H.R. 4043 moves to House floor for vote

 H.R. 4043 moves to House floor for vote

H.R. 4043 strips federal protections for sea otters in Southern California.

An edited version of a bill that would have detrimental effects on sea otters has passed the Natural Resources Committee and is now headed to the House floor for a vote as an amendment to H.R. 4310, the Defense Authorization Act.

The bill, called H.R. 4043 and originally introduced to the House of Representatives by Rep. Elton Gallegly (R – Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties), is worded differently than the original version that was introduced back in February. Friends of the Sea Otter and our partners, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Defenders of Wildlife, succeeded in altering language that would have changed the monitoring program already in place for sea otters at San Nicolas Island.

However, commercial fishing special interests have insisted on replacing text which would have required the federal government to maintain commercial shellfish harvest levels at current levels despite an expanding sea otter range. The new and unprecedented language instead supersedes the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and strips protections for sea otters that live south of Point Conception.

The new language would essentially authorize fishermen to continue irresponsible fishing practices that have been proven to ensnare, trap, and kill sea otters. Normally the protections afforded the threatened southern sea otter under the ESA and MMPA would prohibit “incidental take” that might occur when a sea otter is trapped in large-scale fishing gear, in order to protect the species.

H.R. 4043’s new language, for the first time in history, exempts sea otters in Southern California from these protections under the country’s most landmark wildlife protection laws. This is not only disastrous for sea otters, but the bill also sets a horrible precedent for all species protected under the ESA and MMPA that might prove to be an “inconvenience” to a well-connected special interest group.

The bill will be voted on as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization when it reaches the floor of the House of Representatives.

(5/18/2012) UPDATE: House passed HR 4310, including the Gallegly amendment stripping Southern California’s sea otters of incidental take protections under Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act. Click to read FSO’s Press Release. FSO will continue to monitor and oppose the Gallegly amendment in the Senate.

New Bill Takes Aim at Sea Otters!

takeaction New Bill Takes Aim at Sea Otters!

On February 15th, Representative Gallegly (R – Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties) introduced H.R. 4043, a bill that represents a full step backwards in sea otter conservation. Though deceptively titled as legislation that promotes the recovery of the threatened southern sea otter, the “Military Readiness and Southern Sea Otter Conservation Act“ would in fact undermine the current process of ending the antiquated no-otter zone that was established in 1987. The no-otter zone prohibited sea otters from entering coastal waters south of Point Conception (near Santa Barbara), but has failed in its purpose and is currently undergoing the process to be terminated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by this December.

H.R. 4043 requires that termination of the no-otter zone be stalled again while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service complete an “Ecosystem Management Plan.” Under H.R. 4043, an Ecosystem Management Plan would have to “[ensure] the commercial harvest of shellfish fisheries at levels approximating current harvests.” Shellfish harvests in southern California have declined because of over-harvesting by the same groups that would benefit from this bill by requiring a plan that would maintain their current harvest levels. This requirement is essentially a handout to the commercial shellfish industry and a license to continue practicing their irresponsible harvests.

The Ecosystem Management Plan would also have to ensure the recovery of the endangered white and black abalone, though scientists have concluded over and over again that the decline of these species was not due to sea otters. Indeed, the two species can and do co-exist. Because it conveniently supports their goal of opposing sea otter range expansion, the shellfish industry continues to promulgate the unproven belief that otters are the sole cause of the white and black abalone’s decline.

Sea otters, once numbering in the hundreds of thousands, were nearly eliminated from California in the 18th and 19th centuries. Only in the past few decades has the species begun to recover, though the recovery has not been without its struggles. The latest survey found the population had declined by 3.6% to 2,711 animals. There is general consensus that, in order for the species to confront the varied obstacles it faces (from pollution and disease to food limitation), it must be allowed to naturally expand its range.

Sea otters should be allowed to swim freely, unobstructed by special interests. H.R. 4043 is no more than a veiled tactic aimed at obstructing the termination of the no-otter zone and securing a restriction on the sea otter’s natural range while giving a handout to the shellfish fisheries. Halting natural range expansion would defeat the well-studied environmental benefits, economic gains and jobs associated with tourism, sea otters, and a balanced and healthy ecosystem. H.R. 4043 is bad for otters, bad for jobs, and bad for the environment. It’s time to stand up to the obstructionists and end the no-otter zone.

Write your representative to oppose H.R. 4043.