International Waters: Orange Clownfish and Friends and the ESA
The orange clownfish (Amphiprion percula) is not considered threatened or endangered by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration/National Marine Fisheries Service.
Banned: wild-caught orange or percula clownfish; yellowtail damselfish; Hawaiian dascyllus, one-spot or domino damsel; blue-eyed or Johnston Island damselfish; black-axil or blackfin chromis; blue-green or green chromis, or blue puller; reticulated damselfish, or headband or grey humbug; and Dick’s damselfish or blackbar devil.
Relax—this could have been the case if a petition submitted by the Centre for Biological Diversity (CBD) to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)/National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) had been approved. However, timely interventions, scientific evidence and a welcome dose of common sense have resulted in an outcome that has been widely welcomed within the international ornamental fish sector. Had the proposals gone through, trade in all eight damsels would, at best, have been limited or, at worst, banned altogether.
The whole process began in September 2012 with the submission of the CBD petition, which asked for all eight species to be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and for their habitats to be designated as “critical.”
Under Section 3 of the ESA, an endangered species is one that “is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” A threatened species is deemed as such if it “is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”
The blue-green chromis (Chromis viridis) received the “all clear” from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration/National Marine Fisheries Service on Sept. 3, 2014.
Whenever a petition such as this one is received by NOAA/NMFS, it needs to be subjected to a period of scrutiny and consultation, during which relevant stakeholders can submit their arguments for or against the proposal. This procedure was duly followed, and two years after the original petition was received, the Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO) published the results of its review. It concluded that its 90-day finding in relation to the orange clownfish (Amphiprion percula) showed that the petition presented “substantial scientific or commercial information indicating the petitioned action of listing of the orange clownfish may be warranted.”
It also published a negative 90-day finding for the six Indo Pacific species: Hawaiian dascyllus (Dascyllus albisella), blue-eyed damselfish (Plectroglyphidodon johnstonianus), black-axil chromis (Chromis atripectoralis), blue-green damselfish (Chromis viridis), reticulated damselfish (Dascyllus reticulatus) and Dick’s damselfish (Plectroglyphidodon dickii). On Feb.18, 2015, the Southeast Regional Office (SERO) published a negative 90-day finding for the yellowtail damselfish (Microspathodon chrysurus).
The above meant that, beginning Sept. 3, 2014, six of the species listed in the opening paragraph were officially not considered endangered or threatened by PIRO, thus lifting any threat of trade restrictions or bans. Likewise, beginning Feb. 18, 2015, SERO concluded that the yellowtail damsel was neither endangered nor threatened. However, the situation regarding the orange clownfish was deemed not yet resolved.
A status review was launched and submissions were requested “to inform the agency’s decision on whether the species warranted listing as endangered or threatened under the ESA.” A clarification of the meaning of “a significant portion of its range” was also issued by NMFS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to assist in the review.
In a magnificently researched document, PIJAC submitted minutely detailed arguments on Nov. 3, 2014, demonstrating that the proposed listing was unwarranted and supported the decision not to list the other species. If anyone ever required proof of the valuable work that our trade associations do on behalf of our industry, they should read this impressive letter submitted on behalf of PIJAC (pijac.org) by its long-time senior advisor, Marshall Myers.
Here is the exact wording in full published in the Federal Register on Aug. 24, 2015: “Based on our consideration of the best available information…we determine that the orange clownfish, Amphiprion percula, faces a low risk of extinction throughout its range both now and in the foreseeable future, and that there is no portion of the orange clownfish’s range that qualifies as ‘significant’ under the SPR (significant portion of its range) policy. We therefore conclude that listing this species as threatened or endangered under the ESA is not warranted. This is a final action and, therefore, we do not solicit comments on it.”