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Sea otter. (Photo Credit: Friends of the Sea Otter)

Fishing industry groups challenge the ‘no-otter’ zone ban

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Wednesday, August 07, 2013, 03:50 (GMT + 9)

Conservationist groups back up the US Fish and Wildlife decision to abolish the ‘no-otter’ zone in the south of California but the move has been met with annoyance by some fishing industry groups which have recently filed a lawsuit for the alleged 'illegal termination' of the programme.  

Jim Curland, advocacy programme director for Friends of the Sea Otter told Los Angeles Times that "The problem is that the shellfish industry flourished after sea otters were all but wiped out by the fur trade. Now, if the fishermen's lawsuit were to prevail, our concern is that harm, injury and even death to sea otters would follow."

The environmentalists celebrated the decision which encourages the sea otter back to its natural environment.

The Congress established the ‘otter-free-zone’ in 1986 as part of a campaign by federal wildlife authorities to relocate 140 sea otters from Monterey Bay to San Nicolas Island, around 60 miles (96.5 km) off the coast of Ventura County. Environmentalists contest that this policy did not encourage sea otter recovery.

Back then, federal and state marine biologists supported the programme as they said the otters could be in danger of becoming extinct if their breeding grounds became contaminated with an oil spill or were hit by disease. San Nicolas Island’s waters teemed with their favourite nourishment but the government, worried that the initiative could come into conflict with commercial fishing activities, declared an ‘otter-free’ zone the area south of Point Conception.

"For recovery and for sea otters to survive and rebound in California, they need to be able to go freely into places that they historically occupied," stated Curland. 

The NGO director argued that these animals are necessary to keep a balance in the Californian coastal eco-system. He added that when artificial fisheries were built and sea otters were kept away, the numbers of shellfish and other invertebrates (particularly sea urchins, clams and abalone) which the otter naturally preys on, thrived, and their numbers unbalanced the ecosystem in a negative way.

Sea otters from California have been protected by the Federal Endangered Species Act since 1977. Once in their peak with 15,000 specimens before fur traders started killing them and nearly wiping them out for their pelts. It has been estimated these animals were fewer than 2,800 in 2012.

 By Gabriela Raffaele


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