Environmental and Animal Protection Groups Welcome Decision to End Harmful “No-Otter” Zone

On December 19th, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published its final decision to end southern California’s “no-otter” zone.  The zone was put in place nearly 25 years ago as part of a “translocation program” that sought to create a new population of sea otters on San Nicolas Island, one of the Channel Islands.  The translocation program failed, however, and the “no-otter” zone meant that California’s threatened sea otters were prevented from reoccupying historic habitat needed for their recovery.

Friends of the Sea Otter, Monterey Bay Aquarium, The Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, and Oceans Public Trust Initiative, a project of Earth Island Institute’s International Marine Mammal Program applaud this final decision by FWS as a positive step toward the ultimate restoration of a healthy sea otter population along our coast.

California sea otters are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The 1986 translocation program was designed as a way to establish a second viable population that would protect the species in the event of an oil spill or other environmental disaster.  As part of this program, FWS agreed to create a “no-otter” zone south of Point Conception from which sea otters would be captured and moved back north of the zone’s boundary.  Translocation failed to promote sea otter recovery, and FWS subsequently determined that enforcement of the “no-otter” zone jeopardized the continued survival of the species because of the harm caused when moving sea otters out of the “no-otter” zone.  FWS has long recognized that natural range expansion is necessary to achieve recovery of the California sea otter.

Jim Curland, Advocacy Program Director, Friends of the Sea Otter stated, “It is long overdue, but a great day for sea otters to have this impediment to natural range expansion lifted.”

Cindy Lowry, Director, Oceans Public Trust Initiative, a Project of the International Marine Mammal Project of the Earth Island Institute said, “This is a good sign for sea otters being able to freely reoccupy historic habitat.”

“Sea otters face very real threats, from coastal pollution to a rise in deaths from shark bites,” said Andy Johnson, manager of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation Program.  “The ‘no-otter’ zone was another barrier to their recovery.  It’s great news that this impediment has been removed.”

“With the long overdue disbanding of the failed “no-otter” zone, the Fish and Wildlife Service has finally confirmed that sea otters should be allowed to range freely along the California coast.  This is an important step for California’s sea otters and for California’s natural heritage as a whole” said Kim Delfino, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife.

Sharon Young, Marine Issues Field Director, The HSUS: “We are pleased to see an official end to this program that had no chance of succeeding or advancing recovery of sea otters.  Sea otters swim freely.  They should not be kept from moving into areas of the ocean where they need to go, and The Humane Society of the United States applauds the government’s move to keep it that way.”

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