Feds Declare Critical Habitat for Black Abalone

black abalone Feds Declare Critical Habitat for Black Abalone

Black abalone cluster together in a rocky, intertidal crag on San Nicolas Island. Photo by: David Witting, NOAA Restoration Center.

On November 28th the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) designated 360 square kilometers of California coast up to a depth of 6 meters as critical habitat for the black abalone.

This is great news for not only black abalone, a species whose numbers have declined rapidly in the last few decades and is listed under the Endangered Species Act, but it is also great news for the entire Californian nearshore ecosystem. Designating habitat as critical goes beyond the normal protections afforded an individual species that is listed under the Endangered Species Act. By protecting the species’ habitat and designating it as critical, the NMFS is protecting not just habitat currently occupied by black abalone, but also potential habitat not currently occupied but into which the species can expand and recover.

Once a habitat is listed as critical, any federal project (or projects that receive federal assistance or require federal permits) that affect the habitat must be identified, assessed, and its impacts mitigated if possible. For example, if an agricultural operation uses pesticides requiring a federal permit, they must prove that their operations will not negatively affect the species or the designated critical habitat and prevent black abalone from expanding their range. This is a huge step toward safeguarding the marine ecosystem for not only black abalone, but for other wildlife that call the nearshore ecosystem their home as well, such as sea otters.

Southern sea otters, also listed under the Endangered Species Act, have long been blamed by fishing groups for the rapid decline of black abalone. These groups have often used the decline of the black abalone as a reason for restricting the sea otter’s range. They claim that sea otters, some of which prey on black abalone as a part of their natural diet, are the main driver of the black abalone’s decline in California. The NMFS reconfirmed, in their response to comments on their proposed rule to declare critical habitat for black abalone, that sea otters and are not a main driver of the black abalone’s decline. In particular, the NMFS claimed:

  1. Sea otters were absent from southern California during the widespread decline of black abalone in that region
  2. The current last foothold for black abalone (i.e. central and north-central California habitats) directly overlaps with the current range of sea otters
  3. One of the only places in southern California where black abalone populations have been increasing and where multiple recruitment events have occurred since 2005 (i.e. San Nicolas Island) is also the only place south of Point Conception where a growing population of southern sea otters exists, indicating that black abalone populations can recover and remain stable in the presence of sea otters.

Based on the best available science, sea otters are not to blame for the black abalone’s decline. In fact, the NMFS claims that historical overfishing and poaching, along with disease, are the prime culprits for the decline of the black abalone.

Though critical habitat for black abalone is a good step in the right direction, incredibly important species like sea otters are still struggling to survive in the increasingly polluted Californian coastal waters. Now is the time to celebrate for the additional protections afforded our coastal ecosystem through this designation, but Californians should remain vigilant in the fight for a healthy marine environment. Write your representatives to let them know you support a clean coastal environment so that wildlife, like the black abalone and the sea otter, can thrive.

Visit FSO at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Otter Days!

 Visit FSO at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Otter Days!  Visit FSO at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Otter Days!

As part of Sea Otter Awareness Week, the Monterey Bay Aquarium will be hosting “Otter Days” this weekend, September 24th and 25th. These days will be full of otter-related activities including sea otter feeding and training sessions and chances to meet with sea otter researchers and aquarists who care for the otters.

Friends of the Sea Otter is proud to also take part in these activities. Don’t forget to stop by our table during Otter Days to learn about how FSO is fighting for the survival of the sea otter!

For more information on the Otter Days at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, click here or to see the schedule click here.

California extends vital fund for sea otters!

Earlier this month California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 971 which extended the California Sea Otter Fund voluntary “check-off” option on state income tax forms.

picture 6 California extends vital fund for sea otters!

The Fund has been an important financial source for researchers working at the California Department of Fish and Game and the California Coastal Conservancy who perform studies on the southern sea otter, a threatened species whose population is on the decline.

The law prolongs for another 5 years the option for Californian taxpayers to donate a portion of their tax return to the Fund. So far this year, California taxpayers have donated $331,028 to the Fund.

Thank you to all those who supported this bill!

How to Make Your Voice Heard and End the No-Otter Zone!

picture 1 How to Make Your Voice Heard and End the No Otter Zone!
As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes to end the No-Otter Zone off the coast of Southern California, you have a chance to make your voice heard!

You can be sure that this proposed rule will meet stiff opposition from those who fear increased competition from sea otters. But people like you can help bring clarity to the discussion. The benefits of returning sea otters to Southern California far outweigh the associated costs of increased fishing competition. Furthermore, countless studies conclude that maintaining the No-Otter Zone is detrimental to the southern sea otter recovery by increasing and concentrating the threats that sea otters are facing today to a geographically narrow range.

That’s why we, and the otters, need you to speak out!

In particular, the Fish and Wildlife Service is requesting comments concerning the following:

  1. The reasons why the southern sea otter translocation program, including the management and translocation zones and associated regulations, should or should not be terminated, including information that supports the need for any changes to the proposed rule;
  2. Current or planned activities in the subject area and their possible effects on southern sea otters that have not been adequately considered in the proposed rule, revised draft supplementary environmental impact statement (SEIS), and initial regulatory flexibility analysis (IRFA);
  3. Any foreseeable economic or other impacts resulting from the proposed termination of the southern sea otter translocation program that have not been adequately considered in the proposed rule, revised draft SEIS, and IRFA;
  4. Any substantive information on real or potential effects on southern sea otters of the proposed termination of the southern sea otter translocation program that have not been adequately considered in the proposed rule, revised draft SEIS, and IRFA; and
  5. Any actions that could be considered in lieu of, or in conjunction with, the proposed rule that would provide equivalent opportunity for the recovery of the southern sea otter.

The Fish and Wildlife Service would like to hear comments from the public on why you support sea otters expanding into the waters south of Point Conception. Your reasons can be as vague as why you personally like sea otters, or as specific as the economic and/or ecological benefits associated with sea otters. But here are some factual points that may help with your comments:

  • Sea otters once numbered in the hundreds of thousands and ranged from Baja California to the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia until fur hunters decimated their population. Allowing uninhibited range expansion would be allowing otters to return to their historic home.
  • Sea otters play an important role as apex predators in the coastal environment by preying on urchins who feed on kelp.
  • When sea otters are present, kelp forests flourish and allow for an abundant diversity of life to thrive in coastal waters.
  • When absent, sea urchins dominate the ocean floor and feed voraciously on kelp which destroys the kelp ecosystem and creates “urchin barren” environments with much less productivity and biodiversity.
    • Sea otters are an important tourist attraction that could generate millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs for local economies.
    • The SNI population has not grown as expected and the original threat of an oil spill that could destroy the southern sea otter is still valid today. Allowing uninterrupted range expansion by ending the No-Otter Zone lessens the threat that a single disaster could make extinct the entire southern sea otter species.

Sea otter population growth has been the most robust in the southern part of its range in recent years, and there have been repeated incidents of large numbers of otters crossing into the No-Otter Zone. Allowing range expansion could enable more robust population growth.

There are four easy ways in which you can make your voice heard:

Sign our petition.

By signing our petition to urge the Fish and Wildlife Service to follow through and finally end the No-Otter Zone, you’ll be adding your name to possibly thousands of others who support the recovery of the southern sea otter. We’ll be sure to submit this petition to the Fish and Wildlife Service as part of our own comments. Just click here and follow the instructions on your screen.

Upload your own comments.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has made available to the public a fast and easy way to electronically send written comments on the proposed decision and associated environmental document. Just follow these 6 easy steps:

  1. Click here to go to the webpage made available to submit comments through www.Regulations.gov. In addition, click here to view the Revised Draft Supplement Environmental Impact Statement and Proposed Rule on which you are commenting.
  2. Fill out the required form and write your comment. Please be aware that there is a 20 minute time limit for this page. We suggest writing your comments first, and then copy and paste your comments in the comment box. For an example of what to include in your comment box, read our petition.
  3. Don’t forget to click Submit!

Write and mail a hardcopy of your comments.

Mail your comments to:

Public Comments Processing
Attn: FWS-R8-FHC-2011-0046
Division of Policy and Directives Management
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Dr. MS 2042 – PDM
Arlington, VA 22203
Attend a public hearing and verbally make your comments. **most effective**
This is possibly the most effective way to make your comments known and your voice heard.
The Fish and Wildlife Service will be holding two separate public hearings at which you can deliver your comments or just show your support for sea otters by attending. Each public hearing will be preceded by a public information open house from 5-6PM. The floor will then be open for comments from 6-8PM. The three public hearings are:

September 27, 2011

Channel Islands National Park auditorium
1901 Spinnaker Drive
Ventura, CA 93001

Tuesday, October 4th

Fleischman Auditorium
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
2559 Puesta del Sol, 93105

Thursday, October 6th

La Feliz Room
Seymour Marine Discovery Center Long Marine Lab
100 Shaffer Rd.
Santa Cruz, CA 05060

Historically, those who oppose southern sea otter recovery in the No-Otter Zone are very vocal at these types of public hearings. Please consider showing your support for sea otters by attending a hearing! For more information, or to let us know that you will be attending, please do not hesitate to contact Friends of the Sea Otter. *  info@seaotters.org

*Please note that these are open public hearings and it is not necessary for you to inform Friends of the Sea Otter of your attendance. However, we would like to help prepare those who are willing to attend. If you would like more information on the No-Otter Zone, some suggested talking points, or to coordinate with FSO and/or other members, please contact us.

Sea Otter Conservation Coalition Endorses Renewal of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Efforts to Recover California’s Southern Sea Otter

Feds Propose to End the No-Otter Zone

picture 51 Sea Otter Conservation Coalition Endorses Renewal of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Efforts to Recover Californias Southern Sea Otter

MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA (Aug. 17, 2011) – A coalition of organizations welcomed news that
California’s struggling sea otters may soon get a big boost thanks to a draft plan released by
federal wildlife officials today that would end a controversial “no-otter” zone on the California
coast and allow the marine mammals to re-colonize their traditional habitat.

California sea otters are protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In
1986, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) implemented a translocation program that
removed otters from the shoreline of Southern California and relocated them to San Nicolas
Island, with the hope of establishing a second viable population that would protect the species in
the event of any environmental disaster. At the same time, FWS implemented a “no-otter” zone
south of Point Conception in which otters would be removed and transported back north of the
zone’s boundary. Translocation failed to promote otter recovery, and FWS subsequently
determined that enforcement of the “no-otter” zone violates the ESA by jeopardizing the species’
recovery due to harm to the species during transport. FWS has long recognized that natural
range expansion is necessary to achieve species recovery for the California sea otter.

For the next 60 days, FWS is soliciting public input on the proposal before making a final
decision. Conservation groups that have been focused on efforts to aid the otter’s recovery were
quick to commend FWS’ proposal to end the translocation program and allow for the species’
natural range expansion.

Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Sea Otter, The Humane Society of the United States, and
the Monterey Bay Aquarium, issued the following statement:

“Today is a good day for California sea otters. We support an end to the ineffective and harmful
translocation program and “no-otter” management zone. For sea otters to have a real shot at
recovery, they must be allowed to return to their historic range off the coast of Southern
California. If sea otters thrive again throughout their historic range, the entire marine ecosystem
will benefit.”

*************************************************************************************

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their
natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a
leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to
come. 

For more information, visit www.defenders.org. Contact: Jim Curland, Marine Program
Associate, at (831) 726-9010 or jcurland@defenders.org.

Founded in 1968 and with over 4,000 members worldwide, Friends of the Sea Otter advances the conservation of sea otters by educating the public, supporting research, and advocating for the protection of the sea otter at the local, state, and federal level. 

www.seaotters.org. Contact:Jason Lutterman, Program Manager, at (831) 915-3275 or jlutterman@seaotters.org.

The Humane Society of the United States is the nation’s largest animal protection organization –backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — 

On the web at humanesociety.org.Contact: Kristen Eastman, at (240) 654-2667 or keastman@humanesociety.org.

The mission of the Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the oceans. Through its award-winning exhibits, education programs, conservation research initiatives and ocean policy advocacy, it reaches millions of people and advances progress toward creating a future with healthy oceans. www.montereybayaquarium.org.

Contact: Andrew Johnson, Program Manager, Sea Otter Research and Conservation, at (831) 648-7934 or ajohnson@mbayaq.org.

Come Kayaking with FSO

Want to go kayaking in one of California’s largest remaining wetland? Want to see sea otters in their natural habitat? Then come join FSO and other members for a discounted kayaking trip through the Elkhorn Slough (20 minutes north of Monterey, directions) just before the Annual Meeting on Saturday, October 1st.

Monterey Bay Kayaks has graciously offered a discount to FSO members, eligible to be applied to a kayak rental for October 1st. If you would like to join FSO and other members for a joint trip through the Elkhorn Slough at 10:00 AM on October 1st, please send us your name, number of people in your party, contact information (phone and/or email) and check for $45 made to:

Friends of the Sea Otter

PO Box 223260

Carmel, CA 93922

Additionally, if you donate online through Network for Good, please indicate in the designation field “FSO Kayak Trip.”

nfg kayak trip Come Kayaking with FSOThe deadline for all reservations is Friday, September 2nd to hold your spot. Be sure to indicate that you would like to participate in the kayaking tour of Elkhorn Slough.

For more information on the Elkhorn Slough:    http://www.elkhornslough.org/

For more information on Monterey Bay Kayaks:            http://www.montereybaykayaks.com/