Today, the United States District Court for the District of Alaska upheld protections for the Western Population of Steller sea lions. Recognizing that commercial fishing is causing jeopardy to Steller sea lions, the Court issued an order requiring the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to prepare an environmental impact statement by March 2, 2014 to allow more chance for the public to provide input. In the meantime, the fishing restrictions put in place by NMFS to reduce competition between large-scale commercial fisheries and endangered Steller sea lions in the Aleutian Islands will remain in effect.
“The tide is turning for Aleutian sea lions,” said Susan Murray, Oceana’s senior director, Pacific. “Today’s decision can serve as an example of how to move away from single species money fish management and toward ecosystem-based approach that takes into account the needs of apex predators in our oceans.”
The court found that the agency based its decision on good science and reiterated that the protections currently in place are justified and necessary.
“This is good news for the few remaining sea lions in the Western Aleutians,” said Jon Warrenchuk, ocean scientist for Oceana. “Hopefully it’s not too little, too late.”
According to the Court, in the event that the new EIS indicates a need to change protection measures, NMFS must issue a new rule in sufficient time to implement new measures for the start of the 2015 fishing season. The Court order also allows NMFS to request extension of the schedule for "good cause."
“Today’s decision validates the agency’s use of the best science to protect our oceans,” said Colin O’Brien, staff attorney at Earthjustice, “The next step is a full evaluation of the impacts of fisheries on ocean ecosystems, including Steller sea lions.”