Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Sea otters vs. fishing in SE Alaska

How do we divide fish and shellfish between people and sea otters? In Alaska, sea otters are reclaiming their historic food supply, and people are unhappy.

In the absence of sea otters, fishermen got used to catching lots of fish and shellfish. Now that the otters are coming back and eating more seafood, what do we do? Do fishermen have rights to the fish, or do otters have prior rights? And how do we decide?

The first step is a scientific study. We need to figure out whether otters are really undoing human fisheries. It's not good enough to just say that otters are back and fishing is worse. If the study says otters are hurting human fisheries, then we get to the hard question. Especially since sea otters are a threatened species that can't be harassed.

We do have some examples of US government action to protect fish from natural predators by removing protected species like sea lions. But such action is rare, and typically restricted to extreme cases like sea lions that swim up the Columbia River and eat salmon out of the Bonneville Dam fish ladders, 145 miles upriver from the ocean.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sea otters are a keystone species for marine ecological systems. When present, the marine ecosystem is different than if they are not present.

The effect is more direct on invertebrates than on fish, as invertbrates are a main food target.

When present - otters eat a lot of calories to keep themselves warm.

Over time, where otters are present, you see a cooresponding decline in invertebrate populations.

As otters recolonize SE Alaska, we will be seeing declines in invertebrate populations, such as crab fisheries.

As long as sea otters are on the endangered list, get used to lower population levels of invertebrates in SE Alaska.

The only group allowed to hunt sea otters are Alaska Natives - and they need to do so for a legitimate reason - usually the fur.

However, the bottleneck for sea otters and furs is getting the hides tanned. A lot of work, and not a lot of places with the know how for tanning sea otter hides.

If there was a place in SE or SC Alaska to tan sea otter hides, then there would be a much better opportunity to start hunting otters in areas of high abundance.

Otherwise, people in SE should start talking to those folks in Yakutat and Cordova about the effects of large populations of otters on invertebrate levels.

And the message in those areas is where did all our invertebrates go???

Big Ocean Fish said...

nice share...keep it up...

regards,
Big Ocean Fish
www.bigoceanfish.com

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