The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s report “Feasibility Assessment:  Sea Otter Reintroduction to the Pacific Coast” is now available! 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was directed by Congress to look at the feasibility and cost of reintroducing sea otters on the Pacific Coast, including Oregon, Washington, and California. This directive stemmed from language that was included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act for 2021, Sea otters have been absent from most of the Pacific Coast for more than 100 years, since their near extinction as a result of the maritime fur trade. 

The report was recently made available for public release:

Click here to view the Executive Summary of the report. 

Click here to view the report in its entirety. 

Click here for the News Release and Frequently Asked Questions about our feasibility assessment. 

What are the conclusions of the Service’s feasibility assessment? 

The feasibility assessment reviewed the potential biological, socioeconomic, and legal impacts from a potential reintroduction in northern California and Oregon and recommended next steps. While the assessment indicates that reintroduction of sea otters to portions of the West Coast of the contiguous United States is feasible, additional information and stakeholder input are needed to help inform any future reintroduction proposal. The Service does not make any recommendation in this report as to whether reintroduction should take place. The feasibility assessment summarizes known information, identifies key data gaps, and presents stakeholder perspectives. In particular, because specific reintroduction sites have not yet been identified, one of the outstanding information needs to inform further consideration of reintroductions is a targeted assessment of the positive and negative local socioeconomic impacts.

Does this mean reintroduction is moving forward? 

There is no active proposal to reintroduce sea otters at this time. Assessment of feasibility is the first step in any reintroduction effort, but it is not a reintroduction proposal. In the future, should there be a move to formally propose the reintroduction of sea otters, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would need to initiate a National Environmental Policy Act review process that includes public review and engagement, including input from a broad range of stakeholders, prior to any formal decision. 

Don’t we already have sea otters?    

Once ranging across the North Pacific Rim from Japan to Baja California, sea otters were hunted nearly to extinction for the fur trade in the 1700s and 1800s. By 1906, Oregon’s sea otters had been entirely extirpated, and – aside from a few wandering individuals that occasionally show up from Washington’s Olympic coast – the only sea otters you see in Oregon now are at the Oregon Zoo or the Oregon Coast Aquarium. In California, a population of about 3,000 southern sea otters, a threatened subspecies, is found off the central coast, all descendants of a single tiny population that survived the fur trade. More information.  

Why consider the reintroduction of sea otters?  

The Congressional mandate to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service points to the sea otter’s “critical ecological role in the marine environment as a keystone species that significantly affects the  structure structure
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 and function of the surrounding ecosystem.” More information.  

Why are there two different feasibility studies?   

A local non-profit called the Elakha Alliance  recently released their own feasibility study on the potential restoration of sea otters to Oregon, available here.

Because achieving balance in ecosystems through the restoration of native species is fully aligned with the Service’s mission, we collaborated earlier with the Elakha Alliance to explore the possibility of restoring sea otters to the coast of Oregon. 

Subsequent to the Elakha Alliance’s efforts, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was separately tasked by Congress with taking a look at the feasibility and cost of reintroducing sea otters to the Pacific Coast. To avoid duplication of effort between our study and that of the Elakha Alliance, our report adopts much of theirs by reference where appropriate. However, our assessment expands the scope of geographic consideration beyond the Oregon coast. Our study of feasibility focuses on the potential reintroduction of sea otters to the largest remaining gap in their range, on the coasts of northern California (from San Francisco Bay north) and Oregon. We did not consider reintroducing sea otters to the Washington coast, which already has a reintroduced population of sea otters. 

For more information specific to sea otters in the California portion of their range, please visit our website for the southern sea otter here

What’s next?  

The assessment outlines a series of next steps if reintroduction is considered further. The assessment recommends convening a series of structured decision-making workshops with scientific experts and key stakeholders to explore reintroduction options, including the identification of potential reintroduction sites; initiating a rigorous socioeconomic impact study to look at potential negative and positive local impacts; developing plans for pilot studies or small-scale experimental reintroductions to resolve key uncertainties in reintroduction methods; and integrating existing Oregon and California population models. 

For more information or if you have any questions: Please contact Michele Zwartjes, Newport Field Office Supervisor at (503) 804-2087 or michele_zwartjes@fws.gov.
For media inquiries, please contact: Jodie Delavan, Public Affairs Officer at (503) 231-6984 or jodie_delavan@fws.gov.

Documents

Cover photo for the Feasibility Assessment: Sea Otter Reintroduction to the Pacific Coast with a collage of photos including kelp and fish under water, a mother sea otter holding her pup in the water, people looking at fishing boats, otter swimming on back eating a sea urchin, and a view above water looking at the kelp beneath.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was directed by Congress to look at the feasibility and cost of reintroducing sea otters on the Pacific Coast, including Oregon, Washington, and California. This directive stemmed from language that was included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act for 2021,...

Executive Summary FWS Sea Otter Feasibility Study 2022

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was directed by Congress to look at the feasibility and cost of reintroducing sea otters on the Pacific Coast, including Oregon, Washington, and California. This directive stemmed from language that was included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act for 2021,...

Species