Alaskan Bill Threatens to Introduce New Fur Trade

On July 30th, 2011 Representative Don Young (R. – Alaska) introduced H.R. 2714, a bill that threatens to reauthorize the sea otter fur trade for segments of the Alaskan sea otter range. Though cleverly authored as if the bill were aimed at improving the native people’s ability to practice their cultural traditions, Mr. Young’s public comments and actions have revealed the real purpose of the bill: to institute a management plan for Alaskan sea otters on behalf of fishing groups.

The Alaskan Sea Otters

The bill only targets the southcentral and southwest DPS for management (the Alaskan sea otter range is divided into three populations segments (DPS) the southeast, southcentral, and southwest populations). The southwest population is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The southcentral DPS is perhaps the most successful sea otter population at approximately 12,774 otters. However, these sea otters are not without their challenges. In 1989, the Exxon-Valdez oil spill killed nearly 4,000 sea otters. The sea otter population and parts of the nearshore ecosystem are recovering slowly from this disaster.

The Southeast DPS

The southeast DPS is the successful result of a translocation program in the 1960s that established 13 colonies with approximately 9,136 of sea otters, but growth has been unequal within this range. where population numbers have increased significantly in the southern segment and within Glacier Bay National Park in the northern segment only. Outside of Glacier Bay, the growth rate has been struggling.

 Alaskan Bill Threatens to Introduce New Fur Trade
Legal Hunting of Sea Otters

Although the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) outlaws the killing of a marine mammal and the trading of its parts, an exception permits the unlimited and non-wasteful harvesting of sea otters by native peoples for subsistence and traditional purposes. It is lawful for native peoples to hunt sea otters and sell their parts, so long as the parts are sufficiently modified in a traditional fashion (to produce, for example, traditional handicrafts and garments). Selling unmodified sea otter pelts remains illegal under the current law.

A 2009 study shows that 8% of the northern segment of the southeast DPS population (outside of Glacier Bay, where hunting is illegal) is hunted each year. Because evidence of other common threats to sea otters (predation, pollution, disease and food limitation) is lacking, otter experts believe that the high harvest rate may be the cause for the decreased population growth rates of the sea otters in this region.  In 2010 alone, 601 sea otters were harvested from the southeast DPS; the highest annual harvest since 1993 and a 55% increase over the annual harvest in 2003.

The Threat

The Don Young bill threatens to increase the harvest levels even more, stripping the requirement under the MMPA that harvested sea otter parts be fashioned into a traditional craft by native peoples.  This opens the market for the trade of plain, unmodified sea otter pelts.  Nothing in the bill would restrict pelts from being sold to businesses and then be fashioned into coats or other commercial items.

The bill rather feeds the interest of Alaskan fisheries, creating a de facto management plan for northern sea otters. Because fishing groups compete with sea otters for their product, an indirect management plan to stabilize or reduce sea otter growth benefits them greatly.

The bill is disastrous for sea otters, the environment, and the people of Alaska. The sea otter’s role in maintaining kelp ecosystems are well known (and described in the No-Otter Zone article of this newsletter), providing numerous ecological and economic benefits to the nearshore environment. The sea otter is also a well-known tourist attraction in Alaska.

If this bill passes and harvest rates increase further, all progress made since the 1960s translocation programs to reintroduce otters and maintain a healthy and balanced nearshore environment that benefits the native peoples will be lost.

How you can help

This bill represents a major threat to sea otter recovery in Alaska. The fur trade of the 18th and 19th centuries nearly destroyed the species. Write to your elected officials and urge them to oppose H.R. 2714 and S. 1453 (its identical counterpart in the Senate), the bill that reauthorized the fur trade. Visit www.seaotters.org/takeaction.html to learn how.

 

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!

2011 Annual Meeting Around the Corner!

picture 6 2011 Annual Meeting Around the Corner!

If you missed our Member Meeting earlier this summer, please join us as we reconvene at our Annual Meeting in October.  Be updated on our recent work to end the No-Otter Zone in southern California and associated activities related to FWS’  release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which should occur within the next couple of weeks (this is VERY exciting!), our contributions towards a comprehensive and accurate Recovery Plan for the Southeast Alaska sea otter population, and much more!

WHEN: October 1th, 2011, 4-7 PM

WHERE: Heritage Harbor

99 Pacific St. Suite 100A

Monterey, CA 93940

Parking is available in a public (paid) lot, Heritage Harbor Parking Garage, on the corner of Scott St. and Pacific St, (entrance on Scott St.). The fee is $1 for each ½ hour. Additionally, there are free street parking spots on Pacific St. and Scott St. with a 2 hour time limit, enforced until 6:00 PM, though space is limited.

What did you miss? FSO Member Meeting Overview

Were you unable to attend the member meeting last June and are curious to learn what we spoke about and shared with those who attended?  Then you will be pleased to see what we presented to those who were able to join us at Heritage Harbor last month. All in all, it was a great meeting, with a small but energetic group of members, who asked questions about our various programs, from the water monitoring project which involves a handful of FSO volunteers to our Yampah Island project which will monitor sea otter behavior in the Elkhorn Slough to our legislative pushes to terminate the no-sea otter zone, the remnants of a 1988 decision to create a secondary sea otter population that would prevent extinction if an oil spill were to occur in the natural sea otter range off the coast.  For further information, please view details in our presentation or on our website.  If you are interested in volunteering, please contact us at info@seaotters.org.

FSO Hosts Member Meeting in Monterey this June!

10898 1 FSO Hosts Member Meeting in Monterey this June!10898 1 1 FSO Hosts Member Meeting in Monterey this June!

Come join us at our Member Meeting this year to learn about the important work FSO is doing to protect sea otters! Hear about our recent work to end the No-Otter Zone in southern California, our new Yampah Island Monitoring Station at the Elkhorn Slough, our contributions towards a comprehensive and accurate Recovery Plan for the Southeast Alaska sea otter population, and much more!

We anticipate a fun and informative afternoon and look forward to meeting you, our fellow members!

WHEN: June 4th, 2011, 4-6:30 PM

WHERE: Heritage Harbor

99 Pacific St. Suite 100A

Monterey, CA 93940

Parking is available in a public (paid) lot, Heritage Harbor Parking Garage, on the corner of Scott St. and Pacific St, (entrance on Scott St.). The fee is $1 for each ½ hour. Additionally, there are free street parking spots on Pacific St. and Scott St. with a 2 hour time limit, enforced until 6:00 PM, though space is limited.

 

From Heritage Harbor Parking Garage, cross Pacific St. to enter the Heritage Harbor facility. Suite 100A is at the north end, near the Recreation Trail and Fisherman’s Wharf.

DIRECTIONS (please see google map below for a visual description of the location) :

Coming From Southbound Highway 1:

  • Take exit 402B to merge onto Del Monte Ave toward Pacific Grove
  • Slight left to stay on Del Monte Ave
  • Turn right onto Pacific St.
  • End: 99 Pacific St.

Coming From Northbound Highway 1:

  • Take exit 399B toward Monterey
  • Merge onto Munras Ave.
  • Turn left onto Soledad Dr.
  • Take the 1st right onto Pacific St, continue for 1.4 miles
  • End: 99 Pacific St.

RSVP: info@seaotters.org OR

(831) 915-3275 OR

Click here. Make subject line: RSVP

Please include your name, contact information, and number of people in your party.

 

We look forward to seeing you there!


Yampah Island Project

Recently an article was published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel about sea otter activity in the Parson’s Slough, which relates closely to one of FSO’s most recent projects.  Read below to learn further about our Yampah Island Project and to see an example of waht you can find in our up coming Spring 2011 newsletter!

In the spring 2010 edition of The Raft, we published  “Unknown Otters of Parson’s Slough.” In this article Ron Eby of the Elkhorn Slough Reserve described that among the mud flats and tidal creeks of Parson’s Slough, an area about a mile upstream in the Elkhorn Slough complex near Moss Landing, up to 20 sea otters can commonly be seen resting and foraging. Eby has also noted an unusual behavior. Some sea otters appear to be spending more time on land than is typical. FSO is most interested in this behavior, which has been thought rare for Southern Sea Otters. In October 2010 FSO entered into an agreement with the Elkhorn Slough Reserve to establish a monitoring station on Yampah Island. This region, near Parson’s Slough, will be the site of a wireless camera system that will broadcast a live feed to the Reserve’s visitor center. The live feed will also be available to sea otter researchers and FSO members.

One of our goals for this camera is to reduce the need for volunteers to observe otters on site. Video, pictures, and data captured by the monitoring station will allow sea otter researchers to better understand the behavior of our favorite critter without the potential for human disturbance. It will also provide FSO members and Elkhorn Slough visitors the chance to see exactly what the researchers are watching.

Last month, in the Yampah Island area, a Elkhorn Slough Reserve volunteer witnessed the birth of a sea otter pup.

Ron Eby, FSO’s liaison for the Yampah Island Project, reported: “This event has very seldom been observed in the wild.  The mother was hauled out on the pickleweed, then entered the water to give birth.  After giving birth she rested on her back on the mud bank while grooming her pup for the next hour or so.”

“Pictures were taken from over 100 meters away, but if the camera had been installed we might have been able to get some quality pictures and video from close range,” Eby said.

Ron Eby will install the FSO camera sometime in late spring.

To learn more about the Yampah Island project, or to become an official steward of the Yampah Island Monitoring Station, contact info@seaotters.org or visit our website at www.seaotters.org/yampah.html

yampah island1 Yampah Island Project

A female and pup are pictured on the left. With the Yampah Island Monitoring Station FSO hopes to observe sea otters at a much closer range and do so without disturbing them. Picture by Robert Scoles.