ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council is holding a special meeting in Anchorage this week on how to better protect the endangered Steller sea lion.
The National Marine Fisheries Service prepared a report with recommendations on fisheries management to help protect them. But neither environmentalists nor fisheries advocates are happy with the report.
The discussion at the special meeting, which lasts until Wednesday, focuses on groundfish fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska and their impact on the Steller sea lion population there.
The biological opinion states the overall population of sea lions has increased since 2000, but the western Aleutians population has declined by about 45 percent. The report links the population decline to the fisheries.
“This population of Steller sea lions is telling us a story about the way we're managing fisheries, our movement toward sustainable fisheries and how we're going to ensure there are fisheries for vibrant communities,” said Michael Levine, Pacific senior counsel for conservation group Oceana.
According to fisheries advocates, the federal agency's recommendations to the council are not backed up by sound science. Organizations like the Marine Conservation Alliance say the fishing industry could be negatively impacted by the agency's proposed closures of Pacific cod and Atka mackerel fisheries in the western and central Aleutians.
Members of communities relying on those fisheries are at the special meeting to speak up.
“To cut off our livelihood, to me, is the wrong thing to do,” said Michael Swetzof, mayor of Adak. “We lived out there thousands of years, our ancestors, and because the strong survived, that's why we're here today -- and then to get it pulled out from underneath us, we have no future.”
“The discussion is now that they're going to put these emergency policies in place which would be devastating, not to just my community in Unalaska and our businesses, but Sand Point, King Cove, Akutan -- there's a whole region that really depends on these fisheries,” said Shirley Marquardt, mayor of Unalaska.
Public comments on the biological opinion report are being accepted until August 27. The management council is expected to make a decision on the report's recommendations by October.
Contact Lori Tipton at email@example.com