Undated handout photo courtesy of SeaWorld San Diego shows Abby the sea otter. Abby, a 44-pound, five-year-old female otter, arrived at the Monterey Bay Aquarium on June 11 and is on indefinite loan from SeaWorld San Diego. (Photo : Reuters)
After a 25-year ban, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will allow sea otters to move freely down the Southern California coastline, it announced on Wednesday. According to the Los Angeles Times, Federal officials stated that their sea otter transfer location program had ultimately failed.
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In a notice posted in the Federal Register on Wednesday, federal officials said, "as a result, it allows sea otters to expand their range naturally into Southern California." The LA Times reported that the program began in the late 1980s to turn Southern California into an "otter-free zone" by transferring 140 otters from Monterey Bay to San Nicolas Island.
Steve Shimek, executive director of The Otter Project, told the Santa Cruz Sentinel, "Trying to tell a marine mammal to stay on one side of an imaginary line across the water was a dumb idea." He added that the change in policy would "not only protect sea otters from harm, but because of the otters' critical role in the environment, it will also help restore our local ocean ecosystem."
However, not everyone is happy about the new decision to allow otters back in Southern California waters. Bruce Steele, an urchin diver who believes the furry creatures deplete shellfish supplies and put fishermen's jobs in endanger, told the LA Times he's disappointed about the policy change. According to the LA Times, Steele helped negotiate the original agreement in the 1980s.
"It's just sad," he told reporters. "There are shellfish resources worthy of protection. We don't need sea otters from the Canadian to the Mexican border. There should be room for these invertebrates [shellfish] and people who make their living harvesting them."
According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, the decision to revise the otter policy is a result of a lawsuit against the federal agency by the Otter Project and the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center. A settlement was reached in 2009.
Jim Curland, advocacy program director for Friends of the Sea Otter, told the Times the policy change is "long overdue."