A recent story has been gaining traction about a new study showing there could be economic benefits to the reintroduction of sea otters to the Oregon coast.
We believe that to be an over-simplified look at the issue. To be objective, the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission wants you to know that there could also be profoundly serious economic ramifications for the state.
It is one reason that members of the Commission have been involved in discussions with the Elakha Alliance from early on in their mission to restore sea otters to the Oregon coast. We have been stressing to them our concerns and the need for an exhaustive economic feasibility study.
The bottom line is that sea otters, in any true number, have never co-existed with the commercial or recreational Oregon Dungeness crab industry. And, in other areas of the Pacific Northwest where reintroduction has taken place, the results have been devastating for the fishermen.
Sea otters weigh between 35 and 90 pounds and must eat 25% of their body weight — each day — to survive. Like many Oregonians, they love Dungeness crab.
In the 1960’s, Alaska reintroduced about 400 sea otters to Southeast Alaska. In 2000, that number had grown to an estimated 12,000. By 2012, there were an estimated 27,500 sea otters calling SE Alaska home.
Commercial fishermen there have been battling to find some balance ever since. But, it is tough going because the sea otters are protected by federal law.
So, you have a population of these voracious eaters that is growing at a rate of 12%, annually, unchecked.
That kind of growth, here on the Oregon coast, could have a significant impact on the recreational crabbing industry and a commercial crabbing industry that has brought in over a half a billion dollars to the state’s economy just over the past four seasons.
This is a glance at why we believe there’s still much work to be done and many more questions to be answered before Elakha Alliance can say that some benefits are enough to outweigh others and reintroduction should go forward.
It is our hope that, in the interim, everyone does a better job at fully spelling out what these impacts are going to be. Because, as other communities have found out, this can create one major problem that could become exceedingly difficult to try and solve later.
Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission