State and North Slope Borough Notify NMFS of Intent to Sue Over Negative Finding on Ringed Seal Delisting Petition
— ADF&G Press Release

Doug Vincent-Lang, Commissioner
P.O. Box 115526
Juneau, Alaska 99811-5526

Press Release: June 29, 2021

CONTACT: Doug Vincent-Lang, (907) 465-6141,

State and North Slope Borough Notify NMFS of Intent to Sue Over Negative Finding on Ringed Seal Delisting Petition

June 29, 2021 (Juneau) — The State of Alaska and the North Slope Borough took action to convey their disagreement with the rejection by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of a joint Endangered Species Act (ESA) delisting petition for the Arctic ringed seal. The two entities submitted a letter yesterday notifying NMFS that they intend to file a lawsuit if the agency does not reverse its position and re-consider the 2019 petition to remove the ringed seal from the list of threatened species. The ESA requires 60 days' notice to a federal agency of a party's intent to sue on a listing decision.

Along with the Borough, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, and the Iñupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, the State submitted a detailed petition to NMFS in March 2019 that presented the results of research conducted on the Arctic subspecies of ringed seal since its listing as threatened in 2012. Based on the extensive new information and analyses, the petition requested the subspecies' delisting.

In its rejection, NMFS claimed that the petition did not present substantial new information or new analyses indicating that the basis for NMFS's listing determination was erroneous. In contrast, the 60-day Notice of Intent letter sent by the State and the Borough today points out that the data and analyses provided by the petition were unquestionably substantial and categorically new: NMFS could not have previously considered the information presented in the petition, because the research had not yet taken place.

"We feel there is a bias in the way agencies implement the Endangered Species Act in the Arctic compared to other parts of the country," said North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower Jr. "Many listings of Arctic species appear to have more to do with politics and fundraising than they do with actual threats to the species. Our North Slope Borough Wildlife Department scientists have been studying the ringed seal for many years. Both science and local knowledge demonstrate that ringed seals continue to have a robust and healthy population and are more resilient and adaptive to climate change than previously considered. While sea ice is currently on a declining trend, it returns every year and has a major presence today."

Mayor Brower continued, "The North Slope Borough will continue to fight this listing with sound science and local traditional knowledge. This will always be what guides us. As the animals and the humans that call the Arctic home, we are all trying to adjust to today's changing world and have been doing so for thousands of years."

ADF&G Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang stated, "Simply put, the research we presented in the petition is the best scientific information currently available-which is the ESA standard for listing and delisting. Listing under the ESA should be reserved for species that are truly in trouble. It's hard to believe that a species with a healthy population-in the millions of animals-can be considered threatened with extinction, yet that's exactly what NMFS did by listing the ringed seal in 2012. They seem determined to stick with that conclusion despite years of new data indicating they made a mistake."

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. In addition, critical habitat proposed for ringed seals by NMFS in January 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.