NOAA 2000-152
Contact: Gordon Helm

Opinion Analyzes Effects of Fisheries on Steller Sea Lions

Agency officials with NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service announced a revised date of Nov. 30, 2000 for the public release of a comprehensive biological opinion that will assess the effects of federally authorized groundfish fisheries in the Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, and Gulf of Alaska on Endangered Species Act-listed species, including Steller sea lions, and their critical habitat.

The opinion will be based on a collaborative process involving the agency's top North Pacific marine mammal and fisheries science experts. It will assist the agency in determining how best to manage Alaska's vast groundfish fisheries while providing protection for Steller sea lions.

"Our goal is to release a comprehensive biological opinion that will incorporate all the best science available to us," said Penny Dalton, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries. "Completing this analysis has been a top priority for the agency."

"However, it is also an incredibly complex undertaking," Dalton added. "We have our best people working long hours on this opinion, and we believe the additional time will ensure the biological opinion is the best product possible and meets the high legal standards of the ESA. As the North Pacific Fishery Management Council suggested earlier this month, it is important to take the time necessary to complete a high quality document that adequately addresses all of the critical questions."

Agency officials stated that this revised time-line should not foreclose the opening of fisheries in January of 2001. "Our scientific, management, and legal staffs are working closely together to address all the steps in this process," Dalton said.

The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington issued an order, effective Aug. 8, 2000, enjoining all groundfish trawling within Steller sea lion critical habitat west of 144 degrees west longitude until further order of the Court. This order upheld a motion for injunctive relief until NOAA Fisheries issues a legally adequate biological opinion addressing the combined overall effects of the North Pacific groundfish fisheries on the Steller sea lion and its critical habitat pursuant to the Endangered Species Act.

NOAA Fisheries conducts scientific research and provides services and products to support domestic and international fisheries management, fisheries development, trade and industry assistance, enforcement, and protected species and habitat conservation programs.