North Florida Ecological Services Office
Southeast Region

Florida Manatee Stock Assessment Report Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What is a Stock Assessment Report (SAR)?

A1. A Stock Assessment Report (or SAR), is a report that the Service is required to prepare each year, pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act.  SARs, including the Florida manatee SAR, describe the geographic range of the Florida manatee, a population estimate (in the case of the manatee, the highest synoptic count is used), productivity rate, population trends, levels of annual human-caused mortality and injury, and commercial fisheries known to interact with these animals.  The report also provides an estimated potential biological removal (PBR) level

Q2. What’s the purpose of a SAR?

A2. SARs are written to inform the public and marine mammal experts about the status of marine mammal stocks and are used to determine if commercial fishing operations are killing or injuring marine mammals at unacceptable levels.  If it is determined that these fisheries are having an unacceptable effect on the population, the SAR finding will trigger efforts to reduce the number of marine mammals killed or injured by the fishery.

Q3. Why hasn’t the Service prepared a SAR each year for the Florida Manatee?

A3. The Service has not prepared a SAR for the Florida manatee since 1995 because of the low number of commercial fisheries-related entanglements and deaths that occur each year.  Instead, we have focused our limited resources on other human-related problems that do have a significant effect on the population, including the number of manatee injuries and deaths associated with watercraft that occur each year.

Q4. Why is the Service preparing a SAR now?

A4. In 2007, the Service received a Notice of Intent to Sue from the Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network, who threatened to sue the Service for its failure to prepare SARs on an annual basis.  As a result of settlement negotiations, the Service agreed to prepare a SAR this year and will continue to do so each year.

Q5. Are commercial fishing operations a significant problem for Florida manatees?

A5. Each year, commercial fishing operations entangle a small number of manatees while engaged in fishing activities.  The number of animals caught in commercial fishing gear, however, is very small and is not thought to be a significant problem for Florida’s population of manatees.  In the past, small numbers of manatees were caught in a variety of fishing gear.  Subsequent to the State of Florida’s net ban, manatees are no longer caught in commercial shrimp trawls or other commercial fishing nets. However, manatees continue to be caught in commercial blue crab fishing gear.

Q6. Is the Service concerned about manatees being injured or killed by blue crab pot fishing gear?

A6. The Service continues to be concerned about blue crab pot fishing gear entangling manatees.  While nine manatee deaths are known to have taken place in crab pot fishing gear over the past 30 years, no deaths are known to have taken place since 2002.  From 2003 to 2007, 35 manatees have been rescued and disentangled from crab pot gear.  Based on this information, the Service does not believe that the number of manatees taken in this fishery has risen to an unacceptable level.

Q7. How are you addressing this threat to manatees?

A7. The Service and our many partners are working together to address this threat. Inasmuch as both actively fished and abandoned crab pot gear entangle manatees, abandoned gear is being removed to help reduce the frequency of entanglements. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recently adopted temporary, regional, blue crab harvest closures in Florida. Abandoned crab pots will be removed from these regions during the closures, further minimizing this threat. The Service has also funded studies to assess manatee behavior in the presence of fishing gear and to identify “manatee-safe” crab pot fishing gear that, if used, would minimize the number of manatees entangled in crab pots. Manatees are also rescued each year by the manatee rescue and rehabilitation partnership, further reducing the likelihood of serious injuries and deaths.

Q8. What does “potential biological removal level” mean?

A8. A potential biological removal level (or PBR) is a term described in the Marine Mammal Protection Act as “the maximum number of animals, not including natural mortalities, that may be removed from a marine mammal stock while allowing that stock to reach or maintain its optimum sustainable population.”  It is a calculated value that indicates the number of animals that can be removed from a marine mammal stock such that the stock’s recovery is not significantly affected.

Q9. How does this apply to our stock of Florida manatees?

A9. A PBR of 12 animals was calculated for the stock of Florida manatees. Over the past five years, no manatees have been removed from this stock due to serious injuries or deaths caused by commercial fishing operations. Because the number of commercial fishery-related manatee mortalities and serious injuries is less than the calculated PBR of 12, current removal levels can be considered insignificant and approaching a zero mortality and serious injury rate.

Q10. Why is PBR restricted to assessing the effect of commercial fishing activities on marine mammals?

A10. In 1994, the Marine Mammal Protection Act’s was amended to improve the government’s ability to reduce the effect of commercial fishing activities on marine mammal populations.  These amendments include section 117, which requires the calculation of PBR, and section 118, the only section in the MMPA where PBR is applied. Section 118 describes the process for regulating commercial fisheries-related serious injuries  and deaths when they reach unacceptable levels.

Q11. In 2008, at least 99 manatees died due to human causes.  That’s way over the 12 mortalities that you calculated could take place and still allow the population to recover.  Aren’t you concerned?

A11. Of course we’re concerned. With this being said, PBR is just one tool out of many that are used to assess the effect of human activities on marine mammal populations. The Service relies on the manatee core biological model to assess the effects of human-related activities on the Florida manatee. This tool, which we believe is more accurate, suggests that the Florida manatee population is stable or growing in most areas of Florida despite the number of human-caused deaths that do occur. The Service and our many partners are continuing to take the steps needed to reduce the number of manatee deaths caused each year by people.

Q12. Where I can I get a copy of the final Florida Manatee Stock Assessment Report?

A12. A copy of the SAR can be downloaded from:  http://www.fws.gov/northflorida/, requested via e-mail to: manatee @ fws.gov  or via mail to:

US Fish and Wildlife Service
Attn: 2009 Final Florida Manatee SAR
7915 Baymeadows Way, Suite 200
Jacksonville, Florida  32256-7517

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Last updated: May 1, 2013