Today, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced a final rule rolling back protections for the endangered western population of Steller sea lions. The decision comes even as the population continues to decline significantly in the western Aleutian Islands.
The rule would take effect for the 2015 fishing season and would allow increased fishing for pollock, Pacific cod, and Atka mackerel in previously closed areas in the western Aleutian Islands, including critical habitat areas that have been closed to fishing for more than fifteen years. Pollock, Pacific cod, and Atka mackerel are critical food sources for Steller sea lions.
The western population of Steller sea lions has declined by more than 80 percent since the 1960’s, and sharp declines continue in the western Aleutian Islands. Just four years ago, the Fisheries Service determined that reduced fishery catches and closed areas were needed to prevent industrial fishing from causing jeopardy to the endangered western population of Steller sea lions. In response, fishing companies and the State of Alaska sued to overturn the protections. Two court opinions upheld the protections and agency’s reasoning as consistent with the law. Nonetheless, the Fisheries Service has devised a new rule to allow those factory trawlers and freezer-longliners to remove over 30 million pounds of fish that are Steller sea lion prey in the region where the sea lions are faring the worst.
Jon Warrenchuk, Oceana’s Senior Scientist and Campaign Manager, issued the following statement in response to today’s decision:
“The Fisheries Service has prioritized large-scale industrial fishing above the health of our oceans. The new rule reverses course on decades of science, government policy, and court decisions.
We had hoped that the Fisheries Service would show the leadership needed to find long term and sustainable solutions to management in the Aleutians. Instead of giving protection measures a chance to work, the Fisheries Service has opened the floodgates. This new rule will allow factory trawlers to take millions of fish away from the areas where Steller sea lions need to feed on them the most. Their decision is inconsistent with decades of scientific analysis.
By finding the right balance in management, we could foster a healthy ocean that supports sustainable fishing and vibrant communities.”