Republicans claim fishing restrictions hurt regional economies
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Radical House Republicans last week found a new target as part of their extreme anti-environmental agenda, taking aim at endangered and threatened Steller sea lions during a field hearing, when they claimed that efforts to protect the marine mammals have “devastating impacts” on the fishing industry in the Pacific Northwest.
Steller sea lions are distributed mainly around the coasts to the outer continental shelf along the North Pacific Ocean rim from northern Hokkaiddo, Japan through the Kuril Islands and Okhotsk Sea, Aleutian Islands and central Bering Sea, southern coast of Alaska and south to California.
For management purposes, the population is divided into western and the eastern distinct population segments. The western population includes Steller sea lions in the central and western Gulf of Alaska, Aleutian Islands, as well as those that inhabit the coastal waters and breed in Japan and Russia. The Eastern population includes sea lions living in southeast Alaska, British Columbia, California, and Oregon.
Critical habitat for the sea lions is a 20 nautical mile buffer around all major haul-outs and rookeries, as well as associated terrestrial, air and aquatic zones, and three large offshore foraging areas.
Led by House Natural Resources Committee chairman Doc Hastings, a Republican from Washington, and Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young, the committee took testimony from scientists on federal sea lion protection efforts.
In a press release following the hearing, the Republican-led committee cherry picked testimony from the hearing in a way that makes clear the ideological motivation for the attack: Protect extractive industries from government regulation regardless of the environmental cost. Instead of offering any positive alternate suggestions for conserving important marine resources, the Republicans focused their efforts on attacking federal agencies.
“The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s own documents state that the imposition of the fishery management restrictions put in place last January will cost the commercial fishing industry between $44 million and $61 million per year and cause the loss of between 250 and 750 jobs. At a time when every effort should be focused upon creating jobs and economic opportunities, it certainly stands out when an action by a Federal agency will result in this degree of economic loss – especially when one of the missions of the agency is to fully utilize the Nation’s fishery resources,” said Chairman Doc Hastings.
The western population of Steller sea lions declined by 75 percent between 1976 and 1990, and decreased another 40 percent between 1991 and 2000, for an average annual decline of 5.4 percent during the period.
Since the 1970s, the most significant drop in numbers occurred in the eastern Aleutian Islands and the western Gulf of Alaska. The extent of this decline led National Marine Fisheries Service to list the Steller sea lions as threatened range-wide under the Endangered Species Act in April 1990.
Population surveys suggest that the Eastern U.S. DPS is stable or increasing in the northern part of its range (Southeast Alaskan and British Columbia), while the remainder of the Eastern DPS and all the Western DPS is declining.
“Once again, the National Marine Fisheries Service cannot say with any certainty what is causing the Steller Sea Lion population decline, but fishermen are again paying the price. While we have no idea if these closures and restrictions will benefit the sea lion, we do know that they will have devastating effects on the fishermen and fishing communities,” Young said.
Due to concerns that ground fishing in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands region is jeopardizing sea lion recovery, The fisheries service, under a 2010 biological opinion, maintained existing restrictions to protect sea lions. Closures of Pacific cod fisheries and the Atka mackerel fishery in the western Aleutian Islands are also aimed at trying to help the sea lion population recover.
Alaska and Washington commissioned an expert panel to to critique the federal scientific efforts.
“Washington acknowledged that there are very significant scientific uncertainties concerning factors for decline for Stellers Sea Lions in the central and western Aleutians, and was hesitant to draw our own conclusions regarding the NMFS scientific and economic assessments until we had the benefit of an independent review.” said Bill Tweit, of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
According to the panel, the “NMFS misinterpreted crucial evidence from statistical studies of relationships between fishing and sea lion demographics. NMFS also failed to scientifically support their explanation of how fisheries affected sea lions (fishery-driven nutritional stress), and disregarded or misreported evidence that refutes the fishery-driven nutritional stress hypothesis. And finally, NMFS did not seriously consider alternative ecologically mediated explanations for declines in sea lion numbers not involving fisheries (environmentally-driven nutritional stress and the killer whale predation hypotheses).”
An Alaska Department of Fish and Wildlife official said his state questions whether the restrictions are justified ‘in light of evidence that the stock now numbers over 73,000 animals, that it is growing overall across its range, and that there is a lack of credible data showing that fishing is in fact jeopardizing Steller sea lions or adversely modifying their habitat.”
Filed under: biodiversity, endangered species, Environment, Marine biology, Summit County news Tagged: | Alaska, Bering Sea, biodiversity, marine mammals, national marine fisheries service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Steller Sea Lion