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Fried urges 'endangered' status for manatees

A Florida manatee cow and calf.
Keith Ramos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
A Florida manatee cow and calf.

State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried asked the federal government to again list threatened manatees as “endangered,” as Florida has had a record number of manatee deaths this year.

In a letter Tuesday to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Fried called “misguided” the March 2017 decision to reclassify manatees as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act — after a half century of being classified as endangered.

“According to Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, there have been 957 manatee deaths so far this year,” Fried wrote. “This is more than double the amount of annual deaths that happened prior to the delisting decision. Even more alarming is that by FWS’ (the Fish and Wildlife Services’) own estimates there are only around 6,500 West Indian manatees remaining in the southeastern United States.”

Fried, a Democratic candidate for governor in 2022, said manatees continue to face the same perils as when they were previously listed as endangered: degradation of habitat, growing impacts of climate change, pollution, speeding boats, seagrass loss and declining water quality.

“These continued risks have unfortunately been realized, particularly as it pertains to seagrass loss and declining water quality, which have been widely attributed to the record number of manatee deaths being reported in Florida,” Fried wrote.

The federal agency in 2017 pointed to an increase in the manatee population and habitat improvements because of conservation efforts by Florida, Puerto Rico, Caribbean nations and public and private organizations.