By Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views
You may have seen them clowning around at the zoo or maybe you were lucky enough to see them in the wild. Californian Southern Sea otters were hunted to the point of near extinction in the early 20th Century. Today California Southern Sea Otters number around 2,700. They are currently protected under the Endangered Species Act. However, sea otters may be threatened again.
According to Jason Lutterman, program manager for Friends of the Sea Otter, a recently introduced bill (H.R. 4043 by Rep. Gallegly, R-Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties) would halt the sea otters’ recovery and would suspend the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service procedure to end the decades-old “no-otter” zone on the southern California coast that prohibits the sea otter population from re-colonizing its traditional habitat.
“H.R. 4043 would also mandate the creation of a so-called Ecosystem Management Plan that ensures southern California’s commercial shellfish fisheries their current harvest levels in perpetuity,” says Lutterman. “An Ecosystem Management Plan that requires the current unsustainable levels of commercial shellfish harvesting does not promote the recovery of the sea otter nor does it benefit the southern California marine environment or the economies of coastal communities.”
“Sea otters benefit the ecosystem by preying on sea urchins and promoting the growth of kelp forests, which serves as habitat and nurseries for other commercially viable fish,” Lutterman explains. “Without otters, kelp-eating sea urchins have become too numerous in southern California and have destroyed large swathes of kelp habitat. Sea otters also benefit local economies by attracting tourists and promoting marine recreation.”
Exempting the Navy
A separate section of the bill would exempt the U.S. Navy from many of the protections afforded sea otters under the federal Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, including giving the Navy the power to remove otters from “Military Readiness Zones” established near Navy bases under H.R. 4043.
According to members of Friends of the Sea Otter there have never been any reported incidents of sea otters interfering with a Navy operation, and it is therefore unnecessary to strip federal protections for otters that venture into these zones.
“Congress should not bail out poorly managed fisheries or give unnecessary exemptions to the Navy at the expense of the recovery of the threatened southern sea otter,” says Lutterman.
How You Can Help
Friends of the Sea Otter have a form letter on their site that you can send directly to your legislative representative. For the form letter, to find out who your state representative is, or for more information, click here.