December 12, 2012
Otters don’t understand man-made boundaries. So in 1987, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service created the no-otter zone along the Southern California coast, from Point Conception to the Mexican border, the otters didn’t know to stay away.
This week, the feds are finally expected to end the San Nicolas Island conservation program that brought about the no-otter-zone compromise with shellfishermen. This decision will allow otter populations to expand south of Point Conception and be protected there under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. But conservationists can’t celebrate yet.
California Congressman Elton Gallegly, R-Ventura, initially proposed his “Military Readiness and Sea Otter Conservation Act” in May of this year. It passed the House of Representatives on May 18, piggy-backing as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.
The amendment seeks to prevent incidental take protections from interfering with Navy operations off the coast of Southern California. Both the ESA and the MMPA protect otters against incidental take, which occurs when an endangered animal is killed as a result of another activity. Gallegly has proposed the creation of “Military Readiness Areas” in which the incidental take rules would not be recognized.
Conservation groups are concerned that Gallegly’s amendment may allow fisheries to ignore ESA and MMPA protections; such a result could erase the benefits to otters of southern expansion.
“This could be very dangerous for sea otters,” says Friends of the Sea Otter Advocacy Program Director Jim Curland. “Our number-one concern is that language might be included that will not hold fisheries responsible for incidental take.”
The National Defense bill will most likely be up for vote in the Senate early next year.