marine mammals




Title: Subsistence Taking of Northern Fur Seals on the Pribilof Islands; Summary of Fur Seal Harvests for 2014-2016 and Proposed Annual Subsistence Harvest Needs for 2017-2019

Docket ID: NOAA-NMFS-2017-0018

Agency: DOC-NOAA

Comments Close: June 16, 2017



The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) provides both summaries of past fur seal harvests by Alaska Natives and “proposes annual estimates of northern fur seal subsistence harvest on the Pribilof Islands for 2017-2019”. 



“The Eastern Pacific stock of northern fur seals (fur seals) is considered depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.”  This means that any form of subsistence hunting is highly regulated. Lower and upper limits are established for communities relying on this resource. “If the harvest reaches the lower level and the Pribilovians have not met their subsistence harvest needs [the community] must obtain the concurrence of NMFS before harvesting up to the upper level."

“Based on the most recent fur seal stock assessment report (2016), NMFS estimates that the current abundance of the eastern Pacific fur seals stock is 648,534. The potential biological removal (PBR) level is 11,802 animals (Muto et al. 2016)"; this is the "maximum number of animals, not including natural mortalities, that may be removed from the stock while allowing the stock to reach or maintain its optimum sustainable population level."

The total annual fur seal subsistence harvests for St. Paul and St. George Island "have never exceeded the upper limit of the proposed subsistence need, and have only exceeded the lower limit three times; in 1991 on both islands and in 1993 on St. George." Reported harvest in 2016 for St. Paul was 309 animals and for St. George Island was 83 (Melovidov et al. 2017, Lekanof 2017).

“NMFS has already restricted the subsistence harvest of fur seals on the Pribilof Islands to sub-adult male fur seals less than 124.5 cm in length during a 47-day season (from June 23 to August 8) on the Pribilof Islands” to “(1) limit the take of fur seals to a sustainable level that provides for the subsistence requirements of Pribilovians, and (2) restrict taking by sex, age, location, and season to ensure conservation of the species.”

“The subsistence harvest of fur seals provides a local, affordable source of fresh and frozen meat for the communities' consumption. Fresh store-bought meat is not available on either St. Paul or St. George Islands. Subsistence hunting and fishing are the primary means by which the communities meet their dietary needs. No other fish and wildlife species are predictably available to replace fresh fur seal meat. In addition, marine mammals such as fur seals are the culturally-preferred meat resource for Aleuts and other coastal Alaska Natives.”

“NMFS has contacted the tribal governments of St. Paul and St. George Islands and their respective local Native corporations (Tanadgusix and Tanaq) about setting the next three years' harvest estimates and received and considered their input” as is required by Executive Order 1317 (Native Consultation).

For additional information, two Final Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) and one Draft EIS are available from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center



Comments are invited on the proposed harvest levels for the Northern Fur Seals for the 2017-2019 seasons. 

The 2017-2019 harvest levels are unchanged from 2014-2016 (300 to 500 for St. George and 1,645 to 2,000 for St. Paul).


Contributor: M.S. Student, Arctic Ecology




Title: Endangered and Threatened Species; Petition for Rulemaking To Establish a Whale Protection Zone for Southern Resident Killer Whales

Docket ID: NOAA-NMFS-2017-00437

Agency: DOC-NOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service

Comments Close: April 13, 2017



National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) received a petition for rulemaking to establish a whale protection zone to reduce noise and disturbance in the San Juan Islands, Washington, to support recovery of endangered Southern Resident killer whales. The whale protection zone proposed would extend three-quarters of a mile offshore of San Juan Island. NMFS is requesting comments on the petition and will consider all comments and available information when determining whether to accept the petition and proceed with the suggested rulemaking. 



The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed and finalized vessel traffic regulations that prohibit parking vessels in the path of whales and included an approach rule with the whales. A protected area was originally included in these regulations, but was eventually excluded because of the degree of public opposition. 

Since these regulations, NMFS has conducted a public workshop and communicated with interested groups (including the petitioners). NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center has conducted further research on the impact of vessel traffic on Southern Resident killer whales.

The current petition in question was filed in November 2016 by the Orca Relief Citizen's Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, and Project Seawolf. The area proposed by petitioners is similar to, but wider and longer than the protected area previously proposed by NMFS. Petitioners also propose that NMFS include a one quarter-mile wide buffer adjacent to the whale protection zone.

The petitioners base their arguments on the Endangered Species Act (ESA). ESA prohibits any “take” on endangered populations. The petitioners argue that “take”, which can be defined as harassment, harm, pursuit, or any attempt to engage, occurs when commercial and private motorized vessels follow the Southern Resident Killer Whales. If this proposed rule were accepted, NMFS would utilize authorities under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).



The National Marine Fisheries Service is soliciting information from the public, governmental agencies, Tribes, the scientific community, industry, environmental entities, and any other interested parties concerning the petitioned action. They request that all information be accompanied by supporting documentation such as maps, bibliographic references, or reprints of pertinent publications. Comments are specifically invited on the following subjects:

  1. If there is the need for regulations to establish a whale protection zone (and if it is advisable).
  2. Any scientific and commercial information regarding the effects of vessels on killer whales and their habitat.
  3. If the proposed geographic scope of the regulated whale protection zone is appropriate.
  4. If there are alternative management options for regulating vessel interactions with killer whales.
  5. Any information regarding potential economic effects of regulating vessel interactions.
  6. Any additional relevant information that should be considered prior to the agencies accepting the petition.

Contributor: M.S. Student, Arctic Ecology