Alaskan sea otters are facing a new threat. Congressman Don Young of Alaska floated federal legislation late last month that aims to cull sea otter populations through increased subsistence hunting of the protected marine mammals.
The new measure would allow Alaska Natives to harvest more sea otters and would lift restrictions barring full pelts from being commercially sold, a move that Defenders fears would lead to greater demand for sea otter fur.
“Fisheries and wildlife management decisions should be based on sound scientific evidence and made by wildlife authorities, not politics,” Jim Curland, Defenders’ sea otter expert, says.
Today, the Marine Mammal Protection Act — a nearly 40-year-old law that’s helped sea otters begin to rebound — “allows Alaska Natives to catch otters for subsistence use. It limits sales to pelts turned into handicrafts, clothing and similar objects,” according to a report by Stikine River Radio.
Fishing groups claim that sea otters are competitors for crabs and other shellfish.
But it’s not clear to what extent sea otters here are impacting shellfish stocks. “This is a perceived threat against fisheries,” says Jim Curland, Defenders sea otter expert, “and not one that’s based on facts.”
Defenders is against increasing the current subsistence hunting limits. “Fisheries and wildlife management decisions should be based on sound scientific evidence and made by wildlife authorities, not politics,” Curland says.
Sea otters have been shown through numerous scientific studies to play a key role in helping coastal waters stay healthy and full of life — keeping kelp eating animal populations in check. Sea otters allow undersea kelp forests to flourish, providing food and shelter for fish, crabs, urchins and a variety of other sea creatures.