WASHINGTON — The federal government on Wednesday announced it is removing the eastern Steller sea lion found along the Washington state coast from the Endangered Species Act — the first species NOAA has delisted due to recovery since the Pacific gray whale was taken off the list in 1994.
This sea lion species is found along the coasts of northern California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, according to NOAA Fisheries.
“We’re delighted to see the recovery of the eastern population of Steller sea lions,” said Jim Balsiger, administrator of NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Region. “We’ll be working with the states and other partners to monitor this population to ensure its continued health.”
NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has concluded delisting is warranted because the species has met the recovery criteria outlined in its 2008 recovery plan and no longer meets the definition of a threatened or endangered species under the act.
Steller sea lions were first listed as a threatened species under the ESA in 1990. In 1997, NOAA scientists recognized two distinct population segments of Steller sea lions: a western and an eastern segment. The eastern segment includes Steller sea lions from Cape Suckling, Alaska, south to California’s Channel Islands. The western population segment remains classified as endangered. NOAA is not proposing any changes to the status of the western Steller sea lion.
On June 29, 2010, NOAA Fisheries provided notice that it was initiating a status review of the eastern Steller sea lion and requested public comment. During the comment period, NOAA Fisheries received two petitions to delist the eastern Steller sea lion: one from the states of Washington and Oregon; and one from the state of Alaska.
According to NOAA Fisheries, the best available scientific information indicates the eastern Steller sea lion has increased from an estimated 18,040 animals in 1979 to an estimated 70,174 in 2010, the most recent year for which data are available. Eastern Steller sea lions will continue to be protected under provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The delisting of the eastern Steller sea lion will take effect 30 days after publication of the final rule in the Federal Register.