Protection of Steller Sea Lions in Aleutians Upheld

The Ninth
Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld protections for the western population of
Steller sea lions, rejecting claims of fishing industry representatives and the
state of Alaska in a challenge of limits to the commercial fishery.

In an opinion
filed July 23, the judges affirmed the US District Court decision on
limitations set by the National Marine Fisheries Service on sub-regions of the
Pacific Ocean inhabited by the endangered western distinct population segment
of Steller sea lions.

The case was
brought by a number of commercial fishing entities, including the Freezer
Longline Coalition, Alaska Seafood Cooperative, Groundfish Forum, Alaska
Groundfish Cooperative, the Fishing Company of Alaska and others against the
National Marine Fisheries Service, with the conservation organizations Oceana
and Greenpeace as intervenor defendants. The plaintiff’s principal argument was
that NMFS violated the Endangered Species Act because it based the fishing
restrictions on declines in sub-regions rather than in the entire population of
the endangered species.  Plaintiffs also
contended that the agency utilized the wrong standard in measuring the effects
of continued fishing and failed to find a sufficient causal link between
authorizing fisheries and the population decline.

The appeals
court held that use of sub-regions did not violate the ESA, and that the agency
utilized appropriate standards to find that continuing previous fishing levels
in those sub-regions would adversely modify the critical habitat and jeopardize
the continued existence of the entire population.

Susan Murray,
deputy vice president for the Pacific region for Oceanic, called the decision
“a victory for healthy oceans.”

“Steller sea
lions in the Aleutian Islands have had a tough history, from being shot for
sport, to fisheries taking their food,” said Susan Murray, Oceana’s deputy vice
president for the Pacific.

“The solution
to recovering the Steller sea lion population is not more industrial fishing
for important prey species,” said Jon Warrenchuk, Oceana’s senior scientist and
campaign manager.  “The Steller sea lion
is still facing a slow road to recovery, and the Aleutian Islands are key to
their survival.”

A copy of the
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion is online at