Fish Radio
Sea cucumbers pricey, threatened by sea otters
October 11, 2016

This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch – Pricey sea cucumbers face increasing appetites of otters. More after this –

Diver with sea cucumber Credit: themarinedetective.com

Diver with sea cucumber
Credit: themarinedetective.com

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Sea cucumbers are the most valuable of Alaska’s dive fisheries and give a nice boost to coastal towns, especially in Southeast. Annual harvests each October hover around one million pounds and attract nearly 200 divers, who will fetch between $4 to $5 a pound for their pickings.

The harvest used to approach two million pounds but sea otters have cleaned out cucumbers in many areas over the past decade.

 None of the areas they have gone back and resurveyed have they seen any sea cucumbers. It’s not like the otter come in and move on and the population rebounds. The otters stay. We’ve lost on an annual basis between 500-000 to 600,000 pounds of product and the trend is downward.

Phil Doherty is director of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association.  Sea otters were wiped out by the fur trade at the turn of the 20th century and the state reintroduced about 400 animals to Southeast waters in the 1960s.  He pegs the otter population at well over 30,000 today, based on US Fish and Wildlife Service data, and says they multiply at about 12 percent each year.

Kodiak is also seeing a big increase in sea otters but it’s not clear if they’re biting into the much smaller sea cucumber fishery. The harvest is 140,000 pounds with 24 divers.

We have a lot of talk by the fleet about the number of otters even right here in the harbor that no one remembers seeing years ago.  

Nat Nichols is area manager at Fish and Game in Kodiak.  He gets reports of otters eating cukes, and Dungeness and Tanner crabs but nothing yet shows the animals are a cause of declines.

The state’s otter management hands are tied as the animals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Otters can be hunted by Alaska natives and Doherty says about 1,500 were taken last year.

  Because sea otters are covered – and this is main point, under MMPA, state has no management control over sea otters. Within the MMPA provisions allow Alaska natives to harvest sea otters but they can’t just sell the pelts on the fur market. They have to turn it into a native handicraft. So it’s one otter at a time.  

Economists estimate otters have eaten more than $30 million of Southeast crab, cukes, urchins and clams since 1995.

Check out the lineup next month at Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle. www.pacificmarineexpo.com

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.

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