Boaters and businesses hope legal action will lead the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to reclassify the manatee’s protection status from “endangered” to “threatened.”
Citing a rebound in the animal’s population and frustrated by the harm boat speed restrictions play on fishing and tourism, boating and business advocates have filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court in Ocala, Florida in hopes of making the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) reclassify the manatee’s protection status.
This legal action has been brewing for several years.
The group Save Crystal River submitted a complaint in 2012 stating the government’s own 2007 review of manatee numbers suggested reclassifying the animals to threatened, according to Bay News 9.
Last week, the Pacific Legal Foundation – who represented Save Crystal River in 2012 – filed the lawsuit after the USFWS failed to issue a final decision that a review of the manatee’s endangered status was appropriate.
Boaters, fishermen, developers, and tourist officials complain the manatee’s current protection status results in unwarranted speed restrictions in places where manatees may not be present during certain periods of the year.
A spokesman for the USFWS said the agency is working to publish a finding on the matter no later than Dec. 31, 2015. The agency has processed tens of thousands of public comments related to the manatee listing.
The most recent population survey completed in March 2015 revealed a manatee count of 6,063 statewide, up 1,000 animals since 2010. Proponents maintain they want the USFWS to use these numbers for the basis of the manatee’s legal status.
Susceptible to red tide, prolonged cold temperatures and boat traffic, opponents to the reclassification argue the species is very vulnerable and changing the manatee’s protection status could result in a reversal of the progress achieved over the last several decades.