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State Sues to Overturn NMFS Decision

on Western Steller Sea Lions

December 14, 2010, Anchorage, Alaska – The State of Alaska today filed suit in the U.S. District Court for Alaska against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) over the agency’s decision to significantly curtail fishing in the western Aleutian Islands out of concern for Steller sea lions.

The state argues that NMFS failed to make “a rational connection” between the facts it found and the conclusions it reached, given that western Steller sea lions had an average annual population growth between 1.0 and 1.5 percent between 2000 and 2008, and now number more than 70,000.

“The agency’s conclusion that additional fishing restrictions are necessary is not supported by the best available scientific information,” Governor Parnell said. “The drastic measures proposed by NMFS are simply not necessary given the overall health of the Steller sea lion population. This decision will have immediate and significant impacts on local communities and fishermen in the area.”

As many as 900 people are employed by fisheries fleets in the area facing restrictions. NMFS acknowledges that implementation of its decision would cost fishery losses of up to $66 million annually.

State officials also believe the federal agency committed numerous procedural violations, which had the effect of limiting the opportunity for public and expert comments.

“The state submitted extensive comments on both the process and the foundational science used to reach this decision,” said acting Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell. “We are extremely disappointed that NMFS did not adequately consider these concerns and did not more fully incorporate the recommendations of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in its action. We are also very disturbed about the lack of meaningful public process.”

A copy of the complaint is available at: http://gov.alaska.gov/parnell_media/resources_files/soavlubchenco.pdf

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