NMFS Expands Fishing Near Steller Sea Lion Habitat

The National Marine Fisheries Service will re-open fisheries in the Western Aleutian Islands that have been restricted for years to protect a population of Steller sea lions.

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The new federal rules were issued Tuesday. They say some fishing, spread out over more space and time, won’t deplete the sea lions’ food source too much. It upholds recommendations that have taken shape this year.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Steller sea lions eat Atka mackerel, Pacific cod and pollock — which were harvested commercially in the Western Aleutians in the past. The fisheries were shut down in 2011, when NMFS first ruled that fishing posed too much of a threat to the endangered mammals.

Now, after a long biological re-evaluation, they’re officially relaxing those restrictions.

Under the new rules, NMFS will re-open 35 percent more pollock fishing grounds compared to what was closed in 2011. And they’ll re-open 8 percent more for Atka mackerel and 23 percent more for Pacific cod in both the trawl and non-trawl sectors. Closures around sea lion haulouts and rookeries will still apply.

The new regulations also extend the fishing seasons for those species. But they keep harvesting limited during times of year when the sea lions appear to be eating more fish — such as pollock, in the winter.

The management plan takes effect in 30 days.

You can read the full text of the rule and see NMFS responses to public comments here.