Just like clockwork, every year is a crisis for sea otters and this year is no different [News Briefs, 8/5/10]. Why? Crisis is good for business.
Last week’s crisis was the lack of taxpayer funding to pay for more research. This week’s crisis is a three-year average decline in the spring population survey. Oh my!
The truth is that the survey method used to count the population is known to be off by 10 percent. This is because the otters may be underwater, in kelp, or affected by weather factors like wind, waves, and fog which obscures visibility. This means that instead of the 2,711 animals reported, there would actually be approximately 2,982. This “real” number is very close to the 3,090 needed to remove the animal from the Endangered Species Act list, and we can’t have that, can we? That would be bad for the sea otter industry.
If the animals were delisted, would things change? Well, not much. In fact things could improve for the animals. Delisting would increase management options for sea otters. Will this ever happen? Not likely in today’s preservationist climate. Too many people who make a living off endangered species might lose their jobs. The majority of money raised to help sea otters really does little for the animals. Instead, it pays for all those who have carved out a comfortable living on the backs of the animals and the coastal communities who used to supply fish and shellfish for our dinner tables.
Balance? What balance?
(Steve Rebuck served as a technical consultant for the Southern Sea Otter Recovery Team, 1993-2004)