[Federal Register Volume 72, Number 97 (Monday, May 21, 2007)]
[Pages 28473-28475]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: E7-9755]



National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

[I.D. 041307C]

Endangered and Threatened Species; Recovery Plans

AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Administration, Commerce.

ACTION: Notice of availability; request for comments.


SUMMARY: NMFS announces the availability of the Draft Revised Recovery 
Plan ( Draft Revised Plan), dated May 2007, for the western and eastern 
distinct population segments (DPS) of Steller sea lion (Eumetopias 
jubatus). NMFS is soliciting review and comment on the Draft Revised 
Plan from all interested parties. Due to continued and substantial 
public interest in the recovery plan to-date, NMFS is releasing an 
updated version of the Draft Revised Plan for additional review and 
written comments.

DATES: Comments on the Draft Revised Plan must be received by close of 
business on August 20, 2007.

ADDRESSES: Send comments to Kaja Brix, Assistant Regional 
Administrator, Protected Resources Division, Alaska Region, NMFS, Attn: 
Ellen Walsh. Comments may be submitted by:
     E-mail: [email protected]. Include in the subject line the 
following document identifier: Sea Lion Recovery Plan. E-mail comments, 
with or without attachments, are limited to 5 megabytes.
     Mail: P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802.
     Hand delivery to the Federal Building: 709 West 9th 
Street, Juneau, AK.
     Fax: (907) 586 7012.
    Interested persons may obtain the Draft Revised Plan for review 
from the above address or online from the NMFS Alaska Region website: 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Kaja Brix, (907 586 7235), e-mail 
[email protected].



    Recovery plans are guidance documents that describe the actions 
considered necessary for the conservation and recovery of species 
listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973, as amended (16 
U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). Development and implementation of a recovery plan 
helps to ensure that recovery efforts utilize limited resources 
effectively and efficiently. The ESA requires the development of 
recovery plans for listed species, unless such a plan would not promote 
the recovery of a particular species. The ESA requires that recovery 
plans incorporate the following: (1) Objective, measurable criteria 
that, when met, would result in a determination that the species is no 
longer threatened or endangered; (2) site-specific management actions 
necessary to achieve the plan's goals; and (3) estimates of the time 
and costs required to implement recovery actions. NMFS will consider 
all substantive comments and information presented during the public 
comment period prior to finalizing the Steller Sea Lion Recovery Plan.
    NMFS' goal is to restore endangered and threatened Steller sea lion 
(Eumetopias jubatus) populations to levels at which they are secure, 
self-sustaining components of their ecosystems and no longer require 
the protections of the ESA. The Steller sea lion was listed as a 
threatened species under the ESA on April 5, 1990 (55 FR 12645), due to 
substantial declines in the western portion of the range. Critical 
habitat was designated on August 27, 1993 (58 FR 45269), based on the 
locations of terrestrial rookeries and haulouts, the spatial extent of 
foraging trips, and availability of prey. In 1997, Steller sea lions 
were reclassified as two DPSs under the ESA, a western DPS and an 
eastern DPS, based on demographic and genetic dissimilarities (62 FR 
24345, 62 FR 30772). Due to a persistent population decline, the 
western DPS was reclassified as endangered at that time. The increasing 
eastern DPS remained classified as threatened. Through the 1990s, the 
western DPS continued to decline. Then between 2000 and 2004, the 
western population showed a growth rate of approximately three percent 
per year -- the first recorded increase in the population since the 
1970s. Based on recent counts, the western DPS is currently about 
44,800 animals. The eastern DPS is currently between 45,000 and 51,000 
animals and has been increasing at a rate of approximately three 
percent per year for 30 years.
    The first Steller sea lion recovery plan was completed in December 
1992 and encompassed the entire range of the species. However, the 
recovery plan became obsolete after the split into two DPSs in 1997. By 
that time, nearly all of the recovery actions recommended in the 
original plan were completed. In 2001, NMFS assembled a new recovery 
team to update the plan. The team was

[[Page 28474]]

comprised of members representing marine mammal and fishery scientists, 
the fishing industry, Alaska Natives, and environmental organizations. 
The recovery team completed a draft revision in February 2006, then 
solicited peer review on the draft recovery plan in accordance with 
NMFS' 1994 peer review policy. The team requested review from five 
scientists and managers with expertise in recovery planning, 
statistical analyses, fisheries, and marine mammals. In response to 
reviewers' comments, the team clarified the recovery criteria, added 
delisting criteria for the western DPS, and further refined priorities 
and recovery actions. In March 2006, the Team submitted the revised 
plan to NOAA Fisheries with unanimous endorsement from the 17 Team 
    In May 2006, NMFS released the draft Steller Sea Lion Recovery Plan 
for public review and comment (71 FR 29919). On July 20, 2006, NMFS 
extended the customary 60-day comment period until September 1, 2006 
(71 FR 41206) to provide additional time for public review and 
comments. NMFS received comments from 18 individuals and organizations 
during the 100-day comment period. We reviewed these comments and 
incorporated recommendations into the Draft Revised Plan. A summary of 
public comments and NMFS' formal response to these comments are 
available online at http://www.fakr.noaa.gov/.
    Due to extensive public interest and the controversial nature of 
this recovery plan, NMFS is releasing the Draft Revised Plan for 
another round of public reviews and comments. This will provide the 
public an opportunity to review changes made based on earlier public 
input and to provide further comments prior to release of the final 
Steller Sea Lion Recovery Plan.


    The Draft Revised Plan contains: (1) A comprehensive review of 
Steller sea lion ecology, (2) a review of previous conservation 
actions, (3) a threats assessment, (4) biological and recovery criteria 
for downlisting and delisting, (4) actions necessary for the recovery 
of the species, and (5) estimates of time and costs for recovery.
    The threats assessment concludes that the following threats to the 
western DPS are relatively minor: Alaska Native subsistence harvest, 
illegal shooting, entanglement in marine debris, disease, and 
disturbance from vessel traffic and scientific research. Although much 
has been learned about Steller sea lions and the North Pacific 
ecosystem, considerable uncertainty remains about the magnitude and 
likelihood of the following potential threats (relative impacts in 
parenthesis): competition with fisheries (potentially high), 
environmental variability (potentially high), killer whale predation 
(medium), incidental take by fisheries (low), and toxic substances 
(medium). In contrast, no threats were identified for the eastern DPS. 
Although several factors that affect the western DPS also affect the 
eastern DPS (e.g., environmental variability, killer whale predation, 
toxic substances, disturbance), these threats do not appear to be 
limiting recovery of the population at this time.
    The Draft Revised Plan identifies an array of substantive actions 
that will foster recovery of the western DPS by addressing the broad 
range of threats. It highlights three actions (detailed below) that are 
especially important to the recovery program for the western DPS:
    1. Maintain current fishery conservation measures: After a long-
term decline, the western DPS appears to be stabilizing. The first 
slowing of the decline began in the 1990s, which suggests that 
management measures implemented in the early 1990s may have been 
effective in reducing anthropogenic effects (e.g., shooting, 
harassment, and incidental take). The apparent population stability 
observed in the last six years appears to be correlated with 
comprehensive fishery management measures implemented since the late 
1990s. Therefore, the current suite of management actions (or their 
equivalent protection) should be maintained until substantive evidence 
demonstrates that these measures can be altered without inhibiting 
    2. Design and implement an adaptive management program to evaluate 
fishery conservation measures: A scientifically rigorous adaptive 
management program should be developed and implemented. A well-designed 
adaptive management plan has the potential to assess the relative 
impact of commercial fisheries on Steller sea lions and distinguish the 
impacts of fisheries from other threats (including killer whale 
predation). This program will require a robust experimental design with 
replication at appropriate temporal and spatial scales. It will be a 
challenge to construct an adaptive management plan that is 
statistically sound, meets the requirements of the ESA and can be 
implemented in a practicable manner.
    3. Continue population monitoring and research on the key threats 
potentially impeding sea lion recovery: Estimates of population 
abundance and trends, spatial distribution, health, and essential 
habitat characteristics are fundamental to Steller sea lion management 
and recovery. Current knowledge of the effects of primary threats on 
these parameters is insufficient to determine their relative impacts on 
species recovery. Focused research is needed to assess the effects of 
threats on sea lion population dynamics and identify suitable 
mitigation measures.
    Criteria for reclassification of the eastern DPS and western DPS of 
Steller sea lion are included in the Draft Revised Plan. In summary, 
the western DPS of Steller sea lion may be reclassified from endangered 
to threatened status when all of the following have been met: (1) 
Counts of non-pups in the U.S. portion of the DPS have increased for 15 
years (on average); (2) the population ecology and vital rates in the 
U.S. region are consistent with the observed trend; (3) the non-pup 
trends in at least five of the seven sub-regions are consistent with 
the overall U.S. trend, and the population trend in any two adjacent 
sub-regions can not be declining significantly; and (4) all five 
listing factors [as described in section 4(a)(1) of the ESA] are 
    The western DPS of Steller sea lion may be delisted when all of the 
following conditions have been met: (1) Counts of non-pups in the U.S. 
portion of the DPS have increased at an average annual rate of three 
percent for 30 years (i.e., 3 generations); (2) the population ecology 
and vital rates in the U.S. region are consistent with the observed 
trend; (3) the non-pup trends in at least five of the seven sub-regions 
are consistent with the overall U.S. trend, the population trend in any 
two adjacent sub-regions can not be declining significantly, and the 
population trend in any single sub-region can not have declined by more 
than 50 percent; and (4) all five listing factors are addressed.
    The eastern DPS of Steller sea lion may be delisted when all of the 
following have been met: (1) The population has increased at an average 
rate of three percent per year for 30 years (i.e., three generations); 
(2) the population ecology and vital rates are consistent with the 
observed trend; and (4) all five listing factors are addressed.
    Time and costs for recovery actions for the western DPS are 
estimated at $93,840,000 for the first 5 fiscal years and $430,425,000 
for full recovery. The recovery program for the eastern DPS will cost 
an estimated $150,000 for the first year and $1,050,000 total, 
including 10 years of post-delisting monitoring.

[[Page 28475]]

Public Comments Solicited

    NMFS solicits written comments on the draft Revised Recovery Plan. 
All substantive comments received by the date specified above will be 
considered prior to final approval of the Plan.

    Authority: Section 4(f) of the ESA (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: May 16, 2007.
Angela Somma,
Chief, Endangered Species Division, Office of Protected Resources, 
National Marine Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. E7-9755 Filed 5-18-07; 8:45 am]