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Soundings Archive

NOAA Restricts Mackerel and Cod to Protect Western Stellar Sea Lions
On December 8, 2010, NOAA Fisheries service issued a final rule, significantly restricting commercial fishing of Atka mackerel and Pacific Cod. The rule is intended to protect the western Stellar Sea Lion in the Aleutian Islands. The rule is seen as an effort to provide more food for the endangered western Stellar Sea Lion. The western Stellar Sea Lion has experienced a 45 percent decline in population over the last eight years.

Lack of food for the sea lions is considered a major factor for the decline in population. Fishermen harvest more than 4 billion pounds of fish from the Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska each year. Most of the world's sea lions live along Alaska's vast coastline.

The protective measures include a three mile nautical buffer around a newly established rookery, new fishing closures for Atka mackerel and Pacific cod in important Stellar sea lion critical habitat foraging zones, reductions in Atka mackerel harvest amount, and varying seasonal closures for various areas targeting Pacific cod. Notably, these measures only apply to the western Stellar Sea Lion population.

Under the Endangered Species Act, NOAA's Fisheries Service must ensure that agency actions do not harm endangered species. Thus, NOAA is required under the Endangered Species Act to ensure that NOAA's permits or regulations do not harm the western Stellar Sea Lion. In the final Alaska groundfish biological opinion, NOAA found that continuing with the current fishing levels and practices is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the western Sea Lion and adversely affect their critical habitat.

NOAA is also currently reevaluating the status of the eastern Steller Sea Lion population, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. On August 30, Washington and Oregon petitioned to have the eastern Stellar delisted. On December 8, NOAA's Fisheries Service announced that there is substantial information indicating the species' recovery and that delisting may be warranted. NOAA's Fisheries Service has until August 30, 2011 to complete its review.

  • Click here to view NOAA's rule in the Federal Register notice
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