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- Check out this article: Alaska state senator proposes bounty on sea otters (link no longer active)
Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.