The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld restrictions on fishing in the western Aleutians to protect an endangered stock of Steller Sea lions. The basic question the court addressed in their opinion was whether the National Marine Fisheries Service violated any statutes when it restricted fishing in the western Aleutians in 2011.
The State of Alaska and fishing industry groups had alleged the closure wasn’t justified. Among other things, they argued the agency couldn’t prove fishing was causing the sea lion population decline. In their opinion, the Ninth Circuit disagreed, saying it was enough to show fishing had targeted the same species Steller sea lions usually eat, and that simultaneously, the sea lions were under nutritional stress.
The immediate impacts of the ruling are pretty limited. The fishing restrictions will remain in place, and NMFS still has to produce an environmental impact statement that was mandated by a lower court. That statement will weigh different management plans, and will likely result in changes to the current restrictions.
If it does, the agency will have to do a new analysis to see if those regulations comply with the Endangered Species Act, which could open the door to another round of lawsuits.