TEMPORARY BAN ON TRAWL FISHING IN ALASKA LIFTED
A federal judge has dissolved an injunction that restricts trawl fishing in the Steller sea lion's critical habitat following the release of a Biological Opinion on December 1, 2000, by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The 500+ page Opinion came about as a result of the court decision requiring NMFS to comply with the law by preparing a comprehensive assessment of the effects of the North Pacific fisheries on the endangered Steller sea lion.
To mitigate the adverse effects described in the Biological Opinion, NMFS has prescribed and intends to implement a Reasonable and Prudent Alternative (RPA) aimed at reducing fishing impacts in the sea lions' critical habitat. The RPA requires changes to only the federally-managed pollock, Atka mackerel, and Pacific cod fisheries.
"The injunction did what it was supposed to: protect Steller sea lions until NMFS complied with the law and completed a comprehensive scientific analysis of the impacts of North Pacific fisheries on the endangered marine mammals," said Niaz Dorry, Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner. "The conclusions of the opinion are consistent with what Greenpeace has been saying for over 15 years: industrial scale fishing causes devastating ripple effects in the oceanic environment. Although this recognition is a huge first step in the right direction, we need to ensure that the RPA fully and adequately addresses the conclusions of the report."
The plaintiffs in this case have argued for years that industrial fishing destroys marine habitat and removes vast amounts of fish that are essential to the health of the entire ecosystem, specifically the endangered Steller sea lion. In addition to the impact on the marine environment, industrial scale fishing operations also endanger the long-term economic viability of coastal fishing communities.
"Our principal objective is to promote a healthy ecosystem that protects endangered Steller sea lions and ensures a sustainable future for Alaska's coastal communities," said Phil Kline, Fisheries Program Director for American Oceans Campaign (AOC). "The Biological Opinion is the first step toward a more balanced approach to managing North Pacific fisheries."
"Injunctions are not permanent solutions to fisheries management," said Jack Sterne, attorney for Trustees for Alaska. "The plaintiffs' goal has been to get the comprehensive evaluation of the fisheries and the science the law requires. The plaintiffs are currently examining the new RPA to see if it meets that goal."
Since the 1960s, the population of Steller sea lions has declined by over 80 percent. The decline continues, with an estimated average drop of over five-percent each year during the 90s. In April 1998, Greenpeace, along with the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, Trustees for Alaska, American Oceans Campaign, and Sierra Club, filed a lawsuit seeking to force the NMFS to comply with the law. In January 2000, the court determined that "meaningful analysis is virtually non-existent" and that "NMFS' analysis is admittedly incomplete and its conclusions inconclusive." The court issued an injunction in August 2000 prohibiting trawl fishing for groundfish in designated critical habitat for endangered Steller sea lions until NMFS produced a Biological Opinion report which would study the cumulative and comprehensive effects of fishing on Alaska's marine ecosystem. On December 1, 2000, NMFS released the most recent Biological Opinion.