‘No Jeopardy’ Opinion Issued for Steller Sea Lions

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
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.