Looking to remedy the longstanding and highly confusing state of legality surrounding otters who swim south of Point Conception, the Environmental Defense Center (EDC)-working on behalf of The Otter Project-filed a lawsuit last week in federal court against the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Since 1987, when Fish and Wildlife began an ultimately failed attempt to relocate southern sea otters to San Nicolas Island in the name of preserving the threatened species, the furry, crustacean-loving critters have technically been law-breaking interlopers when they swim in the southern waters.

This illegal status (when the otters are in the “no otter zone”) prevents them from receiving the full protection of the Endangered Species Act. The goal of the lawsuit, according to EDC attorney Brian Segee, is “to get Fish and Wildlife to finish what they started over 20 years ago and fully protect the otters in their natural habitat.” It should be noted that otters, their threatened designation notwithstanding, have been increasingly present in Santa Barbara Channel waters in recent years, including highly visible floats near Goleta’s Coal Oil Point and the Santa Barbara Harbor.

Fish and Game has long since abandoned the relocation program and drafted several reports signaling the failure of the efforts to start an otter colony on the military-owned channel island. However, the agency has yet to undo the unique legalese that makes otters illegal in Southern California waters. And so-much as the EDC aimed to do in a similar “unreasonable delay” lawsuit earlier this year against the federal government, regarding the protection of blue whales-the environmental law group is hoping to force the federal agency to finally and officially rescind the otter ban and thus allow the animals to enjoy the full protection of the Endangered Species Act no matter where they happen to float.


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