Sea Otters at a Crossroads
“We have learned that if we are to preserve a healthy population of these small animals, if the tap-tapping of the sea otter is to remain an inspiring motif along our shores, it will demand more than foresight. It will require vision.” –Margaret Owings, Founder, Friends of the Sea Otter.
This year Friends of the Sea Otter (FSO) celebrates its 45th year of sea otter conservation. Throughout the history of the organization, FSO has dealt with many critical issues facing sea otters on their road to population recovery. Now is no different.
In California, “The No Otter Zone” is the primary focus. This issue, a two and half decade attempt to section a part of the ocean in southern California that excludes sea otters, is an ongoing effort. In January 2013, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) rendered a final decision to eliminate the “No-Otter Zone”, allowing sea otters to expand their range naturally into historically occupied waters they inhabited. This aims to help recover the population of sea otters in California. Prior to this FWS decision, a team of expert scientists had concluded that sea otters need to expand their range naturally into these areas to recover the population and not jeopardize its future existence.
In July 2013, a coalition of fishing groups filed a lawsuit that seeks to challenge the decision to end the “No-Otter Zone”. Friends of the Sea Otter, along with other conservation groups, and the representation of EarthJustice, have filed a motion to intervene in the case so that we may defend the decision by FWS. Throughout the years, FSO has used the judicial system to uphold protections for sea otters. And, we will do so again in order to protect sea otters.
Up north in Alaska, a very different situation is unfolding. The state of Alaska, its fishing industry, and elected officials are trying to turn back the clock on marine mammal conservation more than 40 years by advocating for the management of sea otters. How are they suggesting they do this? Their answer: by killing sea otters for the sake of small commercial interest groups.
All sea otters are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). This makes it illegal to hunt a sea otter or sell any products made from the body of a sea otter, unless the sea otter is harvested by an Alaskan Native for subsistence purposes. Alaskan Natives must sufficiently alter a sea otter pelt into some kind of traditional artifact or handicraft before selling anything made from a sea otter. It is currently illegal for anyone, including Alaskan Natives, to sell unaltered sea otter pelts to non-Alaskan Natives.
FWS has a proposal to clarify some terms under the MMPA and Friends of the Sea Otter is focusing on their clarification of “significantly altered”. The proposed revised definition for “significantly altered” raises some serious concerns. The definition of “significantly altered” is too broad and at odds with the MMPA and is being conducted without any environmental impact analysis. It isn’t as restrictive as it needs to be and could potentially result in blankets and rugs being made from sea otter pelts without “significantly altering” the pelt as is the intention of the MMPA. This would be devastating for sea otters.
In addition, this revision of the definition for “significantly altered” is being carried out under the pressure from fishing groups, who are under the impression that the sea otter population in Southeast Alaska is destroying fisheries. Equal pressure is mounting from state elected officials and the federal Alaska delegation to do something about a “growing” sea otter population. Open season on sea otters in Southeast Alaska could greatly impact the species and set a disturbing precedent. It would allow an increase in the hunting of a wildlife species in an effort to manage and protect industry, which in this case would be fisheries.
Join Friends of the Sea Otter
This is a critical time in sea otter conservation. FSO is determined to take on these issues and ensure the protection of the sea otter at all costs so that the future of these populations is around for people to delight in.
Article by guest blogger, Jim Curland, Advocacy Program Director and Frank Reynolds, Program Manager for Friends of the Sea Otter
Friends of the Sea Otter (FSO), founded in 1968, is an advocacy group dedicated to actively working with state and federal agencies, scientists, educators, and the public to maintain, increase and broaden the current protections for the sea otter, a species currently protected by state and federal laws and having two populations on the Endangered Species list.
#OtterESC for Sea Otter Awareness Week
Love sea otters as much as we do? Join Endangered Species Chocolate on Twitter during Sea Otter Awareness Week (Sept 22-28, 2013) to help generate a donation for Friends of the Sea Otter! Each tweet containing the image below and hashtag #OtterESC adds $1 to Endangered Species Chocolate’s $500 donation goal.