Oceana commends the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council's (NRC) report for confirming the continuing decline of the Steller sea lion population in western Alaska and confirming that fishing restrictions in the area are still a “reasonable response” to the problem. While the report raises the possibility of other causes of the sea lions' decline, the report does not rule out fishing of their prey as a cause.
“This report demonstrates the importance of commitment to continued research while we maintain protections,” said Dr. Michael Hirshfield, Vice President for Science at Oceana.
The executive summary of the report -- which was all that was released today -- makes clear that continued protection of Steller sea lions is necessary and that we need more data before industrial-scale fishing or any of the suspected causes of the decline can be ruled out. The only answer is research and the only control we have in this situation is over human actions, including the amount of fishing conducted in the sea lions' habitat.
“Oceana recommends that we move forward in a cooperative effort of scientists, NMFS, fishermen and conservation groups to get this data while continuing to protect sea lions because the risk is too great to the sea lion population if NMFS guesses wrong on the causes of their decline. As the NRC concludes, this will mean some continued closures,” said Hirshfield.
The report confirms National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) position that fisheries need to be well-managed to protect Steller sea lions. Oceana commends Senator Ted Stevens for initiating the funding for this report. Oceana also commends the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council for contracting with NRC to prepare the report. Oceana looks forward to reviewing the entire report when it is published.