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Alaska v. Freezer Longline Coalition

ELR Citation: 43 ELR 20159
Nos. 12-35201 et al., (9th Cir., 07/23/2013)

The Ninth Circuit affirmed a lower court decision rejecting claims that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) violated the ESA when it placed commercial fishing restrictions on sub-regions of the Pacific Ocean inhabited by the endangered western distinct population segment of Stellar sea lions. In two of the seven sub-regions the sea lions inhabit, they have been experiencing population declines and showing signs of nutritional stress. NMFS, therefore, limited commercial fishing in those waters, and representatives of the fishing industry and the state of Alaska filed suit. They argued that NMFS violated the ESA because it based the fishing restrictions on declines in sub-regions rather than in the entire population of the endangered species. They also argued the agency used the wrong standards in measuring the effects of continued fishing and failed to find a sufficient causal link between authorizing fisheries and the population decline. But the court disagreed. The use of sub-regions does not violate the ESA. Rather, where trends in a subpopulation may affect the entire population, the ESA requires the agency to consider the effects of the declining subpopulation. Here, the agency used appropriate standards to find that continuing previous fishing levels in those sub-regions would adversely modify the critical habitat and jeopardize the continued existence of the entire population.