Protective measures help restore marine mammals from Alaska to California
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — Federal biologists say the eastern distinct population of Steller sea lions has recovered to the point that they can be removed from the endangered species list — the first species to be de-listed by by NOAA Fisheries since the eastern North Pacific gray whale in 1994.
The eastern distinct population segment is found along the coast of southeast Alaska and British Columbia. The best available scientific information indicates numbers of eastern Steller sea lions have increased from an estimated 18,040 animals in 1979 to an estimated 70,174 in 2010. Eastern Steller sea lions will continue to be protected under provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Farther west, sea lion numbers are still in decline — according to NOAA, populations in the western distinct population segment declined by 75 percent between 1976 and 1990, and another 40 percent between 1991 and 2000 (an average annual decline of 5.4 percent) . Since the 1970s, the most significant drop in numbers occurred in the eastern Aleutian Islands and the western Gulf of Alaska.
According to NOAA, threats to sea lions include:
- boat/ ship strikes
- contaminants/ pollutants
- habitat degradation
- illegal hunting/ shooting
- offshore oil and gas exploration
- interactions (direct and indirect) with fisheries
*Direct fishing impacts are largely due to fishing gear (drift and set gillnets, longlines, trawls, etc.) that has the potential to entangle, hook, injure, or kill sea lions. They have been seen entangled in fishing equipment with what are considered “serious injuries.”
*Indirect fisheries impacts include having to compete for food resources and possible modifications to critical habitat by fishing activities
Historic threats included:
- hunting for their meat, fur hides, oil, and various other products (in the 1800s)
- killing and placing bounties on this species, which fishermen blamed for stealing fish from them (in the early 1900s)
- killing to limit their predation on fish in aquaculture facilities (fish farms), but intentional killing of Steller sea lions has not been permitted since they were protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and listed under the ESA (not since 1972)
“We’re delighted to see the recovery of the eastern population of Steller sea lions,” said Jim Balsiger, Administrator of NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Region. “We’ll be working with the states and other partners to monitor this population to ensure its continued health.”
Steller sea lions were first listed as a threatened species under the ESA in 1990. In 1997, NOAA scientists recognized two distinct population segments of Steller sea lions: a western and an eastern segment. The eastern segment includes Steller sea lions from Cape Suckling, Alaska, south to California’s Channel Islands. The western population segment remains classified as endangered. NOAA is not proposing any changes to the status of the western Steller sea lion.
With the delisting, federal agencies proposing actions that may affect the eastern Steller sea lions are no longer required to consult with NOAA Fisheries under section 7 of the ESA. However, NOAA Fisheries will continue to monitor the effects of proposed projects on the eastern population to ensure existing measures under the MMPA provide protection necessary to maintain recovered status.
The delisting of the eastern Steller sea lion will take effect 30 days after publication of the final rule in the Federal Register.
NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.