Federal Environmental Policy

FSO has been called upon to testify in Washington, D.C. during the enactment and subsequent reauthorizations of the Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts, and we played a major role in the formulation of these laws.

FSO worked successfully for the listing of the southern sea otter as a “threatened species,” entitled to strong federal protections.

FSO has participated in various stages on the development of the southern sea otter recovery plan under the Endangered Species Act.

State Environmental Policy

FSO played a pivotal role in achieving state bans on gill netting within the shallow waters of the sea otter range. (Well over a thousand otters and thousands of other marine mammals and sea birds drowned before these nets were outlawed.)

FSO worked to reduce the oil spill risk to the California sea otter population and its coastal environment by successfully opposing the expansion of the Moss Landing oil tanker port in Monterey Bay; working to keep offshore oil drilling away from the central California coast, purchasing and donating offshore oil response equipment to the California Department of Fish & Game to help capture and rehabilitate oiled sea otters; traveling to Alaska to help care for oiled Alaskan sea otters after the Exxon Valdez spill, and to learn and evaluate methods which could be helpful in the event of a California spill; training volunteers to care for oiled otters in California; playing a key role in the reintroduction of the otters to their ancestral home, San Nicolas Island, in an attempt to establish a reserve breeding population that would be spared from a central coast oil spill; and working to establish vessel lanes to keep oil tankers further offshore while traveling along the California coast.

No-Otter Zone

FSO has worked with partner groups Monterey Bay Aquarium, The Humane Society of the United States, Oceans Public Trust Initiative, a project of Earth Island Institute’s International Marine Mammal Program, and Defenders of Wildlife, along with two FSO attorneys, Don Baur and Don Mooney, for nearly 25 years to secure the end to the No-Otter Zone and the translocation program, which was eliminated officially in January 2013.


FSO has worked with partner groups, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Monterey Bay Aquarium, EarthEcho International, California Coastal Conservancy, and Defenders of Wildlife to promote the CA Sea Otter Fund, the tax check off that appears on California state income tax 540 forms.  This is the opportunity for Californians to contribute to sea otter research and conservation.

FSO’s staff scientists and scientific advisory committee members have performed autopsies on dead otters, and they have participated in state/federal rangewide sea otter censuses for over 25 years. They have supported and encouraged scientific research which will provide substantial new and useful information of significant benefit to the recovery of the population. They have also scrupulously reviewed and critiqued dozens of proposed research projects to insure that sea otters are not unduly harassed for research and that the welfare of the individual animals involved is foremost in the conduct of the studies.

Protecting Sea Otters

FSO is working with partner groups The Humane Society of the United States, Center for Biological Diversity, Alaska Wildlife Alliance, and Oceans Public Trust Initiative, a project of Earth Island Institute’s International Marine Mammal Program to protect sea otters in Southeast Alaska against attempts in broadening definitions of what constitutes native handicrafts that would, in turn, put an increase in hunting pressure on sea otters in this area.

FSO has worked with state and federal wildlife law enforcement personnel to assist in protecting sea otters from malicious harm; we have worked to secure budget funds for marine wardens, patrol boats and planes, and have purchased and donated night vision equipment for the California Department of Fish & Wildlife. We have worked with state and federal prosecutors and judges to obtain prosecutions, convictions and strong sentences for those who have deliberately harmed otters.

FSO has provided a voice for the otters when they have been attacked by the shellfish and oil industries. We have ensured that their welfare will be considered when federal, state and local agencies make decisions affecting the coastal environment.


FSO’s attorneys have participated in litigation to protect sea otters in California and Alaska.

Water Quality

FSO has worked to protect the nearshore water quality of the sea otter range from degradation by sewage outfalls, agricultural run-off, caustic marine chemicals, offshore dumping, etc. As part of this effort we also worked to secure boundaries for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary which would encompass as much of the otter range as possible.


FSO has helped facilitate and organize the annual Sea Otter Awareness Week, the last week in September, where sea otter research, conservation, population status and recovery needs are highlighted by researchers, marine institutions, zoos, aquariums, educators, and many others.

FSO has long been a source of educational materials for schools, the media, and the public on the otters’ remarkable survival and its beneficial role in the nearshore ecosystem.