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Steller sea lion case now in hands of judge

Dec 28, 2011 - 10:16 AM AKST

The fate of wide-ranging fishing closures in the western Aleutian Islands is now in the hands of a federal judge after a Dec. 21 hearing in U.S. Alaska District Court.

The State of Alaska, a coalition of fishing industry groups and Aleut Enterprises squared off against National Marine Fisheries Service, Oceana and Greenpeace to contest the validity of the rule issued Dec. 13, 2010, that shut down fishing for Atka mackerel and Pacific Cod over large swaths of the Aleutian chain.

After taking two hours of oral arguments for summary judgment, Judge Timothy Burgess gave no indication of when he may issue a ruling other than to tell the parties, “I’ll let you know as soon as I can.”

With another fishing season set to begin Jan. 1, Burgess must determine whether the government followed due process in implementing the rule, and whether it met its burden of proof under the Endangered Species Act or exceeded its mandate.

NMFS analysis of the economic impact of the closures estimated foregone fishing industry revenue of some $83 million per year and as many as 750 to 900 jobs lost. The former Naval base Adak depends on fuel sales to the fishing fleet, revenue it lost nearly entirely under the closures during 2011 with boats shifting effort to the eastern Bering Sea where they can more easy fuel up at Dutch Harbor.

The federal action was designed to provide more food sources for endangered Steller sea lions, which NMFS determined were suffering from nutritional stress in the farthest reaches of the....

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