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ANCHORAGE - The state of Alaska has petitioned the federal government to delist the eastern population of Steller sea lions as threatened.
Gov. Sean Parnell, who has also has disputed Endangered Species Act listings for polar bears, beluga whales and other species, said Thursday that the state also will challenge a draft federal biological opinion that concludes commercial take of groundfish is inhibiting recovery of Steller sea lions in the western population, which covers the Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea.
"Today the state goes on the offensive," Parnell said.
The eastern area includes Alaska coastline starting at Cape Suckling northwest of Yakutat, and includes Alaska's Panhandle, British Columbia, Washington and Oregon.
Parnell said recovery objectives for Steller sea lions set by the National Marine Fisheries Services in the east have been met. He said Washington and Oregon have filed similar delisting petitions.
NMFS spokeswoman Julie Speegle said the agency already had begun a status review of the eastern population and the state's petitions and may speed the process.
Sea lions in the west are listed as endangered. Since 2000, the western Aleutian population of the Steller sea lions has declined by about 45 percent.
Parnell, Attorney General Dan Sullivan and state endangered species coordinator Doug Vincent-Lang said research has not shown a connection between commercial fishing and nutritional harm to Steller sea lions and that the federal agency has not given sufficient consideration to the economic damage fishing restrictions would do to Aleutian communities.
Speegle said the draft biological opinion concluded that current fishing practices were not having impact on sperm and humpback whales but could be having an impact on sea lions.
The agency has made propos als to change fishing practices for groundfish, Atka mackerel and Pacific cod in the western and central Aleutians.
The goal would be to limit competition between fishermen and sea lions seeking food.