Saturday, October 26, 2013

Steller sea lion population to be removed from threatened species list

For only the second time in the history of the Endangered Species Act, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration has removed a species from the list of threatened and endangered species.

The agency announced Wednesday that the eastern population of Steller sea lions, which roams the Pacific Ocean close to shores from northern California to southeast Alaska, will lose ESA protection.

"We're delighted to see the recovery of the eastern population of Steller sea lions," Jim Balsiger, administrator of NOAA Fisheries' Alaska Region, said. "We'll be working with the states and other partners to monitor this population to ensure its continued health."

According to a March 2008 recovery plan, de-listing of the eastern population would occur if it grew at an average annual rate of three percent for 30 years. That recovery plan asserted a pace of growth equal or greater to that rate since the 1970s.

NOAA said in a statement that, as of 2010, there were more than 70,000 individuals in the eastern population of Steller sea lions.The endangered western population has not only failed to experience anything approaching consistent growth in size, but lost about three-quarters of its size between the late 1970s and the late 1990s.

The estimated census of the combined populations exceeded 250,000 during the 1950s.

De-listing of the population of Eumetopias jubatus nearest to the historic spawning grounds of imperiled Pacific salmonid species will give federal and state agencies more flexibility to kill the animals, which are especially prone to eat salmon migrating up the Columbia River.

The population will remain protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. However, a federal appeals court ruled Sept. 27 that the MMPA would not be violated if slightly fewer than 100 sea lions per year are killed below Bonneville Dam as a way of protecting migrating anadromous fish.

Steller sea lions were first listed under the ESA in Nov. 1990. The eastern population and its western counterpart, which is found roughly from central and southwestern Alaska west to Russia, was recognized in May 1997.

Graphic courtesy NOAA Fisheries.

De-listing of the eastern population of Steller sea lions takes effect Nov. 22.

NOAA removed a population of gray whales from the list of threatened and endangered species in 1994.

Photo courtesy NOAA Fisheries.