once created, it does not give them the authority to stop the management zone
once it has been established," Wood said. "They need to take their finding to
Congress who can make the decision to end the no otter zone."
According to the Fish and Wildlife's 2012 executive summary on the decision to abandon the relocation program, the agency holds that the statute's mandate to remove sea otters from Southern California only applied while the program was in place.
By ruling to abandon the relocation program in its entirety, Fish and Wildlife officials contend they eliminated all components of the rule, "including the requirements to remove sea otters from San Nicolas Island and from the management zone following a determination that the program had failed," the report stated.
Backing the Fish and Wildlife Service is environmental group Friends of the Sea Otter, which is planning to file a motion to intervene in the lawsuit.
"This program that the fishing community has been fighting to keep has been proven to be ineffective for the recovery of sea otters, but if it continues, it will protect their economic interest in specific fisheries," said Jim Curland, advocacy program director at Friends of the Sea Otter. "But sea otters need to expand to their original range. The program didn't allow for that and hindered the animal's recovery."
Despite the evidence of the program's ineffectiveness, Williams of the California Sea Urchin Commission said it is essential in keeping the multiple shellfish industries viable.
"There's this belief with the environmental groups to save sea otters over all other animal species, whether or not they will destroy the abalone and sea urchins in the area," Williams said. "We accepted the balanced approach in 1986, but to allow one species to reign supreme; they will come down here and devour everything."
Sea otter history
-- The need for a sea otter recovery program was due to the fur trade -- running from the 1700s into the early part of 20th century -- bringing the marine mammal to the brink of extinction. The population, once numbering around 16,000 and stretching from Oregon's north coast down to Baja, Mexico had been depleted by 1930 to a colony of just 50 otters residing in Big Sur.
-- With the Fur Seal Act of 1911, sea otters were granted protection from trapping, and their listing as an endangered species in 1973 protected them from incidental or accidental take from commercial fishing operations and protected vital habitat locations.
-- With its numbers slowly increasing, concerns about the sea otter's vulnerability in its small habitat led U.S. Fish and Wildlife to develop a relocation program in the 1980's that would create a colony of sea otters outside its current range, transporting otters to San Nicolas Island.
-- In 1993, the relocation program was suspended and finally abandoned in December 2012 by Fish and Wildlife after years of evaluating its effectiveness.
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