ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration says it's on the offensive, telling the federal government that eastern Alaska’s Steller sea lions no longer need strict protection. Parnell is asking regulators to de-list from the Endangered Species Act what he calls a recovered population.
The state's endangered species coordinator says the sea lions’ numbers are between 40,000 and 60,000 animals -- more than double what they were back in the 1980s. As a result, Parnell and the Department of Law have filed a petition with the National Marine Fisheries Service to de-list the eastern Alaska population.
“They're going to have to react to us, and I think in a lot of ways that's what the governor's talking about, us going on offense -- they're reacting,” said Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan. “The feds and certain environmental groups, I'm certain, will react to our action.”
The states of Oregon and Washington filed a similar petition this week.
There’s another Alaska population of Steller sea lions, the western population, which is also currently listed as endangered. Its numbers have not recovered to the same extent as the eastern population -- and in a recent opinion, NMFS stated that commercial fishing is inhibiting their recovery. The fisheries service is calling for cutbacks in commercial fishing in the western Aleutians.
The Parnell administration responded to that call Thursday, saying it has submitted comments to the federal government that additional fishing restrictions are unnecessary, and not supported by the best science.
Environmental groups like Juneau-based Oceana say they're still reviewing Parnell's petition, but state that the eastern Steller sea lions’ rebound is proof that federal protections are effective -- and that they hope that success could be replicated with the western population.
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