Good News for Sea Otter Conservation in Southern California
The Aquarium applauds this week’s decision by a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit by fishing groups wanting to reinstate the controversial “no-otter” zone in waters off southern California.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established the “no-otter” zone in 1987 as part of a larger sea otter translocation program, but the program ended in 2012 after it was deemed a failure. In 2013, fishing groups sued the Fish and Wildlife Service for ending the program. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit on Monday, but the fishing groups have 21 days to amend their lawsuit.
Under the translocation program, the Fish and Wildlife Service hoped to establish a colony of sea otters at San Nicolas Island off Santa Barbara and was required to relocate any sea otters found south of Point Conception. Wildlife officials determined that the “no-otter” zone prohibited sea otters from being able to naturally expand their range into areas and habitats where they had historically been present. Scientists believe such expansion is necessary for recovery of the southern sea otter, a threatened species.
Before they were hunted to the brink of extinction during the fur trade of the 18th and 19th centuries, it is estimated that more than 16,000 southern sea otters inhabited the west coast. Today’s population hovers below 3,000, and extends from just south of Half Moon Bay to south of Point Conception.
Sea otters play a critical role in ocean health, helping keep nearshore ecosystems in balance by eating sea urchins and other invertebrates that graze on giant kelp. If left unchecked, these grazing animals can destroy kelp forests and leave barren zones in their wake. Recent research from Elkhorn Slough has shown that an increased presence of sea otters directly contributes to recovery and expansion of eelgrass beds, which serve as nurseries for numerous species and as important filters of carbon and contaminants in estuary waters.
Learn more about our sea otter conservation efforts