Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska
An official from the National Marine Fisheries Service announced yesterday that they would not be adopting the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s alternative plan for Steller Sea Lion management. The council had hoped that NMFS would consider relaxing the proposed restrictions and reducing the potential closures, but – with few exceptions – NMFS is moving ahead with the plan announced in August.
Effective January 1, NMFS will be closing Pacific Cod and Atka Mackerel fisheries in the western Aleutian Islands, in an effort to increase the food supply for the endangered western stock of sea lions. Doug DeMaster, a research director for NMFS, says that while this is a difficult process with many stakeholders involved, adhering to the Endangered Species Act is the top priority.
Many representatives from the fishing industry are less than pleased. They estimate that the loss to the commercial fisheries in the Western Aleutians is about $30 million, and that the brunt of that will fall on only a dozen boats. David Benton is the executive director of the Marine Conservation Alliance, an industry group that has been critical of both the science behind the decision and the speed at which NMFS is operating. He’s concerned there wasn’t enough time for the agency to review the Council’s management plan.
But conservation groups are pleased that NMFS didn’t weaken its plan. Michael Levine is Pacific senior council for the conservation group Oceana, and he says that the western stock of Steller Sea Lions are currently in a critical situation, and that their continued decline demands immediate attention.
The Council will be meeting through the end of the week, and will be discussing the prospect of a scientific review of the biological opinion.
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