NOAA Fisheries concluded that the listing of Pacific harbor seals in Iliamna Lake, Alaska as an endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is not warranted. The seals do not constitute a species as defined by the ESA, and thus do not meet the criteria for listing under the Act.
This decision comes after a careful review of the best available data available in response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity.
The petition asserted that the harbor seals found in Iliamna Lake should be considered a Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of Pacific harbor seals because they are discrete from harbor seals in Bristol Bay, Alaska, and are significant to the species. The petition asserted the seals in Iliamna Lake face threats warranting protection by the ESA. Threats cited included impacts from proposed mine developments, climate change, and ocean acidification.
NOAA Fisheries conducted a thorough review and considered the best available data, including the petition and literature cited in the petition; a scientific evaluation of the ecological distinctness of harbor seals in Iliamna Lake; published and grey literature relevant to the topic; correspondence with experts in academic and government institutions; local traditional knowledge; and public comments.
The best available information led NOAA Fisheries to conclude that the harbor seals in Iliamna Lake are discrete from, but not ecologically significant to, the Pacific harbor seal subspecies, and thus do not meet the criteria for a DPS. The harbor seals in Iliamna Lake do not constitute a species, subspecies, or DPS of Pacific harbor seals, and therefore are not an entity eligible for listing under the ESA.
Within Alaska, there are more than 150,000 harbor seals, which are divided into 12 separate stocks all protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
A copy of the decision will be available online.