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State Petitions to De-List Steller Sea Lions

Files Comments on NMFS’ Biological Opinion

September 2, 2010, Anchorage, Alaska – The State of Alaska this week petitioned the federal government to remove the Eastern distinct population segment (DPS) of Steller sea lions from the list of species protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The state coordinated its filing with Oregon and Washington, which also filed a similar petition this week.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has divided Steller sea lions into two “distinct population segments” - a Western DPS and an Eastern DPS. The Western DPS is listed as endangered; the Eastern DPS is currently listed as threatened.

The Eastern DPS has surpassed the recovery objectives set by NMFS and the threats facing the sea lions have been addressed, meriting their removal from the list of threatened species.

“We’re working on multiple fronts to ensure that commercial fishing and other important economic activities are not blocked by unwarranted ESA regulations,” Governor Sean Parnell said. “Removing a recovered species from the list reduces needless bureaucracy and litigation risks.”

The State of Alaska also submitted comments on NMFS’ recent draft biological opinion and associated environmental assessment on the impact of federal groundfish fisheries on the health of the Western DPS. Despite significant scientific uncertainty and an increasing population trend, the draft opinion concludes that commercial fisheries are inhibiting the recovery of two of seven sub-populations of the Western DPS and calls for substantial curtailment of commercial fisheries in the Western Aleutian Islands.

“The agency’s conclusion that additional fishing restrictions are necessary is not supported by the best available scientific information,” said Attorney General Dan Sullivan. “The drastic measures proposed by NMFS are simply not necessary given the overall health of the Western DPS.”

NMFS has 90 days to decide whether the de-listing petition presents enough scientific or commercial evidence of recovery that removal of the Eastern DPS from the Endangered Species List may be warranted. With regard to the Western DPS, the comments NMFS receives, including the state’s, will inform the agency’s decision on what, if any, new restrictions it may impose on commercial fisheries.

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