A lengthy biological opinion issued by federal regulators has concluded that proposed changes to fishing restrictions in the Aleutian Islands will not likely jeopardize endangered Steller sea lions.
The National Marine Fisheries Service estimated in the document, which was released April 2, that proposed fishery management changes would relieve roughly two-thirds of the economic burden imposed on Aleutian Islands fishermen by sea lion protection measures that took effect in 2011.
The issue was slated for final action during the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s spring meeting in Anchorage in early April.
Fishermen could see new regulations in place by January 2015, NMFS said.
“Finding a way to protect endangered sea lions while minimizing costs to the fishing industry is a real challenge,” according to Jim Balsiger, Alaska regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “I applaud the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and stakeholders for recommending a new suite of measures that effectively balances those two objectives.”
The new biological opinion on the status of the western stock of Steller sea lions reversed one issued in 2010, and got kudos from Alaska’s congressional delegation.
Doug Vincent-Lang, director of the Alaska Division of Wildlife Conservation, said the state of Alaska also was pleased that limited fishing in the western Aleutians can now be reopened.
The international ocean advocacy group Oceana meanwhile criticized NMFS’s report which would allow additional fishing opportunity in areas where the Steller sea lion population continues to decline, and authorize fishing for pollock in areas of designated critical habitat that have been closed for more than a decade.
The decision, said Susan Murray, Oceana’s deputy vice president, Pacific, is a clear statement from NMFS “that large-scale industrial fishing is more important than stewardship, science and sustainable fisheries.
“The conclusion is inconsistent with decades of scientific analysis, court decisions, and the government’s commitment to ecosystem-based management,” Murray said.