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District Court Upholds Appeal, Beringia Segment of Bearded Seals Listed as “Threatened”

Bearded seal on Alaska sea ice

A portion of bearded seals are again listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). That’s due to the latest judgment from the U.S. District Court for Alaska.

According to a memo from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), on May 12th, the District Court determined that the Beringia distinct population segment of bearded seals, found specifically in the Beaufort, Chukchi, and Bering seas, should be listed.

This designation for bearded seals goes back to December of 2012, when the National Marine Fisheries Service published a rule listing the Beringia distinct population segment as threatened under the ESA. According to NOAA, the reasoning for this decision was “due to foreseeable future decreases in sea ice and expected population declines associated with climate change.”

In July of 2014, the U.S. District Court of Alaska vacated the “threatened” listing for bearded seals, but that decision was appealed and overturned in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit two years later.

Jon Kurland, the Assistant Regional Administrator for Protected Resources with NOAA Fisheries in Juneau, says this new designation for bearded seals under the ESA will not affect subsistence harvests of the animal.

According to NOAA’s memo, there is no evidence that subsistence hunting of ice seals is negatively affecting the marine mammal’s population, and any regulation of the subsistence harvest is not anticipated at this time.

Currently, the designation of another ice seal from the Bering Sea is being reviewed. Arctic ringed seals’ status is pending for appeal in the Ninth Circuit court, as the subspecies is not listed under the ESA.