Deterring Steller Sea Lions in Alaska
Learn what can be done to deter nuisance Steller sea lions in Alaska.
All Steller sea lions are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA); the Endangered Species Act (ESA) also protects Steller sea lions that are part of the western distinct population segment.
- Applies to all marine mammals, including all Steller sea lions.
Prohibits “taking” any marine mammal, which means you may not harass, hunt, capture, or kill, or attempt to do these things (with certain exceptions, see below).
- Applies to animals and plants listed as endangered or threatened, including Steller sea lions in the western distinct population segment.
The listing of a species as endangered makes it illegal to "take" that species, which means you may not harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, collect, or attempt to do these things.
What are the distinct population segments of Steller sea lions in Alaska?
Steller sea lions are composed of two populations:
The endangered western distinct population segment, which occurs primarily west of Cape Suckling (144° W. longitude).
- The eastern distinct population segment, which occurs primarily east of Cape Suckling (144° W. longitude).
What can be done to deter nuisance Steller sea lions in Alaska?
Under the ESA, no person may haze or harass a Steller sea lion west of 144° W longitude.
The MMPA allows fishermen and public/private property owners to deter Steller sea lions east of 144° W longitude to protect private property, including gear and catch, so long as the deterrence does not result in serious injury or death.
East of 144° W longitude provided that the deterrence described below does not result in serious injury or death of Steller sea lions in the eastern distinct population segment:
The owner of fishing gear or catch, or an employee or agent of such owner, may deter these non-ESA-listed marine mammals from damaging gear or catch.
The owner of other private property, or an agent, bailee, or employee of such owner may deter these non-ESA-listed marine mammals from damaging private property, such as developed waterfront, decks, docks,floats, piers, bait receivers, vessels at anchor, etc.
Any person may deter these non-ESA-listed marine mammals from endangering personal safety.
A government employee may deter these non-ESA-listed marine mammals from damaging public property.
I am a member of the general public, what can I do to deter Steller sea lions?
It depends on whether you are west or east of 144° W longitude (Cape Suckling):
If you are west of 144° W longitude you may not deter (i.e., haze or harass) a Steller sea lion.
If you are east of 144° W longitude, only Steller sea lions that are not listed under the ESA may be deterred to protect fishing gear and catch or private property, as long as the deterrence does not result in serious injury or death.
See “Harbor Master” section below for more information about how to prevent negative sea lion behavior.
What other important information do I need to know?
Serious injury or mortality is not authorized: When attempting to deter Steller sea lions east of 144° W longitude, if you seriously injure or kill a marine mammal, you are liable for the “take." Causing serious injury or killing a marine mammal violates the MMPA. Causing serious injury or killing a Steller sea lion that is part of the western distinct population segment also violates the ESA.
Personal safety: Even where property owners and/or fishermen are permitted to deter nuisance animals, using non-lethal means is a personal choice and can pose safety and legal risks to the person deterring the nuisance animal(s) and anyone around them. Sea lions are wild animals that may react unpredictably to deterrence attempts, resulting in personal injury or additional damage to property. Steller sea lions are large and powerful animals that can be aggressive and move as quickly as a person on land. As noted above, if a person ends up seriously injuring or killing the marine mammal, the person may be subject to prosecution under the MMPA and/or ESA.
Individuals attempting to deter nuisance sea lions do so at their own risk.
I am a commercial fisherman, what can I do to deter Steller sea lions?
It depends on whether you are fishing west or east of 144° W longitude.
- Commercial fishermen cannot deter western distinct population segment Steller sea lions.
- Commercial fishermen are allowed to deter eastern distinct population Steller sea lions from damaging gear or catch, so long as such measures do not result in serious injury or death.
- Educate people on your vessel about the negative effects of feeding sea lions. Prominently post our wheelhouse guide.
Am I required to submit reports if I injure or kill a Steller sea lion during the course of commercial fishing operations?
Yes! Under the MMPA, any vessel owner or operator, or gear owner or operator (in the case of non-vessel fisheries), participating in a fishery listed on the MMPA List of Fisheries must report to NOAA Fisheries all incidental mortalities and injuries of marine mammals that occur during commercial fishing operations, regardless of the fishery, within 48 hours of the end of the fishing trip or, in the case of non-vessel fisheries, fishing activity.
“Injury” means a wound or other physical harm. Note that any animal that ingests fishing gear, or any animal that is released with fishing gear entangling, trailing, or perforating any part of the body, is considered injured, regardless of whether there is a wound or other evidence of injury, and must be reported.
Mortality/injury report forms are on the Marine Mammal Authorization Program website.
I am a harbor master, what can I do to deter Steller sea lions in the eastern distinct population segment?
Steller sea lions occasionally become habituated to human activity in harbors, and can become a nuisance or even a danger to people. Regulations under the MMPA allow government officials to deter marine mammals from areas frequented by humans, but currently government officials are not authorized to deter marine mammal species that are listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA. There is a national effort underway to develop guidelines for safely deterring marine mammals, including specific measures for deterring ESA-listed marine mammals, but these are not yet available.
In the interim, NOAA Fisheries recommends the following steps to discourage Steller sea lions from becoming a nuisance, or to deal with animals that pose a potential threat to human safety.
Do Not Feed
The most important factor in preventing negative sea lion behavior in harbors is to ensure that fish waste is disposed of properly and to eliminate any sources of food.
Ensure that fish cleaning stations are in locations where they will not attract sea lions. Provide sealable bins for fish waste and dump these bins far enough from the harbor that they do not attract sea lions.
Ensure that harbor users do not leave whole fish or discarded fish pieces where sea lions can reach them.
Remind users that feeding sea lions is illegal and enforce a “no feeding” policy in your harbor.
Educate users about the negative effects of feeding sea lions. Prominently post signage in each harbor to educate users that feeding sea lions is illegal. To learn more, see our latest “Do Not Feed” (PDF) outreach brochure.
NOAA encourages all harbor masters to adopt the above measures, regardless of whether your harbor lies west or east of 144° W longitude.
Passive measures to deter non-ESA protected Steller sea lions from using floats or moorings include low-profile railings, rigid fencing, closely spaced posts, scarecrows, brightly colored flagging, and inflatable air dancers. It is important to remain vigilant and change these deterrents often or the animals may likely become habituated.
If the above measures do not work and there is an aggressive sea lion in your harbor, contact NOAA Fisheries Protected Resources Division at (907) 586-7424 or (907) 586-7236. We may authorize additional specific deterrence methods on a case-by-case basis, with the understanding that whatever method is used must be conducted in a humane manner and cannot cause injury or mortality. If specific authorized measures are taken, records must be kept and sent to NOAA Fisheries explaining the animal’s behavior, deterrence measures taken, and the animal’s response to the deterrent.
NOAA Fisheries is not responsible for the removal of nuisance animals.
Any instances of sea lions injuring people or placing the public at physical risk should be reported immediately to the NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement at (800) 853-1964.
- For more information about Steller sea lion deterrence, please contact: Kim Raum-Suryan
- To report instances of sea lions injuring people or placing the public at risk, please contact NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement at (800) 853-1964.
- Steller Sea Lions
- Marine Mammal Stranding Program (Stranding Hotline: 877-925-7773)
- Marine Mammal Viewing Guidelines
- Buying or Finding Marine Mammal Parts and Products
- Entanglement and Marine Debris
- Frequent Questions: Feeding or Harassing Marine Mammals in the Wild
- Endangered Species Act (ESA) Species and Critical Habitat Mapper
- Permits and Authorizations
- Protecting Marine Life in Alaska