Image result for sea otters in southeast alaska                                                                     Sea otters in Southeast Alaska                Photo credit:  Alaska Magazine

 

 How best to manage sea otter impacts on Southeast Alaska shellfish fisheries will be the focus of a day long stakeholders meeting set for November 6 in Juneau.

“So all of the people who have anything to do with the otters hopefully will all be in the same room at the same time.”

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Phil Doherty is director of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association, or SARDFA.

A 2011 report SARDFA commissioned with the McDowell Group showed that otter predation on sea cucumbers, clams, urchins, crabs and other shellfish cost the Southeast economy nearly $30 million over 15 years. And the population has skyrocketed since then.

Four hundred otters were reintroduced to Southeast in the 1960s after nearly being wiped out by fur traders and managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Last year, at the urging of 20 Southeast towns, organizations and Native groups, the Alaska legislature passed a resolution asking for the state to take over management and to provide for more protections.

One suggested solution is increasing hunting by Native Alaskans. But Doherty says that can’t keep up with the growing population and it’s not as simple as it sounds.

“One of the roadblocks is the Marine Mammal Protection Act clearly states what Alaskan coastal natives can do with sea otters and they have to produce a finished product that is in the tradition of native art and how they’ve used them over the years. So they cannot harvest sea otters and sell just the pelt on the open market.”  

Close to 50,000 otters are estimated to be in Southeast now. Doherty says the wildlife service has recently put the region’s otter carrying capacity at 77,000.

“And until we’re at that carrying capacity, they will manage the sea otters in a very conservative mode. And once we get the 77,000 Sea otters here, we can kiss some of these industries goodbye – and not just the dive fisheries. The Dungeness crab fishery here in Southeast is being severely impacted with otters and we do know otters eat king and Tanner crab, so there’s going to be impacts on all of the shellfish fisheries in Southeast.”  

While the upcoming meeting will provide a valuable exchange, Doherty is not optimistic about the outcomes.

“Because the otters are so protected within the Marine Mammal Protection Act, I don’t think anything really is going to change the tide of the sea otter population here in Southeast Alaska.”  

UPDATE:  PLEASE REGISTER FOR THE NOV. 6 OTTER MEETING SO THAT THE ORGANIZERS CAN PLAN FOR SPACE. PEOPLE WHO REGISTER WILL GET SEATING PREFERENCE. 

 REGISTER HERE –– 

Contact is Erin Baca, Project manager for the North Star Group   ebaca@northstargrp.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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