Case Number # 2318
Earthjustice is representing the Center for Biological Diversity in a lawsuit seeking greater protections from fishing for threatened coral reefs in the Caribbean. The lawsuit asserts that the National Marine Fisheries Service ignored science showing that parrotfish and other grazing fish play a key role in promoting the health of coral reefs; the government’s authorization of targeted fishing for parrotfish poses a risk to elkhorn and staghorn corals, protected under the Endangered Species Act.
According to the lawsuit, the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the Endangered Species Act by finding that the targeted fishing for parrotfish would not jeopardize already imperiled corals or “adversely modify,” (i.e. damage) their critical habitat.
Excessive algal growth threatens the health of Caribbean reefs, choking out corals and degrading the habitat that other reef creatures—such as fish, sea turtles and lobsters—depend on. Fish, especially parrotfish, which graze on algae around coral reefs, play a key function in providing suitable habitat for corals to settle and build those reefs. Fish populations in the Caribbean have been overfished, including the parrotfish that are the subject of this lawsuit; managing the overfishing of parrotfish will help corals recover and become more resilient to other threats, including global warming and ocean acidification.
Elkhorn and staghorn corals were once the dominant reef-building corals in the Caribbean but they are perilously close to extinction. Corals suffer from a variety of threats, including pollution, global warming and ocean acidification. A key threat to corals, however, continues to be overfishing and competition with algae. The corals have declined by more than 90 percent since the 1970s. In 2006, the two corals were protected under the Endangered Species Act in response to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity.