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

Not my town! ‘Grizzly Trade’ ambles through places, personalities of SE

'Grizzly Trade' is Brandenburger's second novel, but the first to see print.
It’s got a Vietnam vet with a big heart and anger management problems, a small-town newspaper reporter, and a hippie radio station. Throw in some meth-fuelled wildlife crime and a few cruise ships and you have the makings of an adventure mystery set in Southeast Alaska. more

Mallott: Alaskans have “clear choice”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Byron Mallott greets supporter Eric Jordan in Sitka on primary day, August 19, 2014. (KCAW photo/Rachel Waldholz)
News broke over the weekend that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Byron Mallott may be combining his campaign with that of Independent Bill Walker. In Sitka recently, Mallott argued the key issue in November is whether Alaskans' voices will be heard in state government, and said Walker remains, on social issues, a "conservative Republican." more