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Fisheries Must Change To Protect Sea Lions

by the Fish Site Editor
05 August 2010, at 1:00am

US - NOAAs National Marine Fisheries Service says fishery modifications are needed in theAleutian Islands to further promote the recovery of the western population of Steller sea lions, and to bein compliance with the Endangered Species Act.

A report released by the Alaska Region of NOAA Fisheries addresses the possible effects of current management practices for groundfish fisheries in the Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska on endangered species.

Although scientists found that current fishing practices are unlikely to impact the endangered whale populations, such is not the case with Steller sea lions. The greatest concern is in fishery management area 543, in the western Aleutians. From 2000-2008, adult numbers declined 45 per cent in this sub-region. Pup production declined 43 per cent, making the ratio of pups to adult females on rookeries in this sub-region the lowest in the entire western Steller sea lion population. This continued low birth rate is an indicator of nutritional stress, or lack of food.

"We need to mitigate the potential for competition for food in areas where sea lion numbers are declining,” said Jim Balsiger, regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries, Alaska Region.

A definitive cause for the decline of sea lions has not been identified, and it is likely that other factors are important in understanding the lack of recovery, Mr Balsiger said.

“Even though factors other than fishing also affect the sea lion population, under the Endangered Species Act we are required to ensure that the actions our agency takes to authorise fisheries do not jeopardize these endangered animals.”

“NOAA Fisheries will work with the Council to develop management measures for the groundfish fisheries to ensure fishing operations are consistent with the mandates of the ESA,” said Mr Balsiger. “The ultimate goal is the recovery of the western Steller sea lion population so that the species can be removed from the list of endangered and threatened wildlife.”

The draft biological opinion is available at: http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/protectedresources/stellers/esa/biop/draft/0810.htm. A final biological opinion is expected in January 2011. The new fishery management measures are expected to be implemented in January 2011.

the Fish Site Editor