Alaska Groundfish Fisheries/Steller Sea Lion Litigation Brought to a Close

Six years of working to bring balance to the Alaska marine environment pays off


Janis Searles, Earthjustice, 907-301-5677


Charlotte DeFontaubert, Greenpeace, 202-319-2454


Jim Ayers, Oceana, 907-586-4050

Earthjustice has asked a federal judge to wrap up a successful six-year old lawsuit that changed the way we manage our oceans off the coast of Alaska.

On March 28, 2003, all of the parties in the long-running litigation filed a request asking the court to complete the paperwork necessary to end the case.

“With the court’s December ruling, all the issues the conservation groups raised back in 1998 have been resolved, and the plaintiffs have largely prevailed,” said Earthjustice attorney Janis Searles. “The Court has directed the government to protect sea lions and their habitat.”

Most recently, in December 2002, the federal district court in the Western District of Washington ruled that the biological opinion governing the fisheries was illegal because it did not adequately consider the effects of federally managed groundfish fisheries on endangered Steller sea lions and their habitat. The court sent the document back to the National Marine Fisheries Service for more work.

Steller sea lions in western Alaska have declined by almost 90 percent in the past several decades. The plunge in sea lion numbers in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea coincides with the rise in industrial fishing in the sea lions’ home waters. For the past several years, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal government agency responsible for protecting sea lions, has acknowledged that the massive federally managed fisheries which target sea lion prey in important sea lion habitat had to be modified to protect sea lions.

The “Joint Stipulation for Entry of Agreed Order and Judgment” filed by the litigants on March 28 includes deadlines for the National Marine Fisheries Service to complete analysis and documents required by the court. The Joint Stipulation also asks the court to formally conclude the lawsuit.

“The North Pacific is one of the most magnificent marine systems in the world and we brought the suit because we were appalled about the federal government’s callous attitude toward rewarding powerful friends at the expense of the sea lions, whales, sea birds and all the other rich wildlife there,” said Searles. “It’s now up to the government to protect these national treasures, and we will be watching it closely.”

Greenpeace, American Oceans Campaign and the Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice and Trustees for Alaska, filed the Steller sea lion lawsuit 1998.

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