State disagrees with negative finding on Ringed Seal Delisting Petition

The State of Alaska strongly disagrees with the negative 90-day finding issued today (Nov. 25th, 2020) by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for a 2019 petition to re-evaluate the status of the ringed seal under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Working with the North Slope Borough, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, and the Iñupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, the State submitted a petition to NMFS in March 2019 requesting delisting of the Arctic subspecies of ringed seal, currently listed as threatened under the ESA.

“Ongoing research, along with traditional knowledge compiled since the listing shows no evidence of declines in ringed seal populations,” said ADF&G Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang. “The seals are handling current environmental changes well. ESA listings should be reserved for imperiled species. It is difficult to believe that a species with a healthy, robust population that numbers in the millions can be considered threatened with extinction.”

The petition presented substantial additional data and new analyses that demonstrated NMFS came to an erroneous conclusion by listing the subspecies. Ringed seals have far more resilience to loss of sea ice habitat than predicted by NMFS. Analysis of 6 years of new data, as well as reanalysis of prior data, show that:

• The Arctic subspecies of ringed seal continues to occupy the entire circumpolar Arctic, with an abundant population numbering in the millions;

• Despite documented declines in sea ice habitat over the past several decades, this seal subspecies has shown no evidence of decline in body condition or measures of population health; and

• The best available scientific information indicates ringed seals are resilient and adjusting to varying conditions across their enormous range and are likely to continue to adjust to habitat conditions that change over time;

Maintaining the threatened listing will have significant consequences for the economy of the State and subsistence opportunities for Alaska Natives with little to no conservation benefit to ringed seals. Critical habitat proposed for ringed seals is expected to include an area greater than the states of California, Oregon, and Washington combined and cover the U.S. waters and Alaska coastline of the northern Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas.