Local News

Assembly silent on otter bounty

A proposed bounty on sea otters drew some criticism from the public followed by no discussion at all from the Petersburg Borough Assembly during its regular meeting Monday afternoon. The agenda included a resolution in support of Senate Bill 60 which is sponsored by Sitka Senator Bert Stedman. It would require the state pay a hundred dollar bounty for every sea otter that is lawfully killed. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, only Alaska natives may hunt the animals. The measure is aimed encouraging such hunts and, ultimately, at reducing the impacts of a growing otter population on shellfish species on which commercial crabbers and divers depend.

But Kupreanof’s Joan Kautzer, who is a commercial fisherman, was one of a couple of people to speak against the bill.

“While I am extremely sympathetic to crabbers and divers, every commercial fishery has its nuisance animal competition. Trollers have sea lions. Longliners have orcas and gillnetters have humpbacks that rip-up their nets. None of these gear types have bounties on their competing species. Bounties were an archaic, misguided policy in the last century and there’s no place for them in this century. Bounties are not scientific fisheries management tools and legislators are not fisheries biologists. This bill would set a very bad precedent and would smear Alaska’s reputation as cutting-edge fisheries managers.”

Kautzer said the biggest threat facing the crab and dive fisheries is ocean acidification which impedes development of invertebrate shells. It’s caused by too much carbon dioxide in the ocean and Kautzer emphasized that sea otters help counteract that problem by promoting healthy kelp forests. Kelp absorbs CO2 and otters eat sea urchins that kill the kelp.

When it was time for the assembly to consider the bounty issue, no one made a motion to get it on the table. So the matter was, effectively, dropped.

Mayor Mark Jensen, who is also a fisherman, had put the resolution on the agenda but the mayor is not allowed to make motions. Speaking later by phone, Jensen said he supported the measure:

“Just to get it on there for discussion would have been nice. It might not pass as a vote but sea otters are causing a huge impact on our region’s economy, due to lost fishing,” Jensen said.

Senate Bill 60 has been referred to the Senate Finance, Judiciary and Resource Committees.

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