August 9, 2005

SW Sea Otters Listed as Threatened under ESA

The Final Rule to list the Southwest Alaska Distinct Population Segment of sea otters as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was published today in the Federal Register. This listing includes sea otters in Kamishak Bay (lower Cook Inlet) west through the Aleutians. Sea otters in western Cook Inlet, Kodiak, Alaska Peninsula, Shumagin Islands, and the Aleutian Islands are included. No critical habitat has been defined at this time, however it is expected that critical habitat will be declared within one year. The final rule will become effective September 8, 2005.

Neither subsistence nor the creation and sale of handicrafts have been listed as threats to this listed population, and do not negatively affect efforts to recover the population.

With the Final Rule, a Proposed Special Rule was also published under Section 4(d) of the ESA. Based on concerns raised by TASSC in comments on the Proposed Rule (to list SW sea otter), the USFWS developed the 4(d) rule. The 4(d) rule applies to sea otter from the listed area.

The 4(d) proposed rule has the following provisions:

  • would allow for limited non-commercial import and export of articles of authentic Alaska Native Handicraft. This would allow foreign tourists to take home handicrafts containing sea otter for non-commecial purposes (something that is currently allowed under the MMPA),
  • would allow for cultural exchange by Alaska Natives with Natives from Canada, Russia, and Greenland (something that is currently allowed in the MMPA),
  • would amend the current federal regulations (50 CFR 17.3) to remove the requirement that an authentic Alaska Native handicraft be commonly produced on or before December 28, 1973. This provision is consistent with court rulings on the issue,
  • would allow for the transfer of raw pelts to registered agents and tanneries (something currently allowed under MMPA), and
  • would presume that non-commercial is less than 8 unused similar articles of authentic Native handicraft. This presumption can be rebutted on a case-by-case basis.

The intent of these proposed regulations are to allow activities occurring prior to the listing and throughout the rest of the state (which is not ESA listed) to occur for the now listed population.

USFWS will be accepting comments on the proposed 4(d) rule until October 11, 2005. We encourage anyone who wishes to do so to comment on this proposed rule.You may submit comments by the following methods:

  • You may submit written comments by mail to: Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Marine Mammals Management Office, 1011 East Tudor Road, Anchorage, Alaska 99503, or
  • You may submit comments by electronic mail (e-mail) to:
    Please submit these emails as an ASCII file format and include "Attn: [RIN 1018-AU21]" and your name and return address in your e-mail message.


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.Therefore, subsistence take in the affected areas cannot be currently regulated or restricted.

Even though sea otters in SW Alaska have been listed, sea otter harvest in other areas of Alaska cannot be regulated or restricted because this portion of the Alaska sea otter population has been listed.

It is still legal for coastal Alaska Natives to make and sell within the United States handicrafts that contain sea otter.

For more information, contact:
The Alaska Sea Otter and Steller Sea Lion Commission
1-800-474-4362 (AK) or 907-274-9799

Related Downloads:
FAQs: Sea Otters and the ESA
Final Rule
Proposed Rule




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