Today, the National Marine Fisheries Service released a Biological Opinion that would allow necessary protections for the endangered Western Population of Steller sea lions to be rolled back significantly. The agency’s Opinion approves an action proposed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council that would allow additional fishing in areas in which the population of Steller sea lions continues to decline. It would also authorize fishing for pollock in areas of designated critical habitat that have been closed for more than a decade. The approval represents a sharp departure from the agency’s analysis less than four years ago, which determined that additional protections were necessary.
Susan Murray, Oceana’s Deputy Vice President, Pacific, issued the following statement in response to the release of the Biological Opinion:
“Today’s decision is a clear statement from the National Marine Fisheries Service that large-scale industrial fishing is more important than stewardship, science, and sustainable fisheries. The conclusion is inconsistent with decades of scientific analysis, court decisions, and the government’s commitment to ecosystem-based management. Oceana has supported the government, including in court, as it has taken necessary steps to protect Steller sea lions. We cannot and will not support today’s unwise decision.
For decades, there was large scale shooting of Steller sea lions, and now fisheries are competing with them for prey. The Western Population of Steller sea lions has declined by more than 80 percent, and sharp declines continue in the western Aleutian Islands. In the more than 20 years since the Western Population was first protected under the Endangered Species Act, steps have been taken to reduce competition with fisheries. Now, just as we were seeing progress, the agency has taken a huge step backwards. The law, best science, and the agency’s stewardship obligations demand precautionary steps, not reckless actions like this one.”
The Biological Opinion can be found here: http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/newsreleases/2014/ssl040214.htm