Some of the rules that limit commercial fishing in the western Aleutian Islands are no longer needed to protect endangered Steller sea lions, federal regulators said in a management document issued Wednesday.
In a 281-page biological opinion, the National Marine Fisheries Service said a new arrangement of Aleutian fishing seasons for pollock, Atka mackerel and Pacific cod has resulted in a harvest system that does not pose additional jeopardy to the fish-eating sea lions.
The biological opinion’s stamp of approval is expected to bring regulatory changes that “would relieve roughly two-thirds of the economic burden imposed on Aleutian Islands’ fishermen” by the current sea lion protection rules, NMFS said in a statement.
“Finding a way to protect endangered sea lions while minimizing costs to the fishing industry is a real challenge,” Jim Balsinger, NFMS Alaska regional administrator, said in the statement. “I applaud the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and stakeholders for recommending a new suite of measures that effectively balances those two objectives.”
The fishing industry and its supporters cheered the new biological opinion, a document required under the Endangered Species Act.
“We are grateful that NOAA Fisheries has taken a new updated view of their 2010 decision,” Thomas Mack, president of the fishing-dependent Aleut Corp., said in a statement. “This means increased fishing opportunities especially in Adak and other areas of the Aleutians. I also thank the North Pacific Fishery Management Council for their continuous determination to bring fishing back to the Western Aleutians.”