U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Eliminates No-otter Zone
December 18, 2012
Imagine a fuzzy, furry otter. Perhaps it’s feeling a little chilly, or just wants to try some southern seafood. Whatever the reason, it decides to take a swim south of Point Conception (near Santa Barbara).
Ordinarily, this otter would have unknowingly intruded on the no-otter zone, relinquishing its protections under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. But this morning’s events will soon make this otter a safe one.
Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service filed a notice that eliminates the no-otter zone as of Jan. 18, 2013. The no-otter zone was originally established in 1987 as part of an otter conservation project: In a compromise with southern California shell fishermen, the feds had agreed to capture and remove any otter south of Point Conception.
Twenty years proved the conservation project unsuccessful, and the feds ended the program in 2011. Sea otters could swim freely into southern California, but without federal protection.
Steve Shimek, chief executive of The Otter Project, explains: “The exact same otter that swims across the imaginary line at Point Conception goes from having certain protections to not having protections.”
But this morning’s notice from the FWS will change this policy in the coming year. “There will be no difference between an otter from northern California, an otter from southern California, or an otter that swims between the two regions,” he says.
Despite this victory, otter conservation groups including The Otter Project, Friends of the Sea Otter, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Defenders of Wildlife, Oceans Public Trust Initiative and the Humane Society are already looking ahead. These groups are trying to ensure that no anti-otter language is passed with the National Defense Authorization Act.
For now, though, otters everywhere can celebrate a new level of equality and protection along the California coast.