USFWS proposes reclassifying tidewater goby from endangered to threatened

The tidewater goby is a small gray-brown fish that rarely exceeds two inches in length and generally lives for only one year. Gobies inhabit lagoons, estuaries, marshes and freshwater tributaries along the California coast.
posted by Barry Parr
Fri, March 14, 2014
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UPDATED to include a response from the Natural Resources Defense Council. This story is based primarily on an USFWS press release.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife plans to reclassify the tidewater goby from endangered to threatened, and is seeking public comment.

The USFWS describes the tidewater goby as “a small gray-brown fish that rarely exceeds two inches in length and generally lives for only one year. Gobies inhabit lagoons, estuaries, marshes and freshwater tributaries along the California coast.” The goby’s range ran from the northernmost (Del Norte) to the southernmost (San Diego) California coastal counties.

The goby was listed as endangered in 1994, following a California a drought beween 1987 and 1992. During the drought years, coastal lagoons and estuaries dried up, and the number of tidewater goby localities dropped from 87 to 43. Other threats included habitat loss due to conversion of coastal wetlands to other uses; alteration of habitat by flood control projects; fragmentation between goby localities; poor water quality; introduced nonnative predators and competitor species; and breaching of sandbars that rapidly drained tidewater goby habitat.

In 2007, the service completed a 5-year review of the species and found that the tidewater goby could be found in 112 of 135 known historic localities. The Service concluded that the tidewater goby appeared more resilient than previously known, and was capable of recolonizing areas or increasing populations under more favorable conditions. In the 5-year review, the Service recommended the species be downlisted from endangered to threatened.

Because the goby occupies a narrow margin of salinity, where fresh and salt water mix, a rise in sea levels could inundate coastal lagoons and estuaries that support the species. This threat is not imminent; however, it is likely that many of the current tidewater goby localities could be inundated by seawater by 2100.

The Service was petitioned in 2010 by the Pacific Legal Foundation, (which describes itself as “devoted to a vision of individual freedom, responsible government, and color-blind justice”) to downlist the species, based primarily on the service’s 2007 species review.

In 2011, Andrew Wetzler, Director of the Land and Wildlife program for the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote about its victory in securing more critical habitat for the tidewater goby:

So we sued and the Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to take another look.  On Wednesday the Service went a long way towards fixing both Tidewater Goby Proposed Critical Habitat (NRDC 2011)these problems.  First, the agency expanded the amount of habitat protected by the goby by 20% (from about 10,000 to 12,000 acres—mostly small sections up and down the coast).  Second, the agency included 10 currently unoccupied lagoons and creeks, stretching from Los Angeles to Marin counties, which will now get added protections.

The new critical habitat included Pomponio Creek in San Mateo County’s Southcoast. In an email to Coastsider, Wetzler observed:

“As California suffers through a historic drought that likely mirrors and exacerbates the conditions that got the goby listed to begin with, it’s an odd time for the Fish and Wildlife Service to take this action. The good news for the goby though, is that basically nothing changes. They will enjoy the same federal protections over the same coastal habitat with the new designation.”

The service notes that “downlisting from endangered to threatened does not remove the protections the species is currently receiving under the Endangered Species Act, but it better reflects its conservation status.”

The Service is seeking public comments from March 13 through May 12, 2014. Submit comments electronically at www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter Docket Number FWS–R8–ES–2014-0001.  Comments can also be sent by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R8–ES–2013-0001, Division of Policy and Directives Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM, Arlington, VA 22203.

The proposed regulation will be published in Federal Register on March 14.

For more information about the goby and the proposed reclassification, please visit: http://www.fws.gov/ventura

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