Eastern Steller Sea Lions Delisted As Endangered Species By NOAA

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Not since 1994 has the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) removed an animal from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) due to effective recovery efforts.

The eastern North Pacific gray whale was taken off the list of threatened and endangered species nearly 20 years ago after evidence was found that these marine mammals had recovered to near their estimated original population size and were no longer in danger of extinction throughout most of their range. A subsequent review in 1999 suggested the delisting status should continue.

Last week, the NOAA moved to delist from the ESA another marine mammal species, the eastern Steller sea lion, due to effective recovery efforts. NOAA Fisheries has determined that the eastern distinct population of this species has recovered enough to be removed from the listing.

“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.”

NOAA concluded that the delisting is warranted because the sea lions have met the recovery criteria set in a 2008 recovery plan and no longer meet the definition of threatened or endangered under the ESA guidelines.

A threatened species is one that is likely to become endangered within a given period throughout all or most of its range. An endangered species in one that is in danger of becoming extinct throughout all or most of its range.

Using a wealth of scientific information, it has been found that the eastern Steller sea lion has increased in population from 18,040 individuals in 1979 to about 70,174 in 2010, the most recent year for which NOAA has available data. While being delisted under the ESA, the mammals will still get protection under provisions set forth in the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).

NOAA had recommended the delisting earlier this year after action was sought from the states of Alaska, Washington and Oregon in June 2010. Commercial fishermen had also protested fishing regulations because of the endangered listing of the sea lion. The actual decline on the species was blamed on fishermen in the first place, as well as other boaters and people who would shoot the animals because they were a nuisance and killing fish.

Due to this, the animals were first listed as threatened under the ESA in 1990. In 1997, NOAA scientists recognized two distinct population segments of this species: a western and an eastern segment. The eastern segment includes animals from Cape Suckling, Alaska, south to California’s Channel Islands. The western segment remains classified as endangered and the NOAA is not proposing any changes to that population, which exists from Cape Suckling to the western Pacific Russian waters.

Although the NOAA Fisheries is no longer listing the eastern Steller sea lion with the ESA, the agency will continue to monitor the population to ensure that existing measures under the MMPA provide the protection necessary to maintain the recovered population. It is also proceeding carefully to ensure the eastern population segment remains strong.

Working with state and local agencies, NOAA has developed a 10-year plan to continue monitoring the sea lions, which is double what ESA guidelines call for. If this plan works as intended, the sea lion population should maintain its recovered status, according to Julie Speegle, NOAA Fisheries’ Juneau branch director.

The delisting will take effect 30 days after publication of the final rule in the Federal Register.