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Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Back issues
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Alaska Prefers Fish to Sea Lions

ANCHORAGE (CN) - Alaska says it was excluded from a federal decision to restrict or close fishing grounds for the Steller sea lion, which it claims could "devastate small communities" and cost the state up to $83 million in lost revenue. Though the species declined by 80 percent from the 1970s to 1990, Alaska says, no one proved that lack of fish caused it.

Alaska sued the National Marine Fisheries Service over an interim rule closing and restricting Atka mackerel and Pacific cod fisheries in the west and central Aleutian Islands.

In its federal complaint, Alaska acknowledged government data indicates that the species as a whole, which ranges along the northern Pacific Rim, declined by 80 percent from the 1970s to 1990. But it says "nutritional stress" has never been proven to be the problem for "slower than desired recovery" in two subregions around the edge of the western distinct population segment.

And the benefit of closing the fishery does not outweigh the economic harm, Alaska says, adding that it thinks that the species as a whole is doing fine.

The state says federal agencies closed the fisheries without solid evidence that it would benefit the Steller sea lion, which feeds on the fish. Alaska challenges a December 2010 interim rule, which it claims it had no say in.

The agencies apparently closed the fisheries to protect food sources for the edges of the western distinct population segment of the sea lion, which has been protected as an endangered species since 1997.

The state cites "significant environmental effects" of the closure, along with "environmental justice concerns" for Native Alaskan villages, which depend on fishing income for their economic survival.

The harm to communities, fishing fleets and the seafood processing industry could cost up to $83.2 million per year, the state says. The town of Adak, for example, survives off a "raw fish tax," according to the complaint.

It wants the feds to allow it to continue as the "steward of fish and wildlife resources" for the state, while providing a "maximum benefit to the people of Alaska."

Alaska asks the court to suspend the rule and strike related federal documents.

The National Marine Fisheries Service issued a decision on Monday stating that, based on Alaska's petitions, delisting of the eastern distinct population segment of the sea lion may be warranted.

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