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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