A new draft report of an independent scientific review of a recent biological opinion by the National Marine Fisheries Service on the impact of groundfish fisheries on Steller sea lions is critical of the NMFS report.
The draft report comes in the wake of a federal fisheries decision that implemented new fishery closures in 2011 for Atka mackerel and Pacific cod in the Western Aleutian Islands, a move the industry said would cost them millions of dollars.
The independent researchers for the states of Alaska and Washington say they do not agree with the finding of jeopardy of adverse modification for Steller sea lions in the western and central Aleutian Islands, as concluded in the biological opinion. The scientists said they found that NMFS misinterpreted crucial evidence from statistical studies of relationships between fishing and sea lion demographics.
The scientists also said they found that NMFS failed to scientifically support their explanation of how fisheries affected sea lions, and disregarded or misreported evidence that refutes the fishery-driven nutritional stress hypothesis.
And finally, the scientists said, NMFS did not seriously consider alternative ecologically mediated explanations for declines in sea lion numbers not involving fisheries: environmentally-driven nutritional stress and the killer shale predation hypotheses.
“If fisheries adversely affect sea lion numbers, statistically significant negative associations should be detectable between measures of fishing and measures of sea lion numbers,” the scientists said. “Failing to find any such associations should lead to a conclusion that there is no adverse effect unless there are clear reasons why the effects would not be observable in the data.”
The complete draft report is online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/steller_sealions/fmp_biop_ind_sci_rev_21july2011
The report present the preliminary findings of the four panel members for the review and does not represent the views of either state’s agency for fish and game/wildlife.