Fish & Wildlife Releases Sea Otter Recovery Plan

Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released its recovery plan for the northern sea otter population in Southwest Alaska.

Since 2005, these otters have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and a team made up of 15 biologists, conservationists, government representatives, and community and industry leaders have in the meantime drafted a plan to increase their numbers. The plan divides up Southwest Alaska into five management units, ranging from the Western Aleutian Islands to Bristol Bay and Kodiak. It lays out the current status of sea otters, looks at current management practices, and proposes specific actions to be taken to protect them. It also sets the terms for their de-listing, says Fish and Wildlife spokesman Bruce Woods.

The recovery plan is also setting a benchmark for “up-listing” the otters – moving their status from threatened to endangered if their numbers continue to decline. While there are some areas of Alaska where sea otters are thriving, their population has dropped more than 50 percent in the past 30 years. In 2005, there were believed to be only 42,000 sea otters in the region.

While there isn’t an obvious cause for this decline, the recovery team has listed predation by killer whales as the most likely cause, along with oil spills as another important factor. The team has also looked at subsistence harvest and bycatch in fisheries as reasons that the population might be shrinking, but lists them as secondary causes.

Right now, the plan is still in draft form. As of now, its main recommendations concern habitat monitoring and oil spill response. The plan would be implemented over the next five years, and cost $15 million.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife is accepting written comment on the draft until Feb. 9, 2011.

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