JUDGE REJECTS MOVE TO BLOCK POLLOCK FISHING
September 22, 1999
WESLEY LOY, Anchorage Daily news

A Seattle judge has denied a request by environmental groups to further curtail pollock fishing off Alaska to protect the endangered Steller sea lion.

The ruling means that the final pollock fishing season of the year - which began last Wednesday and could run until mid-October - will carry on unabated.

Greenpeace and other environment groups had asked U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly for an injunction to further restrict pollock trawling in the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska in lieu of the judge's July finding that federal regulators had not properly drafted protective measures for the sea lion.

Zilly's latest ruling, issued Thursday, cheered fishermen and packers fearful of an abortive season. Pollock is the country's richest fishery, worth $700 million in recent years.

"There was simply no scientific basis, or other justification, for imposing new restrictions that would have caused further harm to fishermen," said Frank Bohannon, president of United Catcher Boats. Greenpeace, the American Oceans Campaign and the Sierra Club in April 1998 sued the National Marine Fisheries Service, saying the federal agency had lagged for years in doing something about the nose-diving western population of Steller sea lions.

Last December NMFS, for the first time, issued a "biological opinion" that concluded that the pollock fisheries in the Bering Sea and the Gulf were likely to jeopardize Steller sea lions and their habitat.

The agency, working with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, imposed emergency measures last year and again this summer to curtail or close fishing in critical sea lion habitat, and to better spread the fishing effort across the calendar.

Greenpeace and the others wanted more restrictions and filed for an injunction, but the judge ruled that to grant it now would be premature.

Zilly in July ruled that the emergency measures might be good enough, but that NMFS had failed to properly explain its actions as required by the Endangered Species Act.

NMFS has until Oct. 15 to do so, and to grant an injunction before then would be wrong considering the range of sea lion protections already in place and the brevity of this year's remaining pollock fishing season, the judge said.

* Reporter Wesley Loy can be reached at wloy@adn.com or 257-4590

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