Sea otters once thrived on the Oregon coast, but hunting has decimated their populations
PORTLAND, OR (KOIN) – Research by the US Fish and Wildlife Service found that sea otters could be reintroduced to their natural habitat on the Oregon coast, but whether or not they should be subject to a debate.
The United States Congress has asked the USFWS to study the possibility of returning sea otters to their historic range along the coast of Oregon and northern California.
On Wednesday, the USFWS announced that reintroducing sea otters to the coastline could have benefits for both sea otter populations and the coastal ecosystem. However, the assessment does not provide a recommendation as to whether sea otter reintroduction should occur.
The USFWS said more information and input would be needed before creating a reintroduction proposal.
Experts fear the return of sea otters could impact the local shellfish fishery.
Sea otters once lived all along the Pacific coast from Washington to California, but by 1911, after being heavily hunted, sea otters were nearly extinct.
Slowly, the population recovered, and otters live again in parts of central California, southern California, and the northern Washington coast. In California, sea otters are still listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Researchers say sea otters play a fundamental role in the ecological health of coastal ecosystems. Sea otters eat sea urchins and other sea grazers, which helps keep kelp forests and seagrass beds in balance.
The USFWS said their presence in the ocean makes the ecosystem more resilient to the effects of climate change.
Their reintroduction could also increase the genetic diversity of recovering sea otter populations and could help conserve the endangered otter population in California.
“If sea otters are reintroduced to northern California and Oregon, it would benefit both the otters and the coastal marine ecosystem,” said Craig Rowland, acting supervisor for the Oregon office. of the USFWS. “Further work is needed to assess the possible impacts of a possible reintroduction as well as measures to offset these impacts.”
The USFWS recommends that stakeholders discuss and identify possible sites where sea otters could be reintroduced and conduct experimental small-scale reintroductions as next steps.
If they plan to go ahead and officially propose the reintroduction of sea otters, the USFWS will initiate a public review process.