Delist Manatee as Endangered Under Review August 7, 2014

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in early July that it is moving forward on a status review for the West Indian manatee to reclassify the species from endangered to threatened, opinions began flowing to both support and oppose the action. To summarize, those in favor say the protections in place have largely addressed the issue and allowed the manatee population to recover; those opposed say too many animals are still dying and they feel the manatee population is undercounted.

So, Fish & Wildlife is engaging in a “90-day substantial finding,” a more in depth status review and analysis required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to determine whether reclassification of the manatee is warranted. The Service also is electing to simultaneously conduct an updated five-year status review also required by the ESA. As part of the process a 60-day comment period was opened requesting information concerning the status of the manatee throughout its entire range. Comments were due by September 2.

Among other things, the Service seeks information on: species biology, population trends, factors to reclassify, habitat conditions, effect of climate change, conservation measures, threats and trends.

MIASF has submitted the following comments:

The Marine Industries Association of South Florida (MIASF) strongly supports the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposed initiative for the reclassification of the West Indian Manatee.

As background, MIASF is the largest trade organization in the Southeast United States dedicated to promoting, protecting, and growing 107,000 jobs regionally in marine businesses. Specifically, MIASF is comprised of over 400 business members, the majority of which have fewer than 15 employees and many of who are independent contractors. As an association we have taken a strong stance on stewardship and have an established desire to preserve and protect our waterways. Examples are our partnerships with NOVA Oceanographic and the scholarship program, and our upcoming 39th waterway clean up initiative. MIASF is also a founder of the Florida Clean Marina program.

The Association submits the following points in support of the reclassification:

  • Florida State law continues to afford adequate protection for the manatees.
    • Regardless of classification of the manatee by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the protections provided in the state act will remain in place.
    • State law covers all 26 county speed zone rules and those rules will remain in place.
    • Also State rules protecting manatee habitat (e.g., sea grass beds) and will not be repealed.
  • The population has grown over the past 20 years.
    • This growth has come in spite of the fact that the herd has suffered die-off from red tide events.
    • Manatees have increased their range over the last 20 years so there is no chance their numbers will dwindle toward “endangered” again.
  • The USFWS in 2007 completed its 5-year stock assessment and concluded that the West Indian Manatee should be reclassified.
  • Boaters have become more responsible in waterway use and conservation.
    • The state boating education curriculum is required to include manatee awareness in it.
    • Many organizations and facilities like marinas and boating clubs also provide manatee education. For example, the FWC has an aggressive manatee education and awareness program in place 12 months out of the year.
    • Our association in particular does not advocate removal of existing speed zones.
    • As a result deaths related to watercraft strikes continue to decline as boaters continue to be educated about sharing the waterways and understand the need for restricted speed in existing areas.
    • Manatee protection plans require boating awareness 

For these reasons, the Marine Industries Association of South Florida supports the reclassification and urges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to act promptly in doing so. Thank you.

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Marine Industries Association of South Florida. 221 SW 3rd Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312. Phone: 954.524.2733