Next year will likely bring new fisheries to the western Aleutian
Islands, now that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has issued its
final report on the way commercial fishing affects an endangered population
of Steller sea lions.
The agency came out in favor of allowing more fishing in its environmental
impact statement, or EIS, on Friday morning.
This is a major move for the service. As recently as 2010, the agency was
trying to close fishing grounds in the Bering Sea and Aleutians. Biologists
didn’t want the Steller sea lions to have to compete with fishermen for
pollock, Atka mackerel, and Pacific Cod.
But the fishing industry argued there wasn’t enough scientific proof
that commercial harvests were putting pressure on the endangered species.
The issue went to court, and a federal judge ordered NMFS to go back to the
drawing board. The agency was required to come up with the new
environmental impact statement, which looks at the scientific and economic
implications of different protection plans.
Last year, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council told biologists
they preferred an option that would relax some bans on commercial fishing.
The service has been studying that plan ever since. The agency ruled more
fishing — at certain times of year, in certain areas — is not likely to
jeopardize sea lions.
Now, NMFS will start turning that into a federal regulation. It could go
into effect as early as January 2015.