Reporting from Seattle —
Federal authorities have proposed shutting down fishing for cod and mackerel across more than 131,000 square miles in the western Aleutian Islands of Alaska in an effort to halt continuing declines in Steller sea lions.
The measure is part of a package of restrictions proposed Monday for a total of more than 350,000 square miles of the West Coast's most productive fishing grounds that could affect fisheries worth $30 million a year.
A biological opinion released by the National Marine Fisheries Service suggests that clamping down on harvests of fish that are important parts of the sea lions' diet may be the only way to halt the decline of the animals, whose numbers have shrunk by 83% since the 1970s. Though they are holding steady in some places in Alaska, worrying declines have persisted in the western Aleutians.
The number of adult sea lions in that region decreased 45% from 2000 to 2008, and pup production shrank at a similar rate, prompting federal scientists to try to move quickly.