The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has delayed indefinitely the release of the latest Biological Opinion evaluating the impacts of commercial fishing on endangered Steller sea lions in Alaska. The Opinion was expected earlier this month and will evaluate whether current fishery management complies with the Endangered Species Act. It is expected to show that the endangered western stock of Steller sea lions has continued to decline over portions of its range and is not meeting criteria set out in the agency’s recovery plan.
Oceana has called for the immediate release of the Biological Opinion and a transparent public process for addressing the competition between sea lions and commercial fisheries for important prey species, such as Atka mackerel.
“All of the available information shows that NMFS must do more to protect sea lions,” said Michael LeVine, Pacific Senior Counsel for Oceana. “The agency should involve the public as it determines how best to comply with the Endangered Species Act while maintaining vibrant fisheries.”
Steller sea lions tell an important story about the health and resilience of the North Pacific marine ecosystems. The species’ decline and failure to recover are part of a larger, ongoing conversation among government, scientists, industry, communities, and conservation organizations about protecting the ecosystem and maintaining viable commercial fisheries in Alaska. In a series of letters, Oceana requested that NMFS take action to protect sea lions, release the Biological Opinion, and establish a transparent public process that includes the opportunity for cooperation between all interested parties.
“We know that business as usual cannot continue, and the best way forward is for NMFS to let us all be part of the solution,” said LeVine. “It’s time for us to have an open, public discussion about sea lions and fisheries.”