JUNEAU, Alaska -- An Alaska state senator is proposing a bounty on sea otters, the cute little marine mammals often seen by tourists swimming on their backs between cruise ships, sometimes munching on a fresh crab or clams.
Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, sees the furry-faced critters as a growing threat to shellfish beds, particularly in southeast Alaska, where he is from. On Wednesday, he introduced legislation that would have the state pay $100 for each sea otter lawfully killed under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.
"We're not talking eradication. We're talking slowing the population growth," he said. "In my opinion, we're not going to get any help from the federal government."
Even if the bill were to pass, it would be unenforceable under the federal law, said Bruce Woods, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. States cannot enforce laws or regulations related to the taking of any marine mammal under the law unless the Interior secretary transfers conservation and management authority to that state. That hasn't happened.
Stedman said part of what he is trying to do is begin a discussion on the issue and send a message to the feds that something needs to be done. "Clearly, it's a problem," he said, "and it's going to get worse."
There are three sea otter populations in Alaska, in southwest, south-central and southeast Alaska, whose numbers total an estimated 98,000. The number for the southwest population, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, is the largest, at 55,000, but the latest estimate is more than 10 years old and the population is thought to be in decline, Woods said. Population estimates for the other regions are from 2010-2011. Both those populations are growing, he said.
Since their reintroduction to southeast Alaska by the state in the 1960s, after being virtually wiped out during the fur trade era, the number of sea otters in that region has grown to about 25,000, Woods said. The Marine Mammal Protection Act transferred management authority to Fish and Wildlife in 1972.
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Alaska fisherman and commercial fisheries activist Kevin Adams was elected chairman at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute board of directors meeting on May 9 in Anchorage.
The governor-appointed board consists of seven members: five seafood processors and two industry representatives actively engaged in commercial fishing. Adams was appointed to fill a harvester seat by Gov. Frank Murkowski in 2004.
With 38 years of fishing experience in Bristol Bay, Adams has long been an active member in the Alaska fishing industry, ASMI says. He has worked for both the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation and the Bering Sea Fisherman's Association, and represents Alaska fishermen on numerous boards.
The Northeast Regional Planning Body, a group of state, tribal and federal representatives from New England who are working to implement the National Ocean Policy and address critical New England ocean issues, is holding a series of public meetings in May and June.
The meetings are being held to discuss draft regional ocean planning goals and associated potential actions. The planning body seeks input on these goals and actions. Additional information on the group's progress can be found here.
The meetings will also provide an opportunity to review draft maps and products from initial efforts to gather information on the natural resources and diverse uses of the ocean, including fishing, transportation, energy and infrastructure, aquaculture, and recreation.