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Groups Battle Over "No Otter Zone"

PHOTO: Four fishermen groups want the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reverse its decision to end the "no otter zone" in Southern California waters. Meanwhile, environmental groups are defending the FWS's decision because they say the no-otter zone was never a good plan, and that the lawsuit trying to get it reinstated is a big step backward. Credit: Cindy Tucey
PHOTO: Four fishermen groups want the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reverse its decision to end the "no otter zone" in Southern California waters. Meanwhile, environmental groups are defending the FWS's decision because they say the no-otter zone was never a good plan, and that the lawsuit trying to get it reinstated is a big step backward. Credit: Cindy Tucey
August 5, 2013

SAN DIEGO - A lawsuit is being filed over the decision to end the "no otter zone" in Southern California. Some fishing industry groups say allowing sea otters to come back will "ravage" valuable fisheries for sea urchins, lobsters and other species preyed on by the animals. However, environmental groups are defending the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's decision because they say the 1986 policy failed to promote sea otter recovery.

According to Jim Curland, advocacy program director for Friends of the Sea Otter, trying to keep an ocean-going animal out of a particular part of the ocean has always seemed a ridiculous notion.

"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," he said.

The "no otter zone" was lifted in January after the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that enforcement of it jeopardized the continued survival of the species, because of the harm caused when moving sea otters out of the zone.

Curland said sea otters are necessary to balance the California coastal eco-system. He says unhealthy "artificial" fisheries were created when the sea otters were kept away.

"They didn't keep the various invertebrate animals in check, so abalone, sea urchins, crabs, all of these animals flourished," he said. "There were population booms beyond what would normally be present in a balanced system."

California sea otters are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Their population before fur traders arrived is believed to have been around 15,000. Last year, the animals' three-year population average was less than 2800.

Lori Abbott, Public News Service - CA