Damn the Man

Fishermen and Animal Advocates Denounce No-Otter Zone More than
a hundred people turned out Tuesday at the Santa Barbara Museum of
Natural History to provide public comment on the October
recommendation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to
demilitarize the “No-Otter Zone” south of Point Conception. Raw
emotions and science tangled as environmentalists, scientists, and
commercial fishermen took the microphone to share their views on
the controversial government program that banned otters from area
waters two decades ago. The ban was a relative failure from the
outset-otters can’t read-and FWS officially abandoned efforts to
“relocate” otters that strayed into the zone in 1993. Now, after 12
years’ review, FWS is ready to move on and Santa Barbarans of all
stripes were eager to kick them on their way out Tuesday night.

Dozens of animal rights advocates pronounced the zone a
“failure” and called for allowing the otters to officially and
freely return to their historical home. Otters roaming free and
clear would boost the economy and revive kelp forests-according to
such otter sympathizers as the Sierra Club, the Environmental
Defense Center, the Otter Project, Defenders of Wildlife, and Santa
Barbara City Councilmember Das Williams.

Maybe so, but the sea otter’s primary sources of sustenance are
the shellfish, sea urchins, and lobsters that comprise the main
source of income for dozens of Santa Barbara fishermen.

Further complicating matters, the majority of contemporary otter
deaths are the result of oil spills, natural oil seepage, and toxic
runoff, none of which are affected by zones governing where otters
are “allowed” to swim. This final issue was the core message
delivered by a small group of speakers who stressed the importance
of otter recovery options not currently considered by FWS, such as
reining in coastal development, outlawing the use of certain
herbicides and pesticides, and requesting federal grants for sea
urchin and abalone farms as means to bring balance to the
situation. Vice president for the California lobster fishery Chris
Miller summed up the conflict, saying, “There has to be some will
from the local people in the region. … We cannot just look to the
federal government to fix this problem. We need a holistic
approach.”

The FWS will continue to hear public comment on the “no zone”
through the end of the year and expects to give its final decision
in early 2006.

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