Alexandra Gutierrez and Stephanie Joyce/KUCB
judge has upheld the National Marine Fisheries Service's decision to restrict
fishing in the western Aleutians in order to protect an endangered stock of
is the product of a year-long litigation process in which the State of Alaska,
industry groups, and Aleut Enterprise sued NMFS over their efforts to stop the
decline of the Steller sea lion population. They say that the closures of the
Atka mackerel and Pacific cod fisheries are estimated to cost the industry over
$80 million annually and that NMFS' science doesn't justify the restrictions.
The plaintiffs also argue that NMFS failed to adequately consult the public in
opinion, Judge Timothy Burgess states that he sympathizes with plaintiffs, but
that ultimately "judges are not scientists" and the court has to defer to the
agency's technical expertise. He concluded that while the scientific evidence
used wasn't unequivocal, NMFS was still justified in its actions and its
biological opinion on the Steller sea lion should be upheld.
the court concludes that NMFS was in violation of the National Environmental
Protection Act by "failing to prepare an environmental impact statement and
provide the public with a sufficient opportunity to weigh in on its
decision-making process." As a result, Judge Burgess is ordering NMFS to draft
an environmental impact statement, but without vacating its Steller sea lion
BiOp or the final rule to keep fishing closed.
for the Freezer Longline Coalition Ryan Steen says his clients are pleased that
Judge Burgess concluded NFMS did not fulfill its obligation to prepare an
environmental impact statement. But he
says they're disappointed with the other findings.
not willing to comment on the Judge's suggestions regarding the environmental
Assistant Attorney General Brad Meyen agrees with Steen, saying the state is
pleased with the Environmental Protection Act decision, but disappointed that
the Court did not throw out the biological opinion.
for the National Marine Fisheries Service could not offer comment at this time.
involved have until February 8th to submit briefs responding to the court's