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Obama Administration Enacts Restrictions on Fishing to Reverse Decline of Aleutian Sea Lion

Federal regulators proposed new commercial fishing restrictions in the Aleutian Islands last month in an attempt to aid the declining population of the Steller sea lion. The federal Marine Fisheries Service plans to close all commercial fishing for Atka mackerel and Pacific cod around Attu, the farthest island in the Aleutian chain. It also proposed restrictions but not a complete ban for the same fish in the central islands of the chain, west of Dutch Harbor. The fisheries service stated the closures are needed to reduce the competition between fishermen and sea lions in search of food.

The recent proposed restrictions have intensified the divide between fishermen and environmentalists; the fishing industry has pleaded for less drastic restrictions to their fishing grounds, while the environmentalists claim such actions are long overdue. According to Brent Paine, executive director of United Catcher Boats, these regulations would close 90 percent of the historic fishing grounds in the Aleutians. The cuts would cost the fishing industry some $32 million a year, which would be sold roughly three times more at wholesale price. The environmental groups, however, argue that the Obama Administration did not do enough. Oceana, one group in particular, claimed that the sea lion decline is so serious an issue that the federal Marine Fisheries Service should use its authority to restrict fishing beginning this fall rather than next year.