Fish Fight Lands Commercial Harvesters and Conservationists Back in Court

A federal fisheries decision that put commercial harvesters back into waters put off limits four years ago to reduce competition between them and Steller sea lions hungering for the same fish has prompted another federal lawsuit.

The environmental law firm Earthjustice filed a lawsuit this past week on behalf of the conservation groups Oceana and Greenpeace, saying that the decision by National Marine Fisheries Service undermines protections for the Steller sea lion population in the Western Aleutians who are already endangered and protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The lawsuit, online at, alleges that the NMFS decision violates the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.

Both the commercial fishing vessels and the Steller Sea lions are in pursuit of pollock, Pacific cod and Atka mackerel.

“We have been forced back to court once again by an agency that appears intent on sacrificing healthy ocean ecosystems for short-term economic gain,” said Michael LeVine, Pacific senior counsel for Oceana. “We find ourselves back in court to defend the basic premise that sea lions need fish caught by industrial fisheries to survive.”

In its lengthy explanation of its decision in late November, NMFS said the challenge it faced along with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council was to meet the Endangered Species Act requirement in a manner that also provides opportunities for the fisheries managed under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and did not unnecessarily restrict fishing opportunities.

“Maintaining the ability for fisheries to occur is a fundamental statutory requirement under the Magnuson-Stevens Act,” NMFS said, in a report from Juneau. Protection measures currently in place insure that jeopardy is not likely, but that they are more protective than necessary to avoid the likelihood of jeopardy, resulting in more economic costs to the fishing industry than necessary to comply with the ESA, NMFS said.

The complete explanation of its Steller sea lion decision was posted by NMFS at