The rule will allow factory trawlers and freezer longliners to harvest more than 30 million pounds of pollock, Pacific cod and Atka mackerel, critical food sources for the Steller sea lions. That decision is drawing criticism from the international ocean advocacy organization Oceana, which says the National Marine Fisheries Service is giving large-scale industrial fishing priority over the health of oceans.
The rule, published on Nov. 24 in the Federal Register, notes that NMFS is responsible for certain threatened and endangered species, including Steller sea lions, and that NMFS has implemented a number of protection measures to protect Steller sea lion prey from potential effects of groundfish fishing. The Steller sea lion protection measures have been revised several times, most recently in 2011.
The rule notes that a 2014 fishery management plan biological opinion that found that changes proposed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to allow for more fishing while protecting the sea lions, because fishing would be limited within Steller sea lion critical habitat.
The multi-million dollar fishery is important to the economies of several Aleutian communities, as well as the seafood industry. Annual harvests are limited by the total allowable catch levels set each December by the North Pacific council.
Oceanic senior scientist and campaign manager Jon Warrenchuk, in Juneau is critical of NOAA’s decision.
“The new rule reverses course on decades of science, government policy and court decisions,” Warrenchuck said.
“We had hoped that the Fisheries Service would show the leadership needed to find long term and sustainable solutions to management in the Aleutians,” he said.
“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,” Warrenchuck said. “By finding the right balance in management, we could foster a healthy ocean that supports sustainable fishing and vibrant communities.”
The final rule and related documents are at http://www.alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/.