Today, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld necessary protections for the endangered Western Population of Steller sea lions. The measures were put in place by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in 2010 to reduce competition between large-scale commercial fisheries and endangered Steller sea lions. Oceana and Greenpeace, represented by Earthjustice, joined the federal government in successfully defending the regulations against legal attacks from the Seattle-based fishing industry and Alaskan state government, which had appealed an earlier District Court’s decision also upholding the protections.
“Today's decision is a victory for healthy oceans,” said Susan Murray, Oceana’s Deputy Vice President, Pacific, “Steller sea lions in the Aleutian Islands have had a tough history, from being shot for sport to fisheries taking their food. We stopped shooting but continued to take their food. It is no surprise the animals aren’t recovering, and our government had no choice but to place limits on fishing for important prey species. Hopefully the State and the fishing industry will stop fighting the law and science and help us move forward toward better management for our ocean resources.”
The Western Population of Steller sea lions has declined by more than 80 percent, and sharp declines especially continue in the western Aleutian Islands. It has been more than 20 years since the Western Population of Steller sea lions was first protected under the Endangered Species Act, and, for all of that time, steps have been taken to reduce competition with fisheries. Unfortunately, in the places with the least protection, such as the western Aleutian Islands, the Stellar sea lion population continues to decline, and it is not recovering overall.
“The solution to recovering the Steller sea lion population is not more industrial fishing for important prey species,” said Jon Warrenchuk, Oceana's Senior Scientist and Campaign Manager, “the Steller sea lion is still facing a slow road to recovery, and the Aleutian Islands are key to their survival.”
The industrial fisheries in Alaska have a substantial impact and place unnatural stress on the marine ecosystem by removing billions of pounds of fish from the food web every year. The factory trawl and longline vessels take important prey, including Atka mackerel, Pacific cod, and pollock, that would otherwise be available as food for other animals like Steller sea lions. By upholding the previously established protections for this distinct population, the Court of Appeals has given hope to the recovery of this species, and provided for the continued health of our ocean’s ecosystems.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion can be found here.
Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Oceana wins policy victories for the oceans using science-based campaigns. Since 2001, we have protected over 1.2 million square miles of ocean and innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and other sea creatures. More than 550,000 supporters have already joined Oceana. Global in scope, Oceana has offices in North, South and Central America and Europe. To learn more, please visit www.oceana.org.