Management Overview

Steller sea lions are are protected under both the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. They are comprised of two populations: the Western distinct population segment (DPS) and the Eastern DPS. The Western DPS is listed as endangered under ESA and, therefore also designated as depleted under the MMPA. As a result, the stock is classified as a "strategic stock".

The Eastern DPS was previously listed as a threatened species under the ESA, but has since recovered to the point that it is no longer considered threatened. The recovery of the Eastern population of Steller sea lion is a significant achievement under the ESA. The only other time NOAA took action to delist a species was in 1994, with the now thriving eastern population of North Pacific gray whales.

Recovery Planning and Implementation

Recovery Action

Under the ESA, NOAA Fisheries is required to develop and implement recovery plans for the conservation and survival of listed species.

A recovery plan for the Steller sea lion was published in 1992. A revised recovery plan was issued in 2008. The major actions recommended in the plan are:

  • Continue to estimate population trends.
  • Reduce or eliminate injury and mortality caused by fisheries and fishing gear.
  • Protect habitats essential to the survival and recovery of the species.
  • Minimize effects of vessel disturbance.
  • Continue ban on hunting and other directed take.
  • Conduct an effective outreach program to inform the public about Steller sea lion biology, habitat utilization, and conservation issues.


NOAA Fisheries is working to minimize effects from human activities that are detrimental to the recovery of Steller sea lion populations in the United States. Together with our partners, we undertake numerous activities to support the goals of the Steller sea lion recovery plan, with the ultimate goal to delist the species.

Efforts to conserve Steller sea lions include:

  • Education and outreach about harassment, feeding, and entanglements.
  • Protecting habitat and designating critical habitat.
  • Reducing bycatch.
  • Rescue, disentanglement, and rehabilitation.

Critical Habitat Designation

Once a species is listed under the ESA, NOAA Fisheries evaluates and identifies whether any areas meet the definition of critical habitat. Those areas may be designated as critical habitat through a rulemaking process. The designation of an area as critical habitat does not create a closed area, marine protected area, refuge, wilderness reserve, preservation, or other conservation area; nor does the designation affect land ownership. Federal agencies that undertake, fund, or permit activities that may affect these designated critical habitat areas are required to consult with NOAA Fisheries to ensure that their actions do not adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat.

In 1993, critical habitat was designated (PDF, 190 pages) for Steller sea lions range-wide in the United States (both DPSs), and included 20-nautical mile buffer around all major haul-outs and rookeries, and three large offshore foraging areas in the Gulf of Alaska, eastern Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. NOAA Fisheries also designated no-entry zones around rookeries, and implemented a complex suite of fishery management measures designed to minimize competition between fishing and the endangered population of Steller sea lions in critical habitat areas. NOAA Fisheries is currently working to designate critical habitat for the Western DPS alone now that the Eastern DPS has recovered and was delisted in 2013.

View critical habitat maps for Stellar sea lions:

Find GIS files:


    Conservation Efforts

    Overseeing Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response

    We work with volunteer networks in all coastal states to respond to marine mammal strandings including seals and sea lions. When stranded animals are found alive, NOAA Fisheries and our partners assess the animal’s health. When stranded animals are found dead, our scientists work to understand and investigate the cause of death. Although the cause often remains unknown, scientists can sometimes identify strandings due to disease, harmful algal blooms, vessel strikes, fishing gear entanglements, pollution exposure, and underwater noise. Some strandings can serve as indicators of ocean health, giving insight into larger environmental issues that may also have implications for human health and welfare.

    Learn more about the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program

    Educating the Public

    NOAA Fisheries aims to increase public awareness and support for Steller sea lion conservation through education, outreach, and public participation. We regularly share information with the public about the status of sea lions, as well as our research and efforts to promote their recovery.

    Regulatory History

    The Steller sea lion was listed under the ESA as threatened throughout its range in 1990. This listing included animals from Alaska, California, Oregon, and Washington in the United States, as well as Canada, Japan, and Russia. In 1993, critical habitat was designated for Steller sea lions in certain areas and waters of Alaska, Oregon, and California.

    In 1997, the population west of 144° West longitude was listed as an endangered DPS (the Western DPS) under the ESA. The population east of 144° West longitude remained listed as threatened as the Eastern DPS. The Western DPS declined by 75 percent between 1976 and 1990. It decreased another 40 percent between 1991 and 2000 (the average annual decline during this period was 5.4 percent) leading to the division of the species into the two distinct population segments and listing the Western DPS as endangered.

    The Eastern DPS of Steller sea lions was delisted in November 2013 as a direct result of the recovery efforts and protections provided by the ESA.

    Key Documents

    A complete list of regulatory and management documents for steller sea lions is available.