Steller Sea Lions meet more Protections
The Steller Sea Lion (SSL) of the North Pacific have been in danger of extinction, depletion or as a threatened species for a long time. As Unangan people who live on the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands and depend heavily upon the health of our environment for our continued survival, we have witnessed this almost daily as we go about our business.
Finally, after years, and in some cases, decades, of trying to bring focus to the plight of the SSL, some relief has finally arrived by way of Federal Fisheries Management decisions. The National Marine Fisheries Service, (NMFS) an agency of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) U.S. Department of Commerce, has submitted a final report to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) in a meeting in Anchorage Alaska, that the overall health of the SSL is critical to a healthy ecosystem. Finally, NMFS biologists have taken a strong stand against the wishes of the pro commercial fisheries Council that the Biological Opinion (BiOp) they submitted last August would take precedence over commercial fishing demands and protect the SSL. This decision helps to protect the SSL of the Western most population of the Aleutian Islands by closing all waters down to Pacific cod and Atka mackrel commercial fishing to ensure the SSL have enough food to grow their population to healthy levels. This decision, however helpful to this population of SSL in the Western Aleutians, is still lacking many other mitigating factors while still not dealing with the other populations of SSL in the Central and Eastern Aleutian Island regions. These SSL populations are still in jeopardy of becoming listed for protections under the Endangered Species Act. But we have a good beginning.
In their report to the Council, NMFS said that they had received upwards of 10,000 comments on their BiOp, the majority requesting the critical need to protect this population of SSL. Personally, I am honored to have been working with Greenpeace as a person of Unangan descent for the past six years on these issues of the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean. My people have survived here for almost 10,000 years and I feel some vindication in our efforts to finally come so close to victory. Unfortunately there is a but to this statement. But we have so much more to do. The food upon which the SSL depend the most is still in jeopardy of becoming depleted. The Walleye pollock of the Bering Sea is the number one prey food for the SSL and the many other mammals and birds of this critical and sensitive habitat, and yet very little is being done to lower the amount being caught by the commercial fishers. Currently 850,000 metric tons are still being taken out every year from this shrinking ecosystem still causing harmful impacts that need to be mitigated. Our work is not even close to being done.
I just noticed the two coincidental numbers cited above, of 10,000 letters and 10,000 years of survival for my people. Wonder if it is coincidence; one letter for each year of our continual presence in this place we call home. Without your vigilance; without your concern; without your determination, both the Unangan and the SSL may have just gone away quietly forever, never again given a second thought. Thank you all from our ancestors and our cousins of the ocean for your support and help. We have another day to keep fighting to both protect ourselves and our home, the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean.