Federal fisheries managers are asking for public comment as they begin preparing an environmental impact statement on Steller sea lion protection measures for the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands management area groundfish fisheries.
“Scoping brings out ideas that help shape what comes through the process,” said Jim Balsiger, administrator for the Alaska region of NOAA Fisheries. “I hope people take time to send us their written comments, including potential impacts and alternatives that should be considered in revising the Steller sea lion protection measures.”
The western distinct population segment of Steller sea lions is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. By law, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration must ensure that the groundfish fisheries are not likely to result in jeopardy of continued existence or adverse modification or destruction of designated critical habitat for these sea lions.
Steller sea lion protection measures have been used to manage the groundfish fisheries since 1999.
The current protections were put into effect in January 2011, after a biological opinion concluded that primarily Pacific cod and Atka mackerel commercial fishing in part of the Aleutian Islands may be preventing the recovery of the endangered Steller sea lions. Atka mackerel and Pacific cod are important prey species for the Stellers.
Balsiger said NOAA Fisheries intends to work with stakeholders to develop fisheries restrictions that are not likely to result in jeopardizing the continued existence of the Stellers and to minimize potential economic impact on the fishing industry.
The formal public scoping period ends Oct. 15.
NOAA, in coordination with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, plans to hold public meetings to inform the public of the proposed action and alternatives, to present issues and potential impacts and gather public comment. The schedule for these meetings will be announced by notice in the Federal Register and online at http://alaskafisheris.noaa.gov/npfmc.