Pacific harbor seals have been coming to Alameda Point to find food, suitable breeding habitat, and resting area in recent years, taking up residence at a site adjacent to Enterprise Park and the Bay Trail. The seals have been using the Alameda Point Channel and Inner Harbor for feeding, hauling out, and even delivering pups. Rather than encouraging their homestead, the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) wants to kick them out. If WETA gets its way, it would be a permanent loss for the seals and a lost asset for the community of Alameda and visitors.
WETA’s plan for the Central Bay Operations and Maintenance Facility in Inner Bay Harbor—a ferry maintenance facility project—will have a profound impact on the marine ecosystem. One of its most prominent inhabitants, the harbor seals, have not been adequately addressed in the Incidental Harassment Authorization Level B permit application by WETA.
Following the end of Navy operations at Alameda’s Naval Air Station in 1997, the Navy’s recreational boating dock fell into disrepair. The simultaneous lack of maintenance and lack of human presence on the docks was ultimately fortuitous for the harbor seals that frequent the protected waterway. The dock itself, along with odd wooden structural debris that lodged against the dock, became an easy and inviting haul out for the seals, and an ideal spot to rear their pups.
Shoreline development is one of the primary reasons for harbor seal abandonment of San Francisco Bay. When haul-out sites are disturbed by nearby development or regular human presence, the seals are prone to depart for safer surroundings. In the case of the WETA ferry facility project, it is not a traditional natural shoreline that will be disturbed or destroyed. But the dock’s demolition and replacement with an active berthing facility for 11 ferries will leave the harbor seals little choice but to move on.
The Sierra Club recommends that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)—which will decide on WETA’s harassment authorization permit—apply additional mitigation measures to the project to compensate for the loss of harbor seal habitat. Given the geography of the Alameda Point Channel and Inner Harbor, the addition of a new haul-out dock nearby, possibly an anchored floating dock, should be evaluated as a mitigation measure to help retain the colony of harbor seals that find respite along Alameda Point’s shore.
It is unknown when NMFS will issue a finding on WETA’s petition application to move forward with its ferry project. NMFS could also call for going from an Environmental Assessment to an Environmental Impact Statement, which would undoubtedly involve a full-blown study of harbor seals at Alameda Point.
Before the project can begin, WETA will need a construction permit from the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC). It is unknown when they will apply for that permit, but likely after NMFS issues a decision on the harassment permit—probably early next year. BCDC can also require mitigation as a condition of issuing a permit.
Add your name to the petition asking WETA not to harass and displace the seals. For more information or to get more involved, contact Richard Bangert at email@example.com. Look for future alerts calling on the BCDC to protect these precious marine mammals.