Starting one week from today, on January 18th, 2013, the “No Otter Zone” established in 1987 will be no more. This is great news for the southern sea otter, a population that needs all the help it can get. Why was there a “No Otter Zone” in the first place? Well, when the US Fish & Wildlife Service attempted to create a reserve population of southern sea otters off San Nicolas Island to help aid the recovery of the subspecies, the shellfish industry objected to the perceived increased competition they would face from a growing sea otter population. As a compromise, the USFWS established a zone between Santa Barbara and San Diego where otters were excluded.
Interestingly, the attempt to seed San Nicolas with sea otters failed immediately, but the No Otter Zone remained in effect. Initially, it was enforced, but since 2001 the USFWS has not been trapping and removing otters from the Zone. Finally, after evaluating all the data and comments from stakeholders, last month the USFWS ruled that the No Otter Zone ended and that no otters would be removed. The southern sea otter population can now expand naturally.
If you want to read the official rule from the USFWS, the link is: http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FWS-R8-FHC-2011-0046-0573. It’s actually quite interesting reading, as it describes how the decision was made. But you don’t need to read all 30 pages of small type to rejoice that the sea otters can now swim freely throughout the southern California coastline!