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Otters at Risk for Boat Strikes as CA Salmon Season Opens

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Sea otters can weigh 45 to 65 pounds, and can be injured or killed by a boat strike. (Wikimedia Commons)
Sea otters can weigh 45 to 65 pounds, and can be injured or killed by a boat strike. (Wikimedia Commons)
 By Suzanne Potter - Producer, Contact
March 29, 2021

MONTEREY BAY, Calif. -- Salmon season starts this coming weekend, and it's expected to draw hundreds of fishing boats to the central coast.

Conservation groups are asking anglers to be especially careful not to hit any sea otters, which tend to congregate in the harbors, sea channels, kelp beds and rocky near-shore areas.

Andrew Johnson, California representative for Defenders of Wildlife, pleaded with people to take their time and not just rush out to sea.

"We've documented about 50 boat-strike deaths of sea otters over the last 15 or 18 years, and a fair number of those have been during salmon season," Johnson reported. "So we know that during this time of increased boating traffic does put the sea otters at risk."

He said sea otters are vulnerable because they often pop to the surface suddenly while eating, and often are too preoccupied to pay attention to boats.

The risk of boat strikes is particularly acute at Moss Landing, Monterey, Santa Cruz and Morro Bay harbors.

Johnson noted sea otters used to be hunted for their pelts, until the federal government listed them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1977.

"There were historically estimated to be about 15,000 otters in California," Johnson explained. "The population has rebounded; they were almost extinct. There were only a few dozen animals left along the Big Sur coast. They've expanded up to about 3,000 animals."

Sea otters once graced the coastline from the entire Pacific Rim. Now, their range in California starts about 30 miles north of Santa Barbara and ends 50 miles south of San Francisco.

Disclosure: Defenders of Wildlife contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species and Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment, and Public Lands/Wilderness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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