News: July 19, 2010

TASSC’s Annual Meeting

MMPA Reauthorization Overview

Descendants and Marine Mammals Subsistence

Steller Sea Lion Biosampling Trainings

Initiation of a Status Review on the Eastern Population of Steller Sea Lions

Port Heiden Harbor Seal Project Report

2009 Stock Assessment Reports Available

TASSC's Annual Meeting

TASSC’s Annual Meeting was held Monday, April 26 in Anchorage, Alaska. It was followed by a Regular Board meeting that continued through April 27th.

A number of tribes attended either in person or via teleconference.

Participants heard a report on TASSC activities since the last meeting, regional reports and concerns, a research report from Tom Gelatt with the Steller Sea Lion Program, National Marine Mammal Laboratory, a report on management issues from Lisa Rotterman, National Marine Fisheries Service, and a research report from Susan Oehlers from the U.S. Forest Service, Yakutat Ranger District. The Commission also discussed concerns with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement regarding the definition of Alaska Native in the marine mammal regulations and the definition of significantly altered. Other items discussed included marine mammal co-management and upcoming events.

Contact us for more information: 1-800-474-4362 within Alaska or at 1-907-286-2377.

MMPA Reauthorization Overview

For over ten years, the Marine Mammal Protection Act has been up for reauthorization. Over this time, the Indigenous People’s Council on Marine Mammals worked with Federal Agencies and the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission to develop an amendment package that would strengthen co-management provisions in the Act.

Currently, the MMPA contains Section 119, which was included in the Act in 1994. Section 119 provides a mechanism for cooperative agreements to be developed between Alaska Native Organizations and the Federal government for the co-management of subsistence uses of marine mammals for, among other purposes:
1. Collecting and analyzing data on marine mammal populations;
2. Monitoring the subsistence harvest of marine mammals;
3. Participating in research conducted by the Federal government, states, academic institutions, and private organizations, and
4. Developing co-management structures with Federal and State agencies.

Presently, marine mammal harvest may only be managed in certain circumstances.
Tribal governments have the authority to develop at any time regulations and ordinances for marine mammal harvest for their tribal members to encompass their traditional areas. However, those regulations and ordinances are binding only on members of that particular tribe, so if a tribal member of another tribe hunts in those areas, they are not bound by that plan. This is more an issue in urban areas or in rural hubs, however it has the potential to become an issue in any community.

The Federal government may only manage marine mammal harvest if and when a marine mammal stock has been declared depleted under the MMPA and it can be shown that harvest is materially and negatively affecting the population. It is only when these circumstances exist that marine mammal harvest can be regulated (with the exception of whales and fur seals, which have other laws in addition to the MMPA affecting their management). If a marine mammal is listed under the ESA as threatened or endangered, then it is also considered to be depleted under the MMPA.

Proposed Amendments
In the reauthorization package that was developed, the centerpiece is the ability to develop harvest management plans that will allow management before depletion through the co-management process.

The negotiated packaged will support the development of tribal management plans in which harvest management provisions can be included. Once a management plan with harvest regulations has been negotiated and agreed to between the ANO and with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Services, key provisions of the plan will be made available for public review and comment. After that period, these tribal management plans will have the force of federal law.

These management plans can be developed with Alaska Native Organizations such as the existing marine mammal commissions (such as any of the existing ANO marine mammal commissions) or with individual tribal governments.
Ideally, this would allow ANOs and the Federal Agency to address marine mammal conservation concerns if a marine mammal stock were declining or there were concerns about harvest level. It would allow the Tribally authorized ANO to adopt regulations with support from its member tribes that would carry the force of federal law. This tribal ordinance could be enforced in tribal court for tribal members, and for non-members, a federal citation could be issued. At this point it is uncertain when these amendments will go forward, though there is much support for these changes to be made. If you would like more information or have questions or concerns, please contact TASSC at 1-800-474-4362 (within AK) or at 1-907-286-2377.


Descendants and Marine Mammal Subsistence

The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), which became law in 1972, created a general moratorium on taking marine mammals in U.S. waters by U.S. citizens. Included in the Act were certain exemptions, including Section 101(b) which is the Alaska Native subsistence exemption (for any coastal Indian, Aleut or Eskimo).

Regulations are developed to make laws such as the MMPA enforceable. Federal regulations are found in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). After the MMPA became law, federal agencies developed regulations, and those for the MMPA are found in 50 CFR 18 for the USFWS and 50 CFR 216 for NMFS.

Included in these regulations are definitions for the terms used, including Alaskan Native. The definition used in the CFR mirrors the original definition of Alaskan Native in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, and stipulates that a person must be 1/4 blood quantum Alaska Native (or duly enrolled under ANCSA).

The effects of this minimum blood quantum requirement are now being felt in some of our coastal communities around Alaska. Specifically, some individuals that have been raised in households that traditionally harvest and use marine mammals may not meet the minimum blood quantum, despite this being a part of their tradition and normal practice. This leaves families in a difficult situation, having to choose between doing something illegal or passing on their traditions to their children and grandchildren.

Some people, tribes and organizations want to change the regulations now to include lineal descendants of those currently eligible. Some also wish to change the regulations to include duly enrolled Alaska Native tribal members.
The Kodiak region put forth a resolution to the 2009 AFN convention, which passed the full body, calling for the regulations for sea otter subsistence to be changed to include lineal descendents and tribal members.

However, not everyone supports this change. Some people question what kind of impact it would have on marine mammal harvest levels, and if it would push harvest levels to an unsustainable level. Some people also feel very strongly that they do not want to see the blood quantum requirement lowered.

It’s an issue that is become ever increasingly more pressing and affecting more and more people. We are looking for your input on this issue.

Please share your comments, questions or concerns with your regional Commissioner or our office at 1-800-474-4362 (in Alaska) or 907-286-2377.


Steller Sea Lion Biosampling Trainings

The Steller Sea Lion Biosampling Program is well underway and trainings have begun around the state.

Presently, trainings have been held in Old Harbor, Anchorage and Port Graham.

Several more trainings are being planned. If you are interested in learning more about biosampling, please contact our office (1-800-474-4362 in Alaska or 907-286-2377).

Priority Samples:
Biosamplers are asked to collect a number of samples when they biosample a subsistence harvested sea lion. Sampling is kept to a minimum to strictly priority samples.

  • Tooth to determine the sea lion’s age
  • Whiskers to look at the sea lion’s diet over the long term, some heavy metals
  • Skin Sample to look at sea lion genetics
  • Fat Sample for Diet Analysis/Contaminants
  • Muscle for Nutrition/Genetics
  • Hair for Contaminant Levels, esp. Mercury Levels
  • Liver for Contaminant Levels/Nutritional Levels
  • Kidney for Contaminant Levels such as Mercury, or Organochlorines
  • Stomach to determine the sea lion diet over the short term
  • Female Reproductive Tract to look at reproduction and how many times that sea lion had been pregnant



Initiation of a Status Review on the Eastern Population of Steller Sea Lions

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has just released notice that they are initiating a status review on the eastern population of Steller sea lions.

Steller sea lions east of Cape Sucking (located @ 144⁰ W longitude between Cordova & Yakutat) south along the Pacific coast to California are considered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to be a Distinct Population Segment (DPS).

Under the ESA, Status Reviews must be conducted to ensure that the species’ listing classification (threatened, endangered) is accurate, and is based on the best available scientific and commercial data at the time of the review.
NMFS is asking for all information you wish to submit on the sea lions’ status in this area. Information must be received by NMFS by August 30, 2010 in order to be considered in the review, however they do accept information on listed species at any time.

Specifically, NMFS is requesting information on:

  1. Species Biology
  2. Habitat conditions
  3. Implemented conservation measures
  4. Status and trends of threats
  5. Other new information, data or corrections

They will also consider the application of the DPS Vertebrate Policy to Stellers in this area.

Data and information can be submitted to:
Mail: Kaja Brix, NMFS, Alaska Region, Protected Resources, PO Box 21668, 709 West 9th Street, Juneau, Alaska 99802

Email:, include in email subject line: “Comments on the 5-year review for the eastern DPS of Steller sea lion”

Fax: 907-586-7557, attention Kaja Brix

For specific details, please see the Federal Register Notice published June 29, 2010. You may also may also contact TASSC (1-800-474-4362 in Alaska or 907-286-2377) and we would be happy to send you a copy!

Update: NMFS has reopened the comment period for the Eastern Steller sea lion population. Comments or information may be submitted through October 14, 2010 by the methods listed above.


Port Heiden Harbor Seal Project Report
by Jaclyn Christensen, Port Heiden Alaska

In 2008, the Bristol Bay Native Association (BBNA) received an Oak Foundation Grant to better understand harbor seal populations in Port Heiden, Alaska through documentation of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and through semi-annual harbor seal boat surveys.

Port Heiden is one of the 33 villages that are members of BBNA and is located in southern Bristol Bay, on the Northern side of the Alaska Peninsula.

BBNA’s Natural Resource program, headed by Molly and Helen Chythlook, contacted Gerda Kosbruk of the Native Council of Port Heiden to pitch the project idea to the tribe as well as secure participation. The Native Council agreed to participate in the project and selected a Project Coordinator and two Harbor seal bio-technicians to do the field work.

In the spring of 2009, BBNA held two training sessions, a classroom training in Anchorage and then a field training Port Heiden. In Anchorage, marine mammal experts included Helen Chythlook with BBNA, Lianna Jack with The Alaska Sea Otter and Steller Sea Lion Commission, and Marty Waters with the Alaska Native Harbor Seal Commission. Later, biologist Dr. Jean Schaff and Helen Chythlook traveled to Port Heiden for the first Harbor seal observation, which was a great success. Local elders through the TEK surveys identified seal haulout sites that were later surveyed via boat. This spring, another training was held in Anchorage in conjunction with an Iliamna Freshwater Seal Project and Biosampling Training to get ready for the upcoming survey year.

  The very first island, or sand bar as most would classify it to be, was an exciting natural phenomena for me not being an avid hunter myself, and I relished in the fact that I was there observing these great Alaskan marine creatures. The Port Heiden Harbor Seal Pilot Project helped us map out and observe the traditional and subsistence patterns including this marine mammal and I am so proud to have participated. I hope to have more involvement in these types of research and development ideas in the future.
Jaclyn Christensen


2009 Stock Assessment Reports Now Available

The 2009 Stock Assessment Reports for NOAA species have been finalized and are available. These reports must contain certain information about each marine mammal stock, including:

  • Population level or best estimate of population
  • Where the animals are - what is their geographic range?
  • Whether their numbers are increasing, decreasing or staying the same
  • How many are believed to be killed by humans/or that have serious injury (incidentally through fishing, illegal shoothing, entanglement, subsistence, etc.)
  • The Potential Biological Removal (PBR)- how many can be safely removed from the population by man-made sources after considering their trend, reproductive capacity, and status
  • Current and maximum reproductive rate,Their overall status, whether strategic or non-strategic (a stock becomes strategic when the PBR is exceeded and if listed as depleted under MMPA or listed under the ESA.

These reports are useful as they contain a lot of information about the stock in a concise and condensed format. Draft reports are put forward to the Scientific Review Group and the general public for review and comment. These comments are considered by the agency, and the notice of availability for the final reports is published in the Federal Register.

A complete copy of the 2009 Alaska SARs (that include all the NOAA marine mammal species here in Alaska) can be downloaded from the NMFS website at: If you are interested in a subsection of those, such as only the sea lion SARS, contact us at or at 907-286-2377 and we can send those to you.




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