Sea otter (Enhydra lutris) COSEWIC assessment and status report 2007L chapter 12

Existing Protection or Other Status Designations

The Fisheries Act and the Species at Risk Act apply to sea otters in Canada. Under the Species at Risk Act, sea otters have been legally listed as Threatened since 2003 and are protected from killing, harming, harassing, capturing, and taking. Underthe Fisheries Act, harvest and disturbance of sea otters are prohibited and there are provisions to protect sea otter habitat. In addition, new Marine Mammal Regulations in the Fisheries Act are being drafted to enhance protection to marine mammals from non-consumptive human activities. The British Columbia Wildlife Act and Regulations also provide a framework to protect sea otters from being hunted, trapped or killed. However, a limited Aboriginal harvest for food, social and ceremonial purposes may be considered where infringement on Aboriginal rights for conservation reasons cannot be justified. Any such take of sea otters would have to be authorized pursuant to a licence under the Fisheries Act subject to advice that demonstrates to Fisheries and Oceans Canada that it would not jeopardize survival or recovery of the species.

The Checleset Bay Ecological Reserve, off the west coast of Vancouver Island, was established by the British Columbia provincial government in 1981. It is a provincially protected area that includes 33 321 ha of marine habitat (3% of the Area of Occurrence for the species in Canada) and is the only area explicitly designated to protect sea otter habitat (Jamieson and Lessard 2000).Presently there are invertebrate fishery closures designated by Fisheries and Oceans Canada for geoducks, horse clams, red and green urchins and sea cucumbers in the reserve.

Sea otters were first protected in 1911 under the International Fur Seal Treaty signed by the United States, Japan and Great Britain (for Canada). In the United States, protection for sea otters was consolidated under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972. Under the MMPA, sea otters are protected from harassment, hunting, capturing, killing, or attempts to harass, hunt, capture or kill. Provisions within the MMPA allow Alaskan natives to hunt sea otters for subsistence purposes or for creating authentic articles of native handicraft and clothing. With special permits, otters may be taken for research, public display, photography for educational or commercial purposes, and incidental to commercial fisheries (USFW n.d.).

Sea otters in Canada were designated by COSEWIC as Endangered in April 1978. Status was re-examined and confirmed as Endangered in April 1986 and re-designated as Threatened in April 1996. A re-examination of status confirmed Threatened in May 2000. Status was re-examined in April 2007 and the species was designated as Special Concern.

The sea otter is listed by the British Columbia Conservation Data Centre as secure globally. However, it is on the Red List provincially and has received a provincial rank of S2 (S=provincial status 2=imperiled) because the population in British Columbia is small and has a restricted range, based on Watson et al. (1997) (British Columbia Conservation Data Centre 2005).

Sea otters in Washington State are listed as State Endangered under the Special Species Policy. However, only sea otters in California and in Western Alaska are listed nationally under the US federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Under the ESA, California sea otters, subspecies Enhydra lutris nereis, and the Western Alaskan distinct population segment, subspecies Enhydra lutris kenyoni, are listed as Threatened (reviewed in Lance et al. 2004).

Sea otters are listed as Endangered by the IUCN because of an observed decline of as much as 90% in the past 10 years. This listing is a result of the drastic decline in Western Alaska, an area that previously accounted for the majority of the global sea otter population, poor recovery in California, and insufficient information about the population in Russia, which is believed to be threatened by poaching (IUCN 2004).

The sea otter is listed in CITES Appendix II, but the southern subspecies (Enhydra lutris nereis) is listed in Appendix I. Species in Appendix I are considered to be threatened with extinction and CITES prohibits commercial international trade in specimens of these species. Species inAppendix II are not necessarily threatened with immediate extinction, but may become so unless trade is closely controlled (CITES n.d.).

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