Sea Otters Free?

Sea otter advocates scored a major and hard-fought victory this week when the Environmental Defense Center settled a long-standing lawsuit against the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service over the 1987 creation of a “no otter zone” in the ocean waters south of Point Conception. The zone — which was a bitter compromise between environmentalists and the fishing industry when the otter protections were put into place — and the related population of otters that had been translocated to San Nicolas Island were considered failures soon after the zone’s creation, but the Service never reexamined the policy. The EDC sued on behalf of The Otter Project to change that, and the settlement demands that the feds issue an environmental report on the failure of the zone by September 2011 and then complete a final report that officially kills the rule by December 2012. In essence, the settlement will open up the entire policy for negotiations, which has otter advocates excited and fishing interests — which argue that the otters decimate their stocks — fearful of change.

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