Oceana acknowledges the long-overdue release of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) draft biological opinion (BiOp) analyzing the impacts of the Alaska groundfish fisheries on endangered marine mammals and their habitat. The draft makes clear that current management does not comply the Endangered Species Act mandates to protect Steller sea lions and their critical habitat and recommends changes in the western Aleutian Islands.
“As the BiOp shows, the Aleutian Islands ecosystem cannot support the current level of industrial fishing”, said Jon Warrenchuk, Ocean Scientist of the worldwide ocean conservation group Oceana. “It’s clear that the industrial trawl fisheries need to be scaled back to ensure a continuation of the vibrant Aleutian Island ecosystem.”
The draft BiOp evaluates the impacts of removing more than 3.5 billion pounds of atka mackerel, pacific cod, and pollock from the ocean per year. Most of this fish is caught by industrial trawlers, many of which are home ported in Seattle. Together, these three species are vital prey for the endangered western population of Steller sea lions, which has declined 80% since the 1960s. Steller sea lions are one of the apex predators in the North Pacific, and they are faring the worst in the Aleutian Islands.
“NMFS did the easy part—finding that current management is not good enough,” said Michael LeVine, Pacific Senior Counsel for Oceana. “It then took the easy way out by making small changes around the edges rather than re-thinking management or explaining why it is ok to start new fishing in September in areas that will be closed in 2011.”
The Aleutian Islands are an unparalleled ecosystem. The longest archipelago in the world, the Aleutians stretch from the United States to Siberia. A combination of rich nutrients, strong currents, and complex seafloor create one of the most unique ocean habitats, and because of this, millions of birds and marine mammals make these islands their home.
“If we continue this management approach, we will be having this same conversation again in another ten years,” said Susan Murray, Oceana’s Director, Pacific. “This is a perfect opportunity for NMFS to step up and use effective ecosystem-based management that would protect Steller sea lions and sustainable fisheries.”
Oceana campaigns to protect and restore the world’s oceans. Our teams of marine scientists, economists, lawyers and advocates win specific and concrete policy changes to reduce pollution and to prevent the irreversible collapse of fish populations, marine mammals and other sea life. Global in scope and dedicated to conservation, Oceana has campaigners based in North America, Europe and South and Central America. More than 400,000 members and e-activists in over 150 countries have already joined Oceana. For more information, please visit www.Oceana.org