By Tim Hull
The National Marine Fisheries Service can limit commercial fishing in the Northern Pacific to protect a dwindling population of sea lions, the 9th Circuit ruled Tuesday.
The agency proposed in 2010 to close mackerel and cod fishing in the Aleutian Islands region, and to limit fishing in other areas around the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska, after discovering that two subpopulations of endangered Steller sea lions had experienced sharp declines in population from "nutritional stress," allegedly caused by commercial fishing. Four other groups meanwhile had seen an increase in population.
Fearing economic repercussions, Alaska and several fishing companies challenged the limits, and Greenpeace and Oceana joined the federal action as defendants.
Alaska and the fishing companies argued that the National Marine Fisheries Service had violated the Endangered Species Act when it based the restrictions on a subpopulation instead of all of the region's sea lions. They also claimed that the agency had improperly measured the alleged decline, and had failed to show a clear relation between fishing and the relative health of the animals.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess in Anchorage found no violation in the limits and ruled that the agency did not have to show such a "definitive causal connection" between fishery activity and the sea lion's decline.
A three-judge appellate panel unanimously affirmed on Tuesday.
"We have consistently held that the ESA permits agencies to consider the impact of actions on sub-populations, as long as such impact would affect the population as a whole," Judge Mary Schroeder for the Seattle court, abbreviating Endangered Species Act. More....