PLF challenges bureaucrats’ decision to ignore Congress on Sea otter, eliminate protections for Southern California fisheries

July 30, 2013 | By JONATHAN WOOD

Today, PLF filed a challenge to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to terminate Congressionally mandated protections for the Southern California marine ecosystem and fishing industries. As part of a compromise between conservationists, the Service, and the local fishing industry, Congress authorized the Service to move a population of California sea otters to San Nicolas Island. But it authorized the Service to do so only if it established a management zone around the island and kept the otter from spreading into this zone. Congress also provided that anyone in this management zone who inadvertently harmed an otter could not be prosecuted under the Endangered Species Act or the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Late last year, the Service decided to renege on this deal. It formally terminated these protections and will now allow the sea otter to expand throughout SoCal, threatening fisheries—the sea otter is a voracious predator—and the fishing industry. We represent four organizations that rely on the health of SoCal fisheries—the California Sea Urchin Commission, California Abalone Association, California Lobster and Trap Fishermen’s Association, and the Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara. The otter threatens the ability of these fisherman to put food on their table, literally. And the effects will ripple because of the many local businesses that are related to fishing.

And the harms are not just economic. The Service’s decision threatens SoCal’s white abalone fishery. White abalone are an endangered species of shellfish. One of our clients, the California Abalone Association has been working for years to recover this resource so that sustainable diving can resume. All of that work will be lost if the otter is allowed to invade the fishery. To learn more about the effects of the Service’s illegal decision, please check out our video on the case.