Alaskan Congressman Don Young today shared his support for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) report reversing its opinion on the status of the Steller Sea Lion, following overbearing National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) restrictions that hampered and closed certain Aleutian Islands groundfish fisheries in 2011.
In its most recent Biological Opinion (BiOp), NOAA Fisheries concluded today that "the Aleutian Island groundfish fisheries "will not jeopardize' the endangered western population of Steller Sea Lions "nor adversely modify' Steller Sea Lion critical habitat;" a full reversal from a previous opinion released in 2010.
"We have received good news from NOAA today. They have reached a conclusion that the Steller Sea Lion - its diminishing population - is not caused by our fisheries," said Congressman Don Young in a recorded statement. "This has caused close to $60 million dollars lost annually to the fisheries and communities of the Aleutian chain for the last four years."
"I'm pleased they have announced their decision, after the Senators and I told them, that there is no challenge by the fishermen to the Steller Sea Lion, rather from predation from the Orca and Sleeper Shark; which has caused the damage," Congressman Young said. "This is good news. We may get a lot of our fisherman and a lot of our villages back in the taking of fish from the Western Aleutians, and to me I'm excited about that. This goes to show you that the government doesn't know everything and I'm glad we were able to have some input on the decision."
Congressman Young adamantly opposed a 2010 BiOp, which found that fishing in the western and central Aleutians would likely jeopardize Steller Sea Lion populations and their habitat. The decision resulted in added fishing restrictions in the area and the subsequent closure to both the Atka Mackerel and Pacific Cod fisheries in certain areas, to the tune of $66 million annually according to NMFS reports.
During a 2011 Committee on Natural Resources Field Hearing on the issue, NOAA's Steller Sea Lion Science and Fishery Management Restrictions - Does the Science Support the Decisions?, Congressman Young questioned NOAA's use of incomplete and inferior science when closing these Alaskan fisheries, to the detriment of fishermen and local communities.
"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," said Congressman Don Young in 2011. "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. From all the evidence I've seen, I can reasonably draw only one conclusion--we're confronted with an Agency that has a premise, but a lack of information to prove or disprove it.