$100 Bounty for Sea Otters?

Sea otters could be facing a $100 bounty on their adorable little heads if a Republican Senator has his way in Alaska, where eating is evidently a capital offense.

Senator Bert Stedman just introduced a bill, SB 60, which would authorize the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to pay a bounty to “harvest” sea otters and comes with a fiscal note for $28,000 to pay for the first year, which would only pay for a fraction of the 2,800 sea otters targeted.

The fact that sea otters are cute doesn’t really matter when it comes to looking at the bigger picture, both ecologically and economically, and in this case legally.

Stedman’s arguing that the population of sea otters is growing out of control and that they will cause millions in damage to the shellfish industry in Southeast Alaska, according to the Homer Tribune.

Unfortunately for Stedman, sea otters are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which gives the federal government regulatory authority and prohibits them from being killed, with an exception that allows Alaska Natives the right to subsistence hunts.

“If you look at the Marine Mammal Protection Act, it says no state law can be enforced that impacts a protected marine mammal,” said Bruce Woods, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “There’s nothing to say they can’t pass the law. But it would be an illegal harvest. We would have to, by law, investigate any action.”

Some sea otters in the state are also still listed as endangered, which has raised concerns over bounty hunters taking those, instead of the intended target population.

Those who want to see a smaller population of sea otters are also overlooking how their disappearance will cost in other ways. The McDowell Group, a research and consulting firm, estimated that between 1995 and 2011 commercial fishermen in Southeast Alaska lost $22.4 million to sea-otter predation, or $1.7 million per year, but that’s nothing compared to what tourism brings in.

According to the Alaska Dispatch:

The consultants pooh-poohed the idea that anyone would be willing to pay to see sea otters. “Willingness-to-pay” estimates are “theoretical,” they sniffed. Really? So all the hoopla about tourists, and even Alaskans, paying a premium for charters and guides to show them sea otters, whales, and other wildlife in Southeast Alaska is just a myth?

We know that the McDowell Group knows better because they also wrote a report for the Alaska Wilderness League, another paying customer, that estimated total visitor-related spending by nonresidents in Southeast Alaska in 2010-11, with multiplier effects added, was $360 million . Wildlife viewing accounted for 42 percent of nonresident visitor activities, or about $151 million of the total spent.

This figure is 89 times the payroll generated by sea urchins, geoducks, and other marine invertebrates harvested by dive fishermen. Although the McDowell Group didn’t prioritize which wildlife species were most popular with visitors, charismatic animals like sea otters drive the wildlife-viewing industry .

So if Stedman’s bill goes into effect, for every $100 paid in bounties, the state (or the commercial fishing industry) should be willing to pay another $19,900 to the visitor industry in Southeast Alaska to fully compensate for the loss of each sea otter.

A manhunt for sea otters could also end up hurting coastlines. As predators, they play a vital role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem by controlling other species, such as sea urchins that could otherwise take over kelp beds, which are vital to the survival of number of other species and help keep coastal erosion in check.

Stedman has completely failed here at trying to balance the cost to one small industry against the cost of a bounty program on sea otters, the environment, tourism and general public. Hopefully, this bill will die and won’t end up tying up courts if Alaska tries to get management authority back.


Related Stories:

Sea Otters at Center of National Policy Debate

Loss of Top Predators “Humankind’s Most Pervasive Influence on Nature”

Sharks and Other Predators Essential for Ocean Health


Photo credit: Thinkstock


JO MUNZ4 years ago

You must read what Katherine W. writes -- how can you NOT agree with her! People in govt need to speak with wildlife professionals -- otherwise their bills will only lead to horrible catastrophe! LEAVE THE SEA OTTERS ALONE!

JO MUNZ4 years ago

Let's keep our wilderness intact, along with all of the beautiful animals, who tourists pay big money just to witness with their own eyes the splendor and awe of nature -- DO NOT KILL SEA OTTERS, DO NOT KILL ANY OF THE ANIMALS IN THE WILD -- THE ECO-SYSTEM MUST REMAIN BALANCED!

Katherine Wright
Katherine Wright4 years ago

I'd like to see the tables turned and have a $100.00 bounty on animal abusers.

Carrie-Anne Brown
Carrie-Anne B4 years ago

thanks for sharing :)

B Jackson
BJ J4 years ago

Kill the wolves, kill the otters, kill, kill, kill every living, breathing thing. If you idiot politicians want to do some good killing, kill each other.

Tricia Hamilton
Tricia Hamilton4 years ago

Shame on all you bad, bad, bad, men!!

Waheeda S.
Waheeda E4 years ago

What is wrong with these short-sighted and cruel people? They don't deserve the beauty of what nature gave them. :(

Mark Donners
Mark Donner4 years ago

What the hell is wrong with these Alaska barbarians? I would take these Alaska congressmen monsters and sentence them to live out their whole lives in a barred cage in some dirty brick high rise in Newark New Jersey. They do not have a right to live in wilderness areas.

Maria Kenyon
Maria Kenyon4 years ago

Why don't we judom and have done with st wipe out the entire animal kingdom and be done with it. Bounties on otters? Next!

Ruth H.
Ruth H4 years ago

are these people crazy and stupid?
do they never learn?
sea otters are what is known as a keystone species. They keep populations of sea urchins under control.
When sea otters are wiped out, sea urchins breed out of control and eat all the kelp.
No kelp means no safe environment for tiny baby fish.
This results in reduced fish population - and ultimately affects stupid humans again by impacting fisheries.