For Immediate Release: August 2, 2006
Study Finds Dozens of Bering Sea Animals in Trouble
PORTLAND, Ore.—The Center for Biological Diversity and Pacific Environment released a report classifying 12 percent of the Bering Sea’s wildlife species as species of concern because they are at risk of decline or extinction, and identifying potential threats to 22 percent of the region’s wildlife populations.
“The Bering Sea is one of the last great places for wildlife and provides more than 50 percent of the nation’s seafood,” states Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “If more care isn’t taken to protect the Bering Sea, both wildlife and people will lose.”
Of the 66 species of concern, 52 (79%) were further classified as vulnerable, nine (13.6%) as imperiled, and five (7.6%) as critically imperiled. Species of concern in the Bering Sea include the critically imperiled Kittlitz’s Murrelet and North Pacific Right Whale, the imperiled Northern Sea Otter and Polar Bear, and the highly vulnerable Rougheye Rockfish, Northern Fur Seal and Yellow-billed Loon.
“The fact that most species of concern in the Bering Sea are listed only as vulnerable, and thus may not be at immediate risk of extinction, is cause for hope,” states Whit Sheard, Alaska Program Director for Pacific Environment. “For many of these species, positive reforms in management could forestall further decline.”
The study identified potential threats to 22 percent of all Bering Sea vertebrates, determining that commercial fishing, either through direct exploitation, bycatch or competition, potentially impacts the greatest number of Bering Sea species (71, 56%), followed by pollution (60, 48%), ecological factors (35, 28%; e.g. storms or small population risk), poaching (26, 20%), global climate change (25, 20%), habitat destruction (25, 20%), human disturbance (21, 17%) and exotic species (21, 17%).
“Bering Sea wildlife species are threatened by an array of complex problems, including commercial fishing, global climate change and pollution,” states Greenwald. “These threats are striking in that action is required both in the Bering Sea itself and internationally if further species decline and extinction is to be avoided.”
The study identified a total of 549 vertebrate species that live in the Bering Sea for all or part of the year, including 418 fish, 102 birds and 29 marine mammals. Fish diversity in the Sea is particularly high compared to other cold-water regions, containing nearly three times more species than the Antarctic and more than twice the species of Greenland. The Bering Sea also supports some of the largest populations of seabirds, shorebirds and marine mammals in the world.
This is the most exhaustive study of the status of vertebrate animals in the Bering Sea to date. The Center for Biological Diversity and Pacific Environment examined regional and national taxa guides, databases, published literature and other sources to determine the total number of vertebrate species in the Bering Sea. Once a complete list of Bering Sea animals was established, the Center reviewed state, national and global lists of imperiled species and nearly 500 references in the published and grey literature to identify all species of concern present in the Bering Sea.
Based on the study’s results, the Center for Biological Diversity and Pacific Environment recommend the following:
– Protect the Kittlitz’s Murrelet as endangered and the Polar Bear, Pacific Walrus, Northern Fur Seal and Ringed Seal as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and designate comprehensive critical habitat.
– Similar to conservation efforts for the Steller’s Sea Lion, identify key foraging habitat for known declining species, such as the Northern Fur Seal and Harbor Seal, and prohibit or limit commercial fishing within those areas to ensure that prey abundance or density is not impacted.
– Establish international funding and cooperation to ensure enforcement of fishing regulations in Russian Federation Waters.
– Protect Northern Right Whales by extending the moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling in Bristol Bay and ensuring that shipping, fishing, and other vessel traffic is not impacting their survival.
– Require the latest technology to avoid bycatch of marine mammals, seabirds, non-target fishes and other marine life.
– Completely ban driftnets larger than 2.5 kilometers in length in the western Bering Sea, to bring Russia up to international and U.S. standards. The eastern Bering Sea is in need of further research and restrictions on bottom trawling.
– In addition to the already established marine protected areas centered on protecting commercial fish species and their habitat, establish fully protected marine reserves to shelter areas of high diversity – such as old-growth coral and sponge habitats and the submarine canyons along the Bering Sea slope – from destructive fishing practices.
– The United States must ratify the Kyoto Protocol and reenter negotiations with other nations on the post-2012 commitment period, with a goal of reducing emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels.
- Implement measures to reduce the likelihood of oil spills from ocean-going vessels and ensure timely cleanup of spills that do occur.
– For the benefit of Bering Sea seabirds, remove non-native foxes and rats from Bering Sea islands where they have been introduced.
– Enforce hunting restrictions in the Bering Sea, including ensuring that non-game species, such as eagles, are not hunted.
– Catalog all Bering Sea invertebrate species and identify those that are of concern based on abundance, trend or sensitivity to anthropogenic disturbance.
– Systematically identify a suite of indicator species to index changes in Bering Sea species and habitats related to anthropogenic activities, global climate change or other factors.
– Conduct experiments to identify and understand the key stressors of Bering Sea species and habitats to guide better conservation of Bering Sea wildlife.
– Increase fees on resource extractive industries in the Bering Sea – such as commercial fishing, oil and gas exploration, and shipping – in order to fund additional mitigation and research.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit conservation organization with more than 25,000 members dedicated to the protection of imperiled species and habitat.