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NOAA Reaches Settlement With Researchers for Unpermitted Take of a Steller Sea Lion

Steller sea lions protected by the Endangered Species Act, no-transit zones around rookeries

 

Members of a 2004 research expedition in Alaska have reached a settlement agreement with NOAA for the unpermitted take of a Steller sea lion, which is protected by the Endangered Species Act.

In August 2011, the Institute for Responsible Management/Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation II, Charles Powers and Joanna Burger entered into a settlement agreement with NOAA’s Office of General Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation, in which they admitted an incursion into a 3-nautical mile no-transit zone around the East Cape Rookery. While they denied the other charges, they waived their right to a hearing on three separate counts, including unlawful take of a Steller sea lion, and agreed to pay a penalty of $9,000.

In the summer of 2004, the group was conducting research in the vicinity of Amchitka Island, a site of three nuclear underground tests conducted 1965-1971. The study looking for radionuclide contamination in the marine environment was funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy, and the research consortium included faculty and staff from Rutgers University, University of Pittsburgh, Vanderbilt University, The Maryland School of Dentistry, University of Alaska-Fairbanks and the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, under the direction of Charles Powers and the Institute for Responsible Management. Burger was the lead scientist on the expedition.

During July 2004, Aleut hunters who were hired as biological technicians for the expedition harvested a Steller sea lion without a permit, initiating an investigation by NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement.

The western stock of Steller sea lions in Alaska are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) and also are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA). Under the ESA, it is illegal to unlawfully “take” – meaning to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect – or to attempt to engage in any such conduct with any endangered species or wildlife listed on the Endangered Species List. The MMPA also prohibits, with certain exceptions, the “take” of marine mammals.

In July 2009, the Institute for Responsible Management/Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation II, Powers, Burger and Aleutian Pribilof Island Association were issued a Notice of Violation and Assessment by NOAA’s Office of General Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation for five alleged violations, including an incursion into a 3-nautical mile Steller sea lion no-transit zone around the East Cape Rookery and an unlawful take and transport of a Steller sea lion without a permit.

The Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association admitted all charges, paid a penalty of $7,200 in November 2009, and agreed to a two-year permit sanction for their involvement in the incident.

“NOAA has implemented and enforces a suite of regulatory measures and time/area closures to promote the recovery of the endangered Aleutian Island populations of Steller sea lions,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Kenneth Hansen. “One of the ways NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement supports these recovery efforts is by enforcing permitting requirements for responsible scientific research and ensuring researchers follow all conditions of their research permits.” 

The mission of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement is to ensure compliance with the laws and regulations enacted to conserve and protect our nation's marine resources, including those protected by the Endangered Species Act. To report a suspected violation, contact Enforcement’s national hotline at 1-800-853-1964.

 

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