November 20, 2013 Otters, fishing and hunting – finding a balance
This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch – Finding a balance between fishing, hunting and sea otters. More after this —
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It’s well known that sea otters are ravaging a variety of shellfish stocks in Southeast Alaska. A four year study sheds some new light on how far the animals are migrating and their impacts on sea cucumbers, Dungeness crab and other species.
What we’re seeing is an otter population that is growing exponentially in southern Southeast Alaska. It is not happening in every place. A lot of areas where otters have been for quite some time, we’re actually seeing a slowing in the population growth and those sort of sub populations have a much different diet than other sub populations within this larger southern southeast population that have larger growth rates and have higher densities.
Grad student Zack Hoyt has been a team leader and diver on the otter project in collaboration with Alaska Sea Grant and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The team captured 30 otters and tagged them with radio transmitters and tracked their movements. Hoyt says the declines on commercial species can’t all be blamed on the otters.
We do know it is probably a major cause of the decline in a lot of these fisheries but we have also got a lot of other things that we kind of have got to tease out of this. There’s economics involved, regulations involved that allow certain areas to get depleted even faster than they would because of compression of fleets, and sort of other management scenarios.
Sea otters were wiped out by the fur trade at the turn of the 20th century. The state reintroduced about 400 animals to Southeast waters in the 1960s. U-S Fish and Wildlife estimates the population now at nearly 26 thousand and growing fast. The animals are a protected species and can only be hunted by Alaska Natives. So far this year they’ve taken 1,380 statewide; more than 1,000 were from Southeast.
This year is o actually the biggest year of harvest.
Brad Benter runs the US Fish and Wildlife’s sea otter tagging program. That agency and Sea Grant now are determining a sustainable otter take. Fish and Wildlife’s Verena Gill –
We’re going to begin a project here to look at sustainability, using the very data that the hunters provide, Brads marking and tagging program. You know, we get the animals aged by their teeth so we can tell exactly to the year how old they are and then looking at the age and the sex and the location and then creating a model to really look at sustainability not just at southeast Alaska but smaller areas because population varies within a large area too. So, we’re still looking at that question.
The Sealaska Heritage Institute is promoting a skin-sewing cottage industry for Native craftspeople with full classes and overwhelming interest.
Still, Zack Hoyt says the clock is ticking.
What we are really looking at with some of these fisheries, it’s a time frame. How long are these fisheries going to continue to be sustainable in the presence of an expanding sea otter population? Whether it is one year or five or 25 years, those are things we are hoping to start calculating some parameters that might help advise managers.
Thanks to the assist from KFSK/Petersburg.
Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods – who salutes and says thanks to the men and women fishing across Alaska for their hard work and dedication. (www.oceanbeauty.com) In Kodiak, I’m Laine Welch.