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Sea Otters Free? No, They Cost A Lot


If the Sea Otter Management Zone, south of Point Conception to Mexico, is eliminated, it will be a travesty of justice. [“Sea Otters Free?” 11/23/10.]

The No Otter/Management Zone is generally promoted as placation of the fishing industry, buy in reality, it was a trade-off for those who wanted to illegally relocate sea otters to San Nicolas Island as far back as the 1970s. So anxious were the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists and their environmental cheerleaders to begin the relocation, they helped pass a special law to make their wishes legal.

In 1983, attorneys for the fishermen from the Pacific Legal Foundation advised the Interior Department that the relocation plan would violate the Marine Mammal Protection Act. By 1986, Public Law 99-625 passed through congress and was signed by President Reagan. This law and Federal Rule made the relocation “experiment” legal and spelled out the requirements of the USFWS.

Unfortunately, the USFWS has violated this law for the past 20 years, costing not only fishermen, but also the infrastructure of our coast communities. Not only have fishery resources been lost; jobs, taxes, and traditions have been impacted. The USFWS and environmentalists did have the option to just wait, and over time, sea otters would have expanded their range southward, as they did beginning in 1998. But it was their rush which led to the current situation. They erred but now want the rest of us to pay for their mistakes.

The Otter Project, Environmental Defense Center, and others involved have not supported their local economies but instead use the sea otter for their own fundraising activities and personal finances. All the money spent by government and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) goes in the pockets of the people involved. Little if any of the millions of dollars actually does anything for the animals. The majority of what has been taking place with sea otters has been for personal gain of the sea otter lobby.

Santa Barbara still has a vibrant fishing port. Take a look northward, and you will see the economic destruction caused by sea otter politics throughout the past 70 years, from Monterey to Port San Luis. The sea urchin fishery was founded at Port San Luis in 1972. It only took sea otters a couple years to eliminate the sea urchin and abalone fishery near Port San Luis. The abalone fishery was eliminated at Monterey in the 1940’s, and then down the coast to Morro Bay over the next 30 years.

When the sea otter relocation was proposed, the federal government and the environmental community supported the laws and rules before Congress. It only took a couple years for the environmentalists to begin promoting law-breaking by the USFWS. Besides violations of federal law, there are also violations of state law: California Coastal Zone Management Act, California Coastal Commission, and agreements with the California Department of Fish and Game. Because sea otters were taken from state waters, the USFWS went through a long drawn out effort with the state too.

Fishermen did not support the experiment because of doubts the USFWS would follow through with their legal requirements. The fishermen were right. Where’s the justice in this?

Steve Rebuck was the primary negotiator on these issues during the 1980s and served as technical consultant to the Southern Sea Otter Recovery Team from 1993-2004. He has appeared before Congress four times on these issues (1984, 1985, 2001, 2003).



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