WASHINGTON (CN) - The eastern group of Steller sea lions on the Pacific Coast may lose the protections of being on the Endangered Species list, as state petitions to remove the sea lions from the list contain sufficient information to warrant a full species review, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The petitions were submitted by the states of Oregon, Washington and Alaska.
Alaska's petition quotes a 2008 National Marine Fisheries Service Recovery Plan for the eastern distinct population segment (DPS) that said "no threats to recovery [of the Eastern DPS of the Steller sea lion] have been identified and the population has been increasing for over 25 years, new rookeries have been created, and the population is at historical high levels."
Oregon and Washington similarly argue in their petition that "None of the potential natural or manmade causes for population decline examined in the western population range appear to be having negative impacts on eastern stock sea lions occurring in Oregon and Washington." The two states go on to cite unpublished data from their own wildlife agencies that show 31 years of continuous population growth of the eastern DPS.
All Steller sea lions were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1990. In 1997, recognizing genetic and geographic distinctions the National Marine Fisheries Service divided the threatened population into two distinct population groups, the eastern DPS and western DPS, at 144° West longitude near Cape Suckling, Alaska.
The eastern DPS, which includes sea lions living along the Pacific coast of North America east of the demarcation line, remained "threatened" under the act, while the western DPS, which includes most of the Gulf of Alaska and sea lions along the Russian and Japanese coast, was reclassified as "endangered."
According to the agency's Web site, the western DPS has suffered a 40 percent reduction in its population from 1991 to 2000 after already having suffered a 75 percent decline from 1976 to 1990. As the rate of the decline of the western DPS has flattened since it was first listed under the act, the population remains in decline due to illegal hunting and interaction with fisheries operations.
The agency already had been working on a required five year review of the status of the species. Upon completion of that review or within 12 months of receiving the delisting petitions from the states, the agency will release its findings on whether delisting is warranted, unwarranted or warranted but precluded by other listing priorities and/or budget constraints.
The public is invited to provide comments on the ongoing status review and the 90-day finding regarding the petitions.
In other Steller sea lion news, Alaska has filed suit objecting to the National Marine Fisheries Service's interim rule restricting Atka mackerel and Pacific cod fisheries in the west and central Aleutian Islands. The rule is meant to help the endangered western distinct population segment of Steller sea lions recover. The state says that, although the population has dropped, the agency has not shown that the decrease is due to a shortage of fish. The state also claims it was left out of the process to create the rule, which is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.