Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
Final Stock Assessment Report Available on Sea Otters off the California Coast

December 30, 2008


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) today announced the availability of the final stock assessment report for the southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis), which shows that the population has grown slowly, on average, over the past five years.

A draft stock assessment report was released for public comment in June 2008. The final report, a result of a court-ordered settlement, summarizes recent information on human-caused mortality and sea otter population trends through 2008.

The final report incorporates the 2008 spring survey count of sea otters, which was not included in the draft report. As a result, it indicates that California's sea otter population has grown more slowly than reported in the draft: an average of three percent annually from 2003 to the present rather than an average of five percent annually from 2001 to 2007. It also responds to comments received during the public comment period that recommended a more precautionary approach to estimating the minimum population size. The final report also clarifies that the non-essential, experimental population of sea otters at San Nicolas off the California coast, which numbers about 41, is included in the overall population numbers. 'surveys over the past five years suggest that recovery of the sea otter is continuing, said Lilian Carswell, the Service's sea otter coordinator. "It's a slow upward trend but an upward one nonetheless, and, as it stands now, that's a positive sign."

According to the final report"developed in accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act'sea otters remain vulnerable to disease and catastrophic events. Whether sea otters are being taken in commercial fisheries is largely unknown because observer programs do not exist for most of the California fisheries that may interact with sea otters. The report indicates that a very high level of observer coverage would be required to see any indication of mortality in some fisheries.

One of the goals of the MMPA is to ensure that stocks of marine mammals occurring in waters under the jurisdiction of the United States do not experience a level of human-caused mortality and serious injury that is likely to cause the stock to be reduced below its optimum sustainable population level. To help accomplish this goal, the MMPA requires the Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to prepare stock assessment reports for each marine mammal stock that occurs in waters under the jurisdiction of the United States. The stock assessments are to be based on the best scientific information available.

The report is available on the Internet at or by writing to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, 2493 Portola Road, Suite B, Ventura, CA 93003, or by contacting Lois Grunwald at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at (805) 644-1766, ext. 332.

The southern sea otter once ranged from Oregon south to Baja California, Mexico. During the 18th and 19th centuries, otters were hunted for their luxurious pelts; by the early 1900s the species was nearly extinct, with only a small remnant colony surviving off the Big Sur coast. This key species in the California marine ecosystem was listed as threatened in 1977 under the Endangered Species Act and is considered a depleted species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

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