Endangered Species Act Recovery Success – Eastern Steller Sea Lion

From NOAA Fisheries

Photo Credit: Jamie King/ADFG.

Photo Credit: Jamie King/ADFG.For more information and a slideshow visit the NOAA page.

NOAA Fisheries is removing the eastern Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of Steller sea lions from the list of threatened species, because it has met its recovery criteria as outlined in the 2008 Steller Sea Lion Recovery Plan and no longer meets the definition of a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This makes the eastern population of Steller sea lions the first species NOAA has delisted due to recovery since 1994, when the eastern North Pacific gray whale was taken off the list of threatened and endangered species.

The recovery of the eastern DPS of Steller sea lions contributes to the long-term health of North Pacific Ocean ecosystems from central California through south-central Alaska. As marine predators that forage on a variety of fish, squid, and other species, Steller sea lions are vital components of numerous marine food webs. Their long-term health and viability are indicators of, and contributors to, the underlying health of those food webs and related ecosystems. Their recovery is a testament to the value and success of the ESA in ensuring the health of marine ecosystems for future generations.

First listed range-wide as threatened under the ESA in 1990 following severe population declines, the Steller sea lion population was later split into an eastern and western DPS by NOAA Fisheries in 1997, following an intensive period of research on genetic structure, population trends, movements, and other factors. The eastern DPS, which ranges from Cape Suckling, Alaska, south to the Channel Islands, California, retained its threatened listing while the western DPS was classified as endangered.

NOAA Fisheries published a proposed rule to delist the eastern DPS in April 2012, after completing a five-year status review and in response to petitions from the states of Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. The best available information indicates the eastern DPS has increased from an estimated 18,313 animals in 1979 to an estimated 70,174 in 2010. This increase corresponds to an estimated annual growth rate of 4.18%, which exceeds the 2008 Recovery Plan’s demographic recovery criterion of 3%. NOAA Fisheries also conducted an analysis of possible threats, finding none likely to cause the eastern DPS to become in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

We will proceed carefully and continue to monitor the eastern DPS of Steller sea lions to ensure it maintains its recovered status. NOAA Fisheries has developed a 10-year Post-Delisting Monitoring Plan with the states of Alaska, California, Oregon, and Washington and other partners to monitor the status of the eastern DPS and take the steps necessary to address any detected future decline in the species or increase in threats. The Monitoring Plan is described in Appendix 3 of the 2012 Status Review.

The eastern DPS will also continue to benefit from protections under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, as well as other existing laws and regulations, despite the removal of the ESA protections.

NOAA Fisheries is not proposing any changes to the status of the western DPS, which is still classified as endangered. NOAA and our partners will continue to study Steller sea lions to better understand why the eastern DPS has recovered and the western DPS has not. We will use the knowledge we gain to further our work towards recovery of the western DPS of Steller sea lions.