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NOAA Fisheries to Hold Public Hearings on Proposed Critical Habitat for Ringed and Bearded Seals

February 01, 2021

Public comments accepted through March 9, 2021.

A bearded seal pup rests on sea ice. Credit John Jansen/NOAA Fisheries A bearded seal pup rests on sea ice. John Jansen/NOAA Fisheries

NOAA Fisheries will hold three public hearings on proposed rules to designate critical habitat in U.S. waters off the coast of Alaska for Arctic ringed seals and the Beringia distinct population segment of bearded seals under the Endangered Species Act. 

NOAA Fisheries opened a 60-day public comment period on the proposed rules when they were published in the Federal Register on

An adult bearded seal on sea ice. Credit Gavin Brady/NOAA
An adult bearded seal on sea ice. Gavin Brady/NOAA

January 8, 2021. The proposed critical habitat in the northern Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas provides sea ice conditions that are essential for ringed and bearded seal pupping, nursing, basking, and molting, as well as primary prey resources to support these seals. For bearded seals, the proposed critical habitat also provides acoustic conditions that allow for effective communication for breeding purposes.

A ringed seal peers out from a snow cave.
A ringed seal peers out from a snow cave. Brendan P. Kelly/NOAA Fisheries

The principal consequence of critical habitat designations is that federal agencies are required to ensure that the actions they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to destroy or adversely modify critical habitat.

The Endangered Species Act contains an exemption for Alaska Natives from the Act’s take prohibitions. The proposed critical habitat designations would not affect subsistence harvest of these species by Alaska Natives.

The three public hearings will be held by conference calls, convening at 4 p.m. and concluding no later than 7 p.m. Alaska Standard Time on each of the following dates:  

  • February 23, 2021 (Yukon-Kuskokwim and southwest Alaska)
  • February 24, 2021 (Northwest Arctic Borough and northern Bering Sea)
  • February 25, 2021 (North Slope Borough)

The hearings may close 15 minutes after the conclusion of public testimony and after responding to any clarifying questions from hearing participants about the proposed critical habitat designations.

Conference call information for all three hearings is the same:  

Telephone (800) 201-3962; Conference Code: 651174

For each hearing date, participation by interested members of the public wishing to provide testimony specific to the regions identified is encouraged. However, all hearings are open to all interested parties and we will accept testimony regarding any area or aspect of the proposed critical habitat designations. During each hearing, the agency will provide a brief opening presentation before accepting public testimony for the record.

Anyone making an oral statement at the public hearings is encouraged to also submit a written copy of their statement to the agency. They must be submitted before the close of the public comment period on March 9, 2021.

You may submit written comments, identified by Docket ID NOAA-NMFS-2013-0114 for the Arctic ringed seal proposed critical habitat and NOAA-NMFS-2020-0029 for the Beringia DPS of bearded seals proposed critical habitat, by either of the following methods:

  • Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal:
  • Mail: Address written comments to Jon Kurland, Assistant Regional Administrator for Protected Resources, Alaska Region, NMFS, Attn: James Bruschi, P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802-1668.

For more information, read the Federal Register publications and supporting documents:

Last updated by Alaska Regional Office on February 01, 2021

Ice Seals