Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Special Rule To Control the Trade of Threatened Beluga Sturgeon (Huso huso
We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), are promulgating a special rule under Section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act), to exempt the import and export of and foreign and interstate commerce in certain products of beluga sturgeon (Huso huso) from threatened species permits normally required under 50 CFR 17.32. The beluga sturgeon's historical range includes 18 countries within the watersheds of the Caspian Sea, Black Sea, Sea of Azov, and the Adriatic Sea. The species is currently known to occur only in the Caspian and Black Seas and certain rivers connected to these basins. Of the 14 countries where the species still occurs, only 11 have significant beluga sturgeon habitat in the Caspian Sea, Black Sea or Danube River and consequently these countries take responsibility for cooperative management of the species (Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Kazakhstan, Romania, Russian Federation, Serbia and Montenegro, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine; hereafter referred to as the ``littoral states''). Overharvest, severe habitat degradation, and other factors have led to the listing of beluga sturgeon as threatened throughout its range under the Act and in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). In our final rule listing the beluga sturgeon as threatened, we delayed the effective date of the listing for 6 months to allow time for us to promulgate a special rule under Section 4(d) of the Act. The listing became effective on October 21, 2004, yet this 4(d) rule was not yet promulgated. Therefore, we promulgated a special interim rule on October 21, 2004, to continue to allow CITES-consistent trade in all beluga sturgeon and products until this 4(d) rule was finalized and effective. When this 4(d) rule becomes effective, it will repeal the special interim rule and the Act will prohibit all trade (import, export, re-export, and foreign and interstate commerce) in beluga sturgeon and beluga sturgeon products, except as provided in the special rule or with permits under the provisions of Section 10 of the Act. This special rule initially allows littoral states 6 months from the rule's effective date to submit a suite of reports and management measures to us for review. During this initial 6-month period, imports, re-exports, and exports of, and interstate and foreign commerce in, certain beluga sturgeon caviar and meat will continue without a requirement for threatened species permits. This is intended to provide the littoral states time to submit the required documents. Similarly, we will consider making programmatic permit exemptions for commercial aquaculture facilities outside the littoral states if they meet certain criteria for: (1) Enhancing the survival of populations of wild beluga sturgeon; and (2) not threatening native aquatic fauna in the country in which the facility is located. CITES documentation will still be required for any international movement of beluga sturgeon and beluga sturgeon products, except as they may qualify for an exemption as personal or household effects. After an initial 6 months of gathering information from the littoral states, these exemptions will occur only if the information provided fulfills certain requirements, as described below. In addition, all relevant provisions of CITES will continue to govern international trade in all beluga sturgeon products. We are allowing this conditional trade to promote the effective conservation of Huso huso in the littoral states, through demonstrable law enforcement and cooperative management activities. DATES: This rule is effective March 4, 2005. The reasons for this accelerated implementation, which replaces the standard 30-day time frame, are described below in the ``Background'' section. ADDRESSES: The complete file for this rule is available for inspection by appointment during normal business hours in the office of the Division of Scientific Authority, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Room 750, Arlington, Virginia 22203. Requests for copies of the regulations regarding listed wildlife and inquiries about prohibitions and permits may be addressed to: Division of Management Authority, Branch of PermitsInternational, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Room 700, Arlington, Virginia 22203.