Florida and the Caribbean, including the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Poor water quality and increased sedimentation due to land-development practices threaten both coral and macroalgae that are important resources during the grouper’s various life stages. Coral reefs are also acutely threatened by climate change impacts like sea-level rise and ocean acidification.”


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