Council cuts catch to protect sea lions

Posted: Monday, October 08, 2001

SEATAC, Wash. -- Next year's commercial harvests of Alaska pollock, cod and mackerel would be cut by at least 5 percent under conservation measures proposed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

The limits, approved Friday at the council's meeting in this south Seattle suburb, will be forwarded to the National Marine Fisheries Service for final approval.

The proposed restrictions are an effort to help threatened and endangered populations of Steller sea lions, which compete with the fishing fleet for those fish. Those populations have declined by more than 70 percent since the 1960s, leaving about 34,600 animals. Scientists are trying to figure out why.

The harvest cuts could reduce the processed value of the catch by as much as $100 million, The Seattle Times reported Saturday, citing industry estimates.

Environmentalists have fought for broader restrictions and bigger harvest cuts.

The council made up of state, industry and federal officials hopes the courts will clear its new limits so they can take effect next year.

Last year, a federal judge in Seattle ruled an earlier management plan had jeopardized the sea lion in violation of the Endangered Species and National Environmental Protection acts. U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly temporarily banished the fleet from a considerable portion of the nation's richest fishing ground.

Zilly's ruling in a lawsuit brought by environmental groups prompted an extensive review by the council and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

David Benton, the council's chairman, said the approved limits would not put the sea lions at risk. "I believe we can defend this measure wherever we may need to," he said.

The lawsuit plaintiffs Alaska Oceans Campaign, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club are expected to ask Zilly to review the plan.

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