Discussing the plight of the Steller sea lion (SSL) can be a very emotional issue because of how it impacts both the subsistence and commercial activities that Tribal Communities (TCs) may be dependent upon. However, it is worth noting that the listing of the SSL as an endangered species on the Endangered Species Act was an action taken by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and not Greenpeace.
In its document “Recovery Plan for the Steller Sea Lion, March 2008,” the NMFS concluded that:
“The threat posed by competition with fisheries was ranked high by some members of the team based on the potential for fisheries to out-compete sea lions for similar prey (e.g., walleye pollock, Atka mackerel, Pacific cod) subsequently leading to lower sea lion carrying capacity.”
The federally mandated Recovery Plan summarizes the current scientific knowledge about the overall health of the Steller sea lion, most likely causes of their decline, and measures necessary to help the population recover:
Greenpeace has been concerned about the overall health of the entire Bering Sea/Gulf of Alaska ecosystem for many years. The industry is now demanding that the Northern Bering Sea Area, that area between St. Matthew Island and the Bering Straight be opened for commercial fishing activities. Part of their rational is climate change. We need to thoroughly understand what impacts the trawl fishery activities have had on the Southern Bering Sea Eco Region before other now relatively pristine areas of our ocean, heretofore closed, are opened to these destructive fishing activities.
We want to be very clear that neither Greenpeace nor any of its employees are empowered to speak for or on behalf of any Tribal Community. When statements are made by Greenpeace regarding TCs, Greenpeace takes its lead from Tribal Resolutions. These Resolutions were approved and passed by The Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) Convention of 2009, the largest Alaska Statewide Native Organization. At the same time, The Alaska InterTribal Council (AITC) passed similar Resolutions during its Convention in 2009. These Resolutions raise strong concerns about the destructive nature of trawl fisheries operating in the Gulf of Alaska, the Bering Sea and now in the Northern Bering Sea Regions.
While Greenpeace appreciates any and all responses from the TC throughout Alaska on our activities and positions, we understand that each TC is different. For example, one TC may have large economic fishery development infrastructure and is heavily dependent upon its commerce while another, in the same region, is more dependent on subsistence use and therefore a more traditional TC.
We are dealing with endangered species, the depleted northern fur seal populations, and other declines in the animal populations, but also the devastating destruction of salmon bycatch which is having a huge impact on Western Alaska Tribal Communities. NMFS needs to take a more holistic view of an ecosystem approaching total collapse from all its human impacts and implement a more precautionary management approach. After all, the First Nations are heavily dependent upon these waters for our survival.