CA Sea Otter Tax Check-Off

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Over 23,000 California taxpayers have already donated to the CA Sea Otter Fund in 2016! Let’s keep it up!

The California Sea Otter Fund campaign is collectively promoted each year by Friends of the Sea Otter, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Coastal Conservancy, EarthEcho International, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Defenders of Wildlife to inform California’s taxpayers of this opportunity to contribute to sea otter research and conservation efforts. There is also a Facebook page hosted by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to promote the Fund.

The California Sea Otter Fund supports researchers and others who are working to understand the impacts facing the threatened sea otter and to find ways to recover their population in California.  In addition, the Fund supports education efforts geared to inform the public about the plight of the southern or California sea otter and ways in which we can help conserve and protect them.


The California Sea Otter Fund appeared on the California state income tax form 540 in 2007, following legislation, introduced by former Assembly members John Laird (now Secretary of the Natural Resources Agency) and Dave Jones (now California State Insurance Commissioner) that was signed by former Governor Schwarzenegger in 2006.  In 2011 Governor Brown signed legislation that extended the option for the check off to be on the state income tax form 540 for another 5 years.

Tax Check off CA Sea Otter Tax Check Off

California taxpayers must contribute a minimum target amount, set by the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) each year, to keep the California Sea Otter Fund alive. In 2016, California taxpayers met the minimum target of $287,775. In the 10 years the Fund has been on state income tax forms, over $2.5 million has been contributed to help sea otter research and conservation efforts.

Who Receives Contributions

After the FTB and State Controller’s Office deduct their administrative costs, fifty percent of the remaining contributions to the California Sea Otter Fund go to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). The money pays for investigations of unexplained sea otter deaths and the search for ways to prevent or counter threats to their well-being. A portion of the CDFW funds go toward public education needed to raise enough money to keep the California Sea Otter Fund on state tax returns each year.

The other half of your contributions goes to the California Coastal Conservancy for research on improving near-shore ocean habitats and ways to reduce unnatural sea otter deaths. The Conservancy makes their half available for research proposals from outside groups and organizations. It also uses a small amount of the funds to encourage public contributions that will keep the Fund on state tax forms each year.

How the Funds are Used

Funds from the tax check-off program have been used to support a study of the factors impacting sea otter heath in two areas of central California, one an area of high human impact (Monterey) and one an area of low human impact (Big Sur). Through that study, researchers learned a great deal of information about the factors that have been limiting sea otter population recovery, which include 1) increasing rates of shark bite mortality, 2) harmful algal blooms, in some cases originating from nutrient impaired inland waterways, 3) limited food resources in the areas of highest sea otter density, and 4) infectious diseases and bacterial infections. This information is already being used by the State Water Resources Control Board in watershed management strategies, and to inform the decisions of policy makers.

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(Photo: Sharon Blaziek)

In 2012, tax-check funds were being used to support an investigation into environmental and human-caused factors that might be contributing to the increased rate of shark mortality.

In upcoming years, the tax check funds may support 1) a comprehensive analysis of causes of death in southern sea otters over the past 10 years; 2) an investigation into how sea otters are using estuarine habitats and prey in Elkhorn Slough, in order to measure contaminant loads of sea otters and to guide efforts at restoring suitable habitat and water quality conditions at Elkhorn Slough; 3) education and outreach activities aimed at informing the public about the status of sea otters, their habitat, and research needed to manage problems plaguing the population; and 4) informing the public on things they can do in their everyday lives to reduce impacts on the marine environment (i.e, dispose of trash and chemicals properly, boater awareness, etc.).

It’s Easy – Here Are the Steps to Take to Help Out

When filling out your California income tax form 540, look for line 410 labeled California Sea Otter Fund, under Voluntary Contributions. Enter whatever amount you wish to donate ($1.00 or more).

If you are owed money by the state, the amount you contribute to the California Sea Otter Fund will be deducted from your refund.

If you owe taxes, the amount you contribute must be added to the check you make payable to the State.

If someone else prepares your income tax returns, remember to tell him or her that you want to donate to the California Sea Otter Fund on line 410!

California taxpayers have contributed just under $2.4 million dollars in eight years to help us save the sea otter. Way to go!

A small contribution from every Californian will go a long way towards helping to recover one of California’s most charismatic and wonderful species, the sea otter!