Lawsuit challenges sea otter boundary change

WATSONVILLE — A lawsuit filed on behalf of commercial fishing groups Tuesday challenges the lifting of a federal ban on sea otters in Southern California waters.

Sea otter advocates hailed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to end the quarter-century ban in December, saying it was impeding the recovery of a species nearly hunted to extinction in the 18th and 19th centuries.

But the Pacific Legal Foundation, which filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, argues in opening the waters to sea otters the federal agency abandoned its statutory responsibility to protect abalone and other shellfish and the industries that depend on them.

“This case is about balance in environmental policies, and adherence to the rule of law,” said Jonathan Wood, a lawyer with Pacific Legal Foundation, in a news release.

The foundation is providing free legal representation to the plaintiffs, including the California Sea Urchin Commission, California Abalone Association, California Lobster and Trap Fishermen’s Association, and Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara.

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