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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Looks to Put Beluga on Endangered List

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. government has proposed listing the beluga sturgeon as an endangered species, a move that would make it illegal to import the highly prized beluga caviar.

The beluga sturgeon, which would be protected in the United States under the Endangered Species Act, inhabits the Caspian and Black Seas, which both border Russia.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the species is in danger of vanishing because of overharvesting, illegal trafficking and loss of its natural habitat to dam construction and other projects.

In its proposal Wednesday, the agency said, "Sturgeon populations have continued to decline, and the population structure is increasingly skewed toward sub-adult fish, with a critical lack of spawning-age adult female fish."

The proposal is in response to legal action by three environmental groups -- the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Wildlife Conservation Society and SeaWeb -- which petitioned Fish and Wildlife in December 2000 to declare beluga sturgeon an endangered species.

In April, the NRDC filed suit against Fish and Wildlife in federal district court in New York, saying the U.S. government was failing to adequately protect a species whose population has declined by more than 90 percent in the past two decades. The groups say that since the United States imports 80 percent of the world's beluga caviar, a ban on imports would improve its prospects for survival.