California Sea Otters Need Your Help
You Don't Have to Live in California
Rafting Otters, Monterey Bay, CA
Photo: Thomas R. Kieckhefer
A No-Otter Zone has existed in Southern California since 1987. This is an artificial zone that extends from Point Conception just north of Santa Barbara, CA, to Half Moon Bay, CA (about 25 miles south of San Francisco). The No-Otter Zone prohibited California sea otters from living in the entire southern coast of California, from Pt. Conception to the Mexican border.
The Zone's purpose is to restrain the range of the Southern California Sea Otter south of Point Conception into Southern California because of pressure brought by fishing and oil industry interests. Since otters are adept at hunting sea urchins and other sea life, pressure has been brought to halt their expansion. Otters do not understand the boundaries.Their population has been declining for years, and range restriction may be a contributor to the lack of population growth.
A management plan was devised to move otters south of the Point Conception boundary. Animals were moved (translocated), released and a colony was created on San Nicholas Island. It is one of the Channel Islands in Southern California controlled by the United States Navy, and used as a weapons testing and training facility. Some animals voluntarily left the Island but a small population remains.
It was intended that this population would serve as a "backup" for the species in case a major disaster - like an oil spill - devastated the original, narrow range of the southern sea otter.
The original San Nicholas translocation called for up to 250 sea otters to be captured and transported from their parent population. However, by August of 1990 the Fish and Wildlife Service decided to halt the "capture, transport, and release" phase of the program. By then,140 sea otters had already been moved to San Nicolas Island, The sea otter census in 2008 found that only 42 sea otters remained at San Nicolas, and the southern sea otter population as a whole had actually decreased according to a three-year average in 2010.
Opposition to No-Otter Zone
The California Sea Urchin Commission (CSUC) opposes removing the No-Otter Zone because of the southern sea otter feeding habits and their fondness for sea urchins.
Because sea urchins feed primarily on kelp, a coexistence was maintained with otters that allowed kelp forests to thrive and support a rich, biodiverse ecosystem. Biodiversity is the key to sustainability, a healthy ecosystem and our oceans as whole.
With the decline of the sea otter population, there was no major predator to control the growth of sea urchins, and their numbers exploded. With few restrictions on its growth, the sea urchin population grew to unnatural levels, destroying kelp forests and creating what scientists call "urchin barrens."
Since the decline of the southern sea otter, urchin fisheries have grown up around these unnatural urchin barrens in Southern California. Economic hardship is predicted for sea urchin extractors if the sea otter range is extended. Opponents however forecast an overall economic gain of $100 million if there is an expansion of the otters based in part on tourist revenue.
The California Abalone Association opposes the growth of the sea otter population because of their voracious diet. They argue an increase of otters would mean the breakdown of these abalone popuations. However, no evidence exists that sea otters contributed to the decline of white abalone because they were absent within the range during the decline.
Oil and gas industries operating vast offshore drilling operations in the waters south of Point Conception have a long history of opposing sea otter expansion because sea otters are federally listed under the Endangered Species Act. The issuing of drilling licenses and permits are managed by the Department of the Interior and the Minerals Management Service. Oil drilling poses a major threat to sea otters.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed with this assertion many times in the past. With current information about the potential for major oil spills to devastate the San Nicholas population, expansion of oil operations in the sea otter natural home range, once extending down to Baja, Mexico, needs to be stopped.
HOW YOU CAN HELP THE OTTERS
California Sea Otter
Photo: Thomas R. Kieckhefer.
Submit a comment electronically (due October 24, 2011). See information in right-hand column for help with comments.
1. Submit comments in support of No-Otter Zone. Instructions for submitting to Docket No. [FWS-R8-FHC-2011-0046]. October 24, 2011 is the correct date for submission, not September 26th.
2. Fill out the required form and write your comment. Please be aware that there is a 20-minute time limit for this page. We suggest that you write your comments first, and then copy and paste your comments in the comment box.
3. Remember to click Submit!
Mail a hard copy of your comment so it is postmarked by the October 24, 2011 deadline.
Public Comments Processing
Division of Policy and Directives Management
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Dr. MS 2042 - PDM
Arlington, VA 22203
Attend a Public Hearing
If you live in California, you can verbally make your comments by attending public hearings. Even if you don't make a comment, your presence is important as a show of support. Making a comment is an effective way to make your thoughts known and your voice heard. Each public hearing will be preceded by a public information open house from 5-6 PM. The floor will then be open for comments from 6-8PM. The public hearings are:
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
2559 Puesta del Sol
Santa Barbara, CA 93105
Thursday, October 6, 2011
La Feliz Room
Seymour Marine Discovery Center
Long Marine Lab
100 Shaffer Rd.
Santa Cruz, CA 95060