Preserve Special Places
Aleutian Islands: Victories
The United States District Court for the District of Alaska upheld protections for the Western Population of Steller sea lions. The new measures were put in place by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to reduce competition between large-scale commercial fisheries and endangered Steller sea lions in the Aleutian Islands.
These majestic marine mammals compete with large-scale industrial fisheries for food and continue to struggle for survival in the western Aleutian Islands.
The court decision came after Oceana and our allies pressured the federal government to address the declining Steller sea lions’ population by limiting bottom trawling in important areas.
Fishery managers reduced the catch level for the Bering Sea pollock fishery, the largest fishery in North America, by 18 percent to around 815,000 metric tons for the 2009 season. The new limit was put in place due to declining pollock numbers, and a recognition of the importance of pollock to the ecosystems of the Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea. Pollock are a central food source for endangered Steller sea lions, salmon, fur seals, halibut, seabirds and other animals.
The federal government has begun implementation of a “risk assessment” for the Aleutian Islands, the critical first step towards getting meaningful spill response capabilities in place for the region. The risk assessment will help policy makers and the Coast Guard in designing and implementing a spill response plan for the Aleutians that includes adequate funding for the complete monitoring of all ship traffic and ensuring necessary training, resources and equipment in place locally for the Aleutians.
A federal appeals court let stand conservation measures approved by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries, and supported by Oceana, to limit the amount of discards from large bottom trawling vessels. The regulations require large “head and gut” bottom trawl vessels in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands to retain and utilize a larger portion of the fish they catch, as opposed to keeping only the most economically valuable species and throwing the rest overboard.
According to NOAA estimates, these regulations will prevent 110 million pounds of groundfish from being wasted as unwanted bycatch each year, and serve as an incentive for vessels to fish more carefully, limiting bycatch of corals and other marine animals.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council adopted the nation’s first comprehensive ecosystem-based management measure when it approved the Aleutian Islands Fishery Ecosystem Plan. This Fishery Ecosystem Plan is a blueprint for considering all aspects of the marine ecosystem, including biological diversity, abundant populations of fish, food needs of top predators, and healthy intact habitats, when making decisions on managing healthy and sustainable fisheries in the Aleutian Islands.
This is an important new tool in managing Aleutian Islands fisheries from a more holistic, ecosystem-based perspective, and sets a remarkable precedent for ecosystem-based management measures in other fisheries around the nation.
In an historic victory for protecting our oceans, and the largest such action taken anywhere in the world, U.S. authorities closed to destructive commercial fishing nearly one million square kilometers of north Pacific Ocean surrounding the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, an area equal to Texas and California combined.