A proposal by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), an agency of the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, seeks to remove eastern Steller sea lions from the endangered species list. If this moves forward, Stellers could face the same harrowing fate as their California sea lion cousins, who are now subject to branding, hazing and lethal removal from the waters of the Bonneville Dam.
Stellers are the largest of all of the sea lions species. Males can weigh up to 2500 pounds. The females are smaller, weighing in at about 1000 pounds. Stellers are generally lighter in color than the California sea lions. The seals received the protections of the endangered species list in 1990. Steep declines in their population as well as lethal threats from fisherman, who shot them for eating fish, were among the reasons the federal government cited in taking this action.
In August 2010, the states of Oregon and Washington petitioned the U.S. Department of Commerce to delist the Eastern distinct population segment of the Steller sea lion from the Endangered Species Act. Just as California sea lions are being scapegoated for eating salmon, the Stellers are being blamed for eating sturgeon on the Columbia River.
Unlike salmon, sturgeon is not an endangered species. Thus, even if the Stellers lose the protection of the Endangered Species Act, they still cannot be killed for eating sturgeon — that is, unless sturgeon are added to the Marine Mammal Protection Act. In a February 2011 article in The Oregonian, Guy Norman of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said it may come down to asking Congress to make that change.
One doesn’t have to look very hard to find the impetus for all of this shifting of animals on and off of the Endangered Species List. In January 2012, Jim Wells of Salmon for All, an association of gillnetters, fish buyers and processors, told The Columbian that his industry is not interested in losing any of its fishing opportunities. Salmon for All is represented on the Pinniped-Fishery Interaction Task Force. This group was convened by NMFS to advise the agency on decision making specific to the lethal removal of sea lions from the Bonneville Dam. Wells’ group isn’t the only stakeholder vying for fishing rights on the Columbia. Commercial and recreational fishermen were authorized to harvest up to 17,000 sturgeon in 2011.
The text of the NMFS proposal to delist Eastern Steller Sea Lions is as follows:
SUMMARY: Under the authority of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (ESA), we, NMFS, issue this proposed rule to remove the eastern distinct population segment (DPS) of Steller sea lions from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. After receiving two petitions to delist this DPS, we completed a comprehensive review of the status of the eastern DPS of Steller Sea Lions. Based on the information presented in the draft Status Review, the factors for delisting in section 4 (a)(1) of the ESA, the objective recovery criteria in the 2008 Recovery Plan, and the continuing efforts to protect the species, we have determined, subject to further consideration following public comment, that this DPS has recovered and no longer meets the definition of a threatened species under the ESA: it is not in danger of extinction or likely to become endangered throughout all or a significant portion of its range within the foreseeable future. Thus, we find that the delisting of the DPS, as requested by the two petitions, is warranted. This rule also proposes technical changes that would recodify existing regulatory provisions and which are necessary to clarify that existing regulatory protections for the western distinct population segment of Steller sea lions will continue to apply. We seek public comments on this proposed action, the draft Status Review, and the draft Post-Delisting Monitoring Plan.
DATES: Comments must be submitted to NMFS by June 18, 2012. Requests for public hearing must be made in writing and received by June 4, 2012.
ADDRESSES: Send comments to Jon Kurland, Assistant Regional Administrator for Protected Resources, Alaska Region, NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian. You may submit comments,identified by RIN 0648-BB41, by any of the following methods:
Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments.
Hand-delivery: Assistant Regional Administrator, Protected Resources Division, NMFS, Alaska Regional Office, Attn: Ellen Sebastian, Juneau Federal Building, 709 West 9th Street, Room 420A, Juneau, AK 99802-1668. Mail: P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802. Facsimile (fax): (907) 586-7557.
All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted to http://www.regulations.gov without change. All Personal Identifying Information (for example, name, address, etc.) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit Confidential Business Information or otherwise sensitive or protected information. NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter N/A in the required fields, if you wish to remain anonymous). Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word, Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats only.
The proposed rule, maps, draft Status Review report and other materials relating to this proposal can be found on the Alaska Region Web site at: http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jon Kurland, NMFS, Alaska Region, (907) 586-7638; or Lisa Manning, NMFS, Office of Protected Resources, (301) 427-8466.
Steller sea lions are already being branded and hazed on the Bonneville Dam. Is it just a matter of time before they are also subject to lethal injection? Individuals and organizations wishing to express their concerns regarding the proposed delisting of Steller sea lions are strongly urged to submit comments prior to the June 18 deadline.