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Is That Sea Otter Stealing Your Lunch -- Or Making It?

Date:
February 21, 2008
Source:
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council
Summary:
Hunted to near extinction, sea otters are making a steady comeback along the Pacific coast. Their reintroduction, however, is expected to reduce the numbers of several key species of commercially valuable shellfish dramatically, such as sea urchins and geoducks.

California sea otter. Hunted to near extinction, sea otters are making a steady comeback along the Pacific coast.
Credit: iStockphoto/Nancy Nehring

Hunted to near extinction, sea otters are making a steady comeback along the Pacific coast. Their reintroduction, however, is expected to reduce the numbers of several key species of commercially valuable shellfish dramatically, such as sea urchins and geoducks.

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Despite of this potential conflict, Kai Chan of the University of British Columbia believes there is a way to ensure Canadian First Nations fishers can benefit from the otters' presence.

"Efforts to restore wildlife populations should not be played out in a win-lose framework that pits conservation against the economic interests of the local people," observes Chan, who spoke at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Conference in Boston (February 14 to 18).

While none of these shellfish were major sources of human food before the sea otters disappeared, they have become important to First Nations fishers over the last few hundred years. Given their fears about losing a big part of their livelihood, some of these fishers have even announced plans to hunt the rebounding otter populations.

Chan, however, believes that the impact of the otters will be multifaceted, for example with economic opportunities for local people in ecotourism.

The interaction between environmental and economic factors is made more complex by additional indirect ecological effects. For example, sea otters promote kelp forest recovery (by eating the urchins that destroy kelp) and thus foster a much richer ecosystem. This should greatly boost alternative fisheries for species such as lingcod, rockfish and herring.

Chan is an NSERC-funded researcher who holds the Canada Research Chair in Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. "Is That Sea Otter Stealing Your Lunch -- Or Making It?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 February 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080216095720.htm>.
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. (2008, February 21). Is That Sea Otter Stealing Your Lunch -- Or Making It?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080216095720.htm
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. "Is That Sea Otter Stealing Your Lunch -- Or Making It?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080216095720.htm (accessed December 20, 2014).

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