The Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus) decline and the Gulf of Alaska / Bering Sea commercial fishery

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


The Steller sea lion (SSL) population in Alaska was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1991. Several procedural restrictions were placed on the commercial fisheries of the region at that time in an effort to reduce the potential for human induced mortality on sea lions. Several years have elapsed since these restrictions were put into place and questions about their efficacy abound. In an effort to determine whether or not fisheries interventions have helped the SSL population to recover, estimates of the fishing activity of the Bering Sea/ Gulf of Alaska commercial fisheries in the vicinity of individual Steller sea lion rookeries and SSL population trends at those rookeries were made using data from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Fisheries Observer Program and Steller Sea Lion Adult Count Database. Fisheries data from 1976 - 2000 were analyzed in relation to SSL population counts from 1956 - 2001, at 32 rookeries from the endangered Western Stock. Linear regression on the principal components of the fisheries data show that a positive correlation exists between several metrics of historical fishing activity and SSL population decline. The relationship is less consistent after 1991, supporting a hypothesis that fishing closures around some of the rookeries have been effective in moderating the localized effects of fishing activity on SSL.




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