June 1, 2005, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in U.S. Federal Court in Washington DC against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Department of Interior for failing to meet statutory timeframe requirements within the Endangered Species Act.
The USFWS/Department of Interior published a Proposed Rule in the Federal Register on February 11, 2004 to list the Southwest Distinct Population Segment of the northern sea otter as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. There was a 120-day comment period during which time comments could be submitted for consideration.
The ESA requires that once a Proposed Rule has been published, a Final Rule must be published within 12 months. According to the mandatory timelines in the ESA, the USFWS had until February 11, 2005 to publish a Final Rule.
To date (16 June 2005), a Final Rule has not been published.
This affects sea otters from western Cook Inlet through the end of the Aleutians including Kamishak Bay, Kodiak, Alaska Peninsula, Shumagin Islands, and the Aleutian Islands.
The USFWS has 60 days as of June 1 to respond to the lawsuit.
IMPORTANT TO NOTE:
Section 10(e) of the Endangered Species Act provides for Alaska Native harvest of an ESA listed species for subsistence or handicraft. Take cannot be wasteful.
In order for subsistence uses to be regulated, it must be shown that subsistence uses are materially and negatively affecting the population. This cannot be currently shown for sea otter harvest in the affected areas.
If sea otters in SW Alaska are listed under the ESA, we do not expect that subsistence take in the affected areas will be regulated.
If sea otters in SW Alaska are listed, sea otter harvest in other areas of Alaska will not be regulated or shut down because a portion of the Alaska sea otter population are listed.
If sea otters are listed, it will still be legal for coastal Alaska Natives to make and sell within the United States handicrafts that contain sea otter.
FAQ's: Sea Otters and the ESA (pdf)