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National Marine Fisheries Service, Alaska Regional Office

Northern Fur Seals in Alaska

northern fur seal and pups
Northern fur seals on Bogoslof Island. Photo: Michael Williams, permit #782-1708, NOAA Fisheries

The Alaska Regional Office of NOAA Fisheries is responsible for the protection, conservation and management of North Pacific and Bering Sea northern fur seals. About 50 percent of the population of fur seals breeds on the five Pribilof Islands. The Pribilof Islands' northern fur seal population was listed as depleted in June 1988 under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) because the population declined to less than 50 percent of late 1950's population levels.

NMFS manages human sources of fur seal mortality like commercial fishery interactions, subsistence harvests, and entanglement in derelict fishing gear and other marine debris. Fishery interactions can include fisheries bycatch and indirect effects like competition for commercial fish species. Other threats include oil spills, chronic pollution, collisions, habitat degradation, illegal harvests, and harassment which are all manageable through communication, planning, and collaboration. Natural factors like predation, weather, and prey also strongly influence fur seal behavior and ultimately survival and reproduction.

Harvest management of northern fur seals on the Pribilof Islands has a long history, which began when Russians brought Aleuts to the islands as sealing crews in 1788. ...more »»


Subsistence Harvest Management

A subsistence harvest was initiated in 1985 by a NMFS emergency interim rule, a final rule in 1986, and is regulated under the authority of section 105(a) of the Fur Seal Act. Under a co-management agreement with NOAA Fisheries, the tribal governments on St. Paul and St. George have a formal role in management of the harvest of fur seals to meet their subsistence needs; the commercial harvest for fur has always exceeded the subsistence harvest for meat on the Pribilof Islands. Fewer than 1000 juvenile male fur seals have been harvested annually since 2000. To address population concerns about the accidental harvest of young females, NMFS revised the northern fur seal harvest regulations and removed the option to extend the harvest season beyond August 8th, and set a 3-year rather than annual harvest to relieve the information collection burden on the community.

Subsistence Harvest Estimates

barrels of fur seal skins
Barrels containing 30-40 seal skins each during the commercial harvest period on the Pribilof Islands. This photo was taken on St. Paul. Photo: NARA
  • 79 FR 27550, May 14, 2014. Notice of availability for the annual fur seal subsistence harvest summaries for 2011-2013 and proposed annual estimates of fur seal subsistence harvests for 2014-2016 on the Pribilof Islands, Alaska. Comment period through June 13, 2014.
  • 77 FR 6682, February 9, 2012. Final estimates for fur seal subsistence needs for 2011 through 2013, and the annual fur seal subsistence harvest numbers for St. George and St. Paul Islands for 2008 to 2010. Effective March 12, 2012.
  • 76 FR 45499, July 29, 2011. Notice of availability for the annual fur seal subsistence harvest summaries for 2008 to 2010 and proposed annual estimates of fur seal subsistence needs for 2011 through 2013 on the Pribilof Islands, Alaska. Public comment period through August 29, 2011.
  • Historical triennial fur seal subsistence harvest quotas: 2008-2010, 2005-2007
  • Independent reports of the subsistence harvest on St. Paul (provided by a certified veterinarian for NOAA Fisheries): 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 1998, 1996, 1995, 1988, 1987, 1986, 1984.

Co-Management

In 1994, the Marine Mammal Protection Act was amended to include section 119. It reads, "The Secretary may enter into cooperative agreements with Alaska Native Organizations to conserve marine mammals and provide co-management of subsistence use by Alaska Natives." Numerous cooperative agreements have been singed between NMFS and various Alaska Native Organizations. Pribilof Island Aleuts provided the primary labor and in later years coordination for the commercial harvest from 1867-1984. NMFS managers pursued a more active harvest management and monitoring role for local tribal members from 1985 through 2001. Thus NMFS and the tribal governments on both St. Paul and St. George had already been co-managing subsistence use of fur seals before their co-management agreements were signed in 2000 and 2001, respectively.

Subsistence Harvest Reports

The tribal governments of St. George and St. Paul manage, monitor and report their subsistence marine mammal harvests with their co-management partners at NMFS.


Aleut Community of St. George Island Traditional Council Petition

man holding fur seal pelt
Man holding up a finished fur seal pelt on St. Paul Island. Photo: NARA
  • Proposed rule to modify the subsistence harvest regulations for the Eastern Pacific stock of northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus) based on a petition from the Pribilof Island Aleut Community of St. George Island, Traditional Council. Comment period through August 25, 2014. NEW!
  • Notice of a public meeting May 24, 2011 at the Anchorage Marriott about the requested changes to the Northern Fur Seal Harvest Regulations that govern the subsistence harvest of northern fur seals on St. George Island. The Aleut Community of St. George Island, Traditional Council petitioned NMFS to authorize the subsistence harvest of 150 male northern fur seal pups annually. NMFS is reviewing alternatives. Comment period through June 24, 2011.
  • 75 FR 21233, April 23, 2010. Notice of receipt of a petition from the Pribilof Island Community of St. George Island, Traditional Council to revise regulations governing the subsistence taking of northern fur seals to allow residents of St. George Island to take male fur seal young of the year during the fall. Public comment period through June 22, 2010.
  • St. George Island Traditional Council Resolution 10-06, September 2006


Aleut Community of St. Paul Island Tribal Government Petition


Co-Management Research

  • 78 FR 42756, July 17, 2013. Notice that the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island has applied for an amendment to Scientific Research Permit No. 14330-01. Comment period through August 16, 2013.
  • Fur Seal Disentanglement Project, Aleut Community of St. Paul Island, Tribal Government, Ecosystem Conservation Office (External Link)

NEPA Analyses


Conservation Plan

salting fur seal skins
Salting seal skins on the Pribilof Islands. Photo: NARA


Entanglement


Regulations


Preventing Invasives


Pribilof Islands NMFS' Facility Maintenance

  • 75 FR 21233, April 23, 2010. Notice that NMFS issued an Incidental Harassment Authorization to NMFS, Alaska Region for the take of small numbers of marine mammals, by Level B harassment, incidental to conducting replacement and repair of northern fur seal research observation towers and walkways on St. Paul Island, Alaska, from April to June and December 2010.
    • 90 Day Report: Marine mammal monitoring of the replacement and repair of fur seal research observation towers and walkways on St. Paul Island, Alaska, February 2011



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