Counting Atka mackerel became really important, according to National Marine Fisheries Service Biologist Suzanne McDermott, when Steller sea lions were declared endangered in 1997.
“We learned that Atka mackerel are their main food item,” McDermott said. “That’s when we really started looking at them in relation to Steller sea lions.”
McDermott knows the mammals face competition for their food — from commercial fishermen. In 2016, Alaska fishermen caught and kept 55,000 metric tons of Atka mackerel, and discarded another 532 tons as bycatch.