Local News

Otter bounty bill gets good, bad reviews

Petersburg hunters Will Ware and Derek Lopez hold up an otter pelt. Hunting would be encouraged by a bill in the state Senate. Photo by Ed Schoenfeld.

Petersburg hunters Will Ware and Derek Lopez hold up an otter pelt. Hunting would be encouraged by a bill in the state Senate. Photo by Ed Schoenfeld.

A bill rewarding sea otter hunters was praised and panned at its first hearing on Wednesday.

The measure proposes paying $100 per otter. Only Alaska Natives can legally harvest the protected marine mammals. And federal rules limit processing and sales.

The sponsor is Bert Stedman, a Sitka Republican whose district includes Southeast’s outer coast. He wore an otter pelt on his shoulders as he came before the Senate Resources Committee, saying a bounty would slow rapid population growth.

Bert Stedman carries a sea otter pelt before explaining his bill to the Senate Resources Committee on Wednesday.
Bert Stedman carries a sea otter pelt before explaining his bill to the Senate Resources Committee on Wednesday.

Craig Mayor Dennis Watson, a former commercial diver, says he’s watched as otters moved in — and his catch disappeared.

“For 16 years I stared into a viewer as my partner and myself drug an underwater camera along the bottom of the ocean surveying for sea cucumbers. Through that, I have witnessed first-hand the devastation these creates cause while their numbers grew,” he says.

Scientists estimate the Southeast otter population at around 21,000. Research shows 12 percent annual growth in the southern part of the region, and 4 percent in the north. Other coastal areas, such as Kachemak Bay near Homer, have also seen large increases.

Joe Sebastian, a commercial fisherman from Kupreanof, near Petersburg, says overharvesting is likely the cause of shellfish declines.

He says the bill wrongly blames otters.

“I find it unprofessional, unscientific, racist and culturally destructive. This particular bill, in its present form, is not the way to go and would start the new sea otter gold rush with little or no oversight or scientific direction,” he says.

Bill sponsor Stedman admits the measure conflicts with federal marine mammal protection rules. He says if a bounty isn’t legal, the state could subsidize tanneries to help build the otter-products industry.

He stressed that the bill would not exterminate otters. He says about 850 were killed last year and an increase to about 2,100 would not significantly damage the population.

Former commercial diver Julie Decker of Wrangell agrees.

“Otters are a renewable resource. They can contribute to the economy of Southeast. However, if they are protected and the population allowed to grow at the rate it is growing now, they will destroy all the shellfish resources,” he says.

The committee delayed further testimony until Friday afternoon.

Comments

Please read our comment guidelines.

Recent News

Yakutat off the air

pleasestandby_web
Yakutat is temporarily off the air. We've got our engineers looking into the problem, and we hope to have things back up and running shortly. Thank you so much for your patience, and we apologize for any inconvenience. more

Native language bill has personal meaning for Sitka family

Jessie Johnnie's speech was recorded by X̱'unei Lance Twitchell in September 2011. He asked her what students of the Tlingit language need in order to succeed.
Twenty Native languages, including Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian, became official state languages on Thursday, Oct. 23. For Sitka resident Heather Powell, the signing marked a personal victory for a member of her family. more