USFWS rule ending ‘otter-free’ zone upheld by federal judge

©Don DeBold

 In 1986, Congress authorized the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to regularly remove and relocate federally threatened southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) from an “otter-free” management zone south of Point Conception, California to a translocation zone around San Nicolas Island to reduce predation impacts on shellfish fisheries. In 2012, the USFWS decided to officially end the Southern Sea Otter Translocation program after an extensive review found it to be ineffective. In 2013, the California Sea Urchin Commission and three other commercial fishermen’s groups filed a challenge to the USFWS’ decision, arguing that Congress had not granted the agency the authority to end the program. On March 3, following cross-motions for summary judgment, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ruled in favor of USFWS, thereby upholding the 2012 final rule to terminate the Translocation Program and eliminate the “otter-free” management zone.

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