Re-Introduction of Sea Otters Going Too Well, Some Say

Written by on March 1, 2013 in Policy & Ocean Law, Seals, Sea Lions & Sea Otters
Sea otters holding hands.

Sea otters holding hands. Photo credit: Laurarob84 via photopin cc.

A senator from Alaska is proposing an interesting way of managing sea otter populations.

Senator Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, recently introduced a bill (SB 60) called Bounty on Sea Otters. This legislation would require the state to pay $100 for each “lawfully killed” sea otter. The challenge with this proposal is that lawfully killing a marine mammal will be difficult to do under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Currently, only Alaska Natives are allowed to hunt sea otters provided that they are not hunted in a “wasteful manner.” This bill aims to change that. Instead of hunting sea otters for food and other functional purposes, Alaska Natives would be paid to hunt them.

Sea otters were nearly wiped out entirely in Alaska as a result of the fur trade. In the 1960s they were reintroduced and now it is estimated that there are about 98,000 sea otters in all of Alaska. These otters belong to three distinct otter populations: southwest, south-central and southeast. The southwestern population is listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Sea otters in general are also listed as Endangered under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

Sen. Stedman’s bill is supported by many fishers who feel that sea otters are decimating shellfish stocks. Sea otters feed primarily on urchins, crabs, clams and other marine invertebrates. While sea otter populations increase in some areas, the shellfish populations are decreasing.

However, Bruce Woods, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told MST that sea otters are not really a threat.

“Sea otters are native to these waters, and are re-establishing population and range after extirpation,” he explained. “They are historically part of these ecosystems.”

I tried to find other examples of “population management” like the one Sen. Stedman is suggesting, but was unsuccessful. So, I asked Woods if this has ever been done before and he said that he is “not aware of any similar efforts, particularly any which involve the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the ESA.”

Although, last year the Canadian Government approved a plan to cull gray seals in order to revive depleted cod stocks. And, last summer, the French Government gave incentives to hunt bull sharks after a spike in human-shark incidences. A similar proposal was made in Australia to hunt great white sharks.

To learn more:

  • Check out this article: Alaska state senator proposes bounty on sea otters (link no longer active)
Southern sea otter. Photo credit: NOAA.

Southern sea otter. Photo credit: NOAA.

Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .

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  1. jay dyson says:

    These sea otters were transplanted to S.E.Alaska by the state of Alaska. There were 400 otters transplanted now there are over 25,000. They are currently growing by 3,000 per year. But as the population grows they compound by even more. This Bill would only be an incentive to harvest about 2,000 Otters by Alaskan Natives. The crabbers are only harvesting legal sized male crab,these otters are eating everything including egg bearing females. Some type of management is needed.Not everyone can have a government job like Bruce Woods. Many families are being affected they could use some help.

  2. Emily says:

    Thanks for your comment, Jay. If the population is growing by as much as 3,000 per year, do you think harvesting only 2,000 would be enough to make a difference?

  3. jay dyson says:

    25,000 TRANSPLANTED Sea otters at a 65lb average . Will consume over 148 million pounds of shellfish per year. The 2012 harvest for Dungeness crab and the dive fisheries in S.E Alaska was only 4.8 million pounds. Do I think harvesting 2,ooo otters is enough to make a difference? NO.

  4. Cam says:

    Why don’t you relocate some of them to other areas along the west coast where they have not been reintroduced yet instead of culling them

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