News: January 11, 2010, updated February 7, 2010 & March 8, 2010

TASSC Annual Meeting - April 26, Business Meeting 26 & 27

2010-2011 A Way of Life Calendar Hot off the Press!

SW Alaska Sea Otter Critical Habitat Declared

Hot Issues in Brief

2008 Steller Sea Lion Harvest Data

2009 Alaskan Steller Sea Lion Survey Results: Pup Survey and Seasonal Movement Assessment

Steller Sea Lion Marine Debris

TASSC Annual & Regular Business Meeting - April 26-27, 2010

TASSC's Annual Meeting will be held April 26 in Anchorage, Alaska. A regular business meeting will follow immediately thereafter and continue into the 27th.

The meeting will be held in the AVI Board room, located at 1577 C Street, on the third floor.

An Agenda can be downloaded here.

Other materials that may be downloaded include:

Please contact us if you plan to attend or would like more information.

A telephonic link will be available. We hope to see you there!



TASSC 24 month 2010-2011 Calendar Hot off the Press!

Our 2010-2011 A Way of Life Calendar is now available! For more information see our Calendar page or contact us at 1.800.474.4362 or 907.286.2377.


Southwest Sea Otter Critical Habitat Declared

On October 8, 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published the final rule for critical habitat for the Southwest population of sea otter.

The SW sea otter population encompasses otters found from Kamishak Bay in Western Cook Inlet southwest to the end of the Aleutian Islands, including the Kodiak Island Archipelago, and the south and north sides of the Alaska Peninsula.

Critical habitat was first proposed in December 2008, encompassing approximately 5,900 square miles of near shore marine waters. Elements were identified that were deemed essential to the continued survival of the species. The primary rationale for determining which areas to include was determined to be features that provide protection and cover from marine predators; thus the proposed critical habitat encompassed areas that are shallow and close to shore.

Critical habitat became effective 30 days after the publication of final rule. With the designation of critical habitat, federal actions that occur within critical habitat cannot destroy or adversely modify critical habitat, as under the ESA, federal agencies are prohibited from jeopardizing the continued existence of an ESA listed species. Agencies with actions that affect critical habitat must consult with the USFWS. Actions that do not have a federal link (funding, permitting, authorized, etc.) are not subject to the consultation requirements.

A copy of the final rule can be found here.

For more information, including maps detailing the critical habitat see the USFWS Alaska region website.

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Hot Issues in Brief

  • Significantly Altered: what constitutes significantly altered for marine mammal handicraft? There is a desire by some to clarify or revisit the existing regulations.
  • Alaska Native Definition and Descendants: some want to change the current regulations to be more inclusive of descendants.
  • Tribal Consultation Methods: are currently under review by Federal Agencies pursuant to President Obama’s Order November 5, 2009.
  • Review of Subsistence: the Department of Interior Subsistence Program is under review and being revamped. Get your comments in!
  • Sea Lion Biosampling: Trainings are being planned and valuable information will be gained from the samples.

Please contact us if would more information on any of these topics!

2008 Steller Sea Lion Harvest Data

Steller sea lion harvest in 2008 has dropped to its lowest level since 1992, when harvest data collection first began. However, trends over the last few years indicate that harvests have stabilized. Despite the lower harvest levels, sea lion harvest and utilization continues to be important for subsistence.

A total of 146 sea lions are estimated to have been taken in 2008 (116 harvested & 30 sea lions struck and lost). By region, harvest levels (includes harvest and S&L) are estimated at:

  • Southeast: 10 SSL
  • North Pacific Rim: 25 SSL
  • Upper Kenai/CI: 0 SSL
  • Kodiak Island: 19 SSL
  • S. AK Peninsula: 9 SSL
  • Aleutian Islands: 48 SSL
  • Pribilof Islands: 36 SSL
  • S & N. Bristol Bay: 0 SSL

Consistent with past years, in 2008, males and juveniles were the harvest preference. Males comprised 75% of all sea lions harvested; 42% were adults, 58% were juvenile and 0% were pups.

Harbor seal harvest has also declined since 1992, and the 2008 seal harvest was the second lowest since the program began. The reasons for these declines are not certain. Possible factors include fewer hunters, personal circumstances of the hunters, changing food needs, concern over population status, or economic considerations such as high fuel prices.

The majority of data was collected through systematic retrospective surveys in over 60 coastal communities, through a program administered by the Alaska Native Harbor Seal Commission, in cooperation with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Subsistence Division, Bristol Bay Native Association, Aleut Marine Mammal Commission, and Southeast Alaska Inter-Tribal Fish and Wildlife Commission. Data for St. Paul Island was collected through a separate program collecting real-time data administered by the St. Paul Tribal Council Ecosystem Conservation Office. For the 2008 survey, data was collected in 52 communities.

For more information, see:
Jones, D.G. 2009. 2009 subsistence harvest of Steller sea lion on St. Paul Island memorandum for the record. Memorandum to Michael T. Williams, Pribilof Islands Program Manager, Fur Seal Coordinator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries. From Aleut Community of St. Paul Island., 27 April 2009. Anchorage.

Wolfe, R.J, J.A. Fall and M. Riedel. 2009. The subsistence harvest of harbor seals and sea lions by Alaska Natives in 2008. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Subsistence Technical Paper No. 347, Anchorage.

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2009 Alaskan Steller Sea Lion Survey Results: Pup Survey and Seasonal Assessment

The National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML), Alaska Fisheries Science Center, is the federal research agency for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

NMML conducts surveys in Alaska every other year to estimate pup production (the number Steller sea lion pups born that year) in order to determine pup production trend. In alternate years, NMML conducts aerial surveys to document non-pup (juvenile and adult) abundance and trend.

The 2009 survey was conducted over a 3 week period from late-June to mid-July. The survey had several objectives. The first purpose of the survey was to conduct the biannual pup survey. The second objective of the survey was to survey non-pup sea lions in Southeast Alaska and the central/eastern Gulf of Alaska (GOA) to gain a better understanding of seasonal movement and its impact on survey timing and results.

PUP Survey Results: Western Stock
Based on the survey results, a total of 11,120 pups are estimated for the Western stock (all sea lions that breed on rookeries west of 144˚W, between Yakutat and Cordova). Overall pup production increased in the Western stock by 1,170 pups from the 2005 survey. However, several areas were not able to be surveyed: the Western Aleutians and the Pribilof Islands. For these areas, survey data from prior surveys was included in the data analysis.

As with the non-pup survey results from 2008, regional differences in trend emerge.

From 2005 to 2009:

  • Pup production declined in the Western (-64 pups) and Central Aleutians (-120 pups)
  • Pup production increased in the Eastern Aleutians (+378 pups)
  • Pup production also increased in all areas of the Gulf of Alaska - Western GOA (+355 pups), central GOA (+169 pups) and Eastern GOA (+203 pups)

From 2001/02 to 2009

  • Pup production declined 43% in the Western Aleutians and declined 7% in the central Aleutians
  • Pup production increased 47% in the Eastern Aleutians
  • For the Gulf of Alaska subregions, pup production increased at 23% for the Western GOA, 6% for the central GOA and 57% in the Eastern GOA.
  • There was an overall positive change of 14% for the Western population, or approximately 5 more pups are born each year at each rookery since 2001/02 to 2009.

PUP Survey Results:

Southeast AK Overall pup production also increased at the 5 rookeries in Southeast Alaska, totaling 7,462 pups born in 2009. This was an increase of 1,933 pups from the 2005 survey. This is equivalent to 97 more pups born each year at each of the 5 major rookeries.

Comparing the survey results to those from 2001/02 “rookery pup production increased 50% (from 4969 to 7443) in SE Alaska, which is equivalent to an increase of approximately 62 pups per rookery per year” (DeMaster, 2009).

NON-PUP Survey results: Southeast AK & Central/Eastern GOA
The 2008 juvenile/adult survey results from the Eastern Gulf of Alaska and Southeast Alaska raised questions and prompted resurvey in 2009. In 2008, fewer animals than expected were counted in Southeast Alaska. Conversely, in the Eastern Gulf of Alaska, more animals were counted than could be explained by reproduction alone. In addition, the survey was conducted in early June, which is earlier than the usual survey time. This lead to the hypothesis that seasonal movement affected the survey results, and that not all animals had returned to their birth rookery when the survey was conducted, resulting in the higher numbers in the Eastern GOA, and lower numbers in SE Alaska. The 2009 survey was conducted several weeks after the 2008 survey, in late June, and its results are consistent with the seasonal movement hypothesis.

In the “late” 2009 survey as compared to the “early” 2008 survey, NMML counted:

  • 3,048 more non-pups on trend sites and 2,636 more non-pups on all sites in SE AK
  • 501 fewer non-pups on trend sites and 812 fewer non-pups on all sites in Eastern GOA
  • 404 more non-pups on the 28 of 33 trend sites in the Central GOA. (DeMaster, 2009)”

Based on these results, there is an adjusted estimate for juvenile/adult sea lions in the Western population of 26,589 (or an alternate estimate of 26,407 depending on treatment of “extra” non-pups in the central Gulf). Based on these estimates, for the Western population non-pup Stellers, there has been an increase of 12% (or 11%) in juvenile/adult sea lion numbers from 2000 to 2008, and a positive increase of 1% (or 0%) from 2004 to 2008 in non-pup numbers.

Future studies will be necessary to determine the impact of seasonal movement on survey timing and trend survey results.

For more information, see:
DeMaster, D. 2009. Aerial Survey of Steller Sea Lions in Alaska, June-July 2009 and Update on the Status of the Western Stock in Alaska. Memorandum to the Record, 2 December 2009. http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/nmml/PDF/SSL-Survey-09-memo-11-30-09.pdf

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Steller Sea Lion Marine Debris Entanglement

In our last newsletter, we reported on a new DVD produced and distributed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game talking about marine mammal entanglement and ways to reduce this threat.

A related article was recently published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, entitled “Entanglement of Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) in marine debris: Identifying causes and finding solutions” (Raum-Suryan et al., 2009).

To date, there is very little Steller sea lion entanglement reported in the literature, however marine mammal entanglement in marine debris is a world-wide problem. The authors thought this may be because there was little effort spent looking for entangled sea lions, and that those animals that became entangled may die at sea, thus never be found or reported.

The major aim of their study was to collect baseline data for Steller sea lion marine debris entanglement. The study occurred in Southeast Alaska and northern British Columbia from 2000 to 2007. Entanglement data was collected incidentally during other studies at rookeries and haul-outs, at a total of 78 sites. Opportunistic data from public reports or from other agencies / researchers was also used.

RESULTS
A total of 386 sea lions were observed entangled or having ingested fishing gear over the 7 year period.

Of the animals observed:

  • 49% or 190 animals were entangled around their neck;
  • 50% or 194 sea lions had ingested commercial or sport fishing gear;
  • 1% or 2 animals had monofilament fishing line wrapped around either the chest or a head-mounted satellite transmitter.

Of the 190 animals with a neck entanglements:

  • 77% had the debris so deeply embedded in their flesh that the debris could not be identified;
  • Of the 44 animals where the debris could be identified, packing bands were most common, comprising 54%. Other debris included: rubber bands at 30%, net at 7%, rope at 7%, and monofilament line at 2%.

Of the 194 animals that had ingested fishing gear:

  • 80% had salmon fishery flashers visible, presumably with the hook ingested
  • 12% longline hook and gangion
  • 4% line/monofilament line and hook
  • 2% spinners and spoons & 2% bait hooks

Juveniles were most commonly observed entangled (28%) and with ingested longline gear (over 80%). Males ingested more salmon fishing gear than females.

WHAT CAN WE DO?
Currently, National Marine Fisheries Service (the management agency for seals, sea lions and whales) classifies an entangled marine mammal as “stranded.” Reporting entangled animals and contacting the Alaska Stranding Network if an entangled SSL is found will provide more complete data and allow for a better understanding of the impacts of marine debris and entanglement to sea lions as a whole.

Besides being careful of garbage that can end up in the ocean, two of the most important things we can do are:
“Loose the Loop!” and “Go Bandless!” Please cut any loops that could encircle a marine bird or animal. Other solutions the authors identify include encouraging monofilament recycling, encouraging the fishing industry to develop and use biodegradable materials, beach clean-ups, and working with the fishing industry to identify better ways to reduce interactions with fishing gear.

For more information, see:
Raum-Suryan, K.L., L.A. Jemison and K.W. Pitcher. 2009. Entanglement of Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) in marine debris: Identifying causes and finding solutions. Marine Pollution Bulletin 58 - 1487-1495.


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