California Coastal Commission Gives Green Light to End the ‘No-Otter’ Zone

Southern sea otter

Southern sea otter, Moss Landing, California

Since 1987, sea otters have been ‘prohibited’ by Federal law from swimming into or living along the entire southern coast of California – an area that stretches from Point Conception (Santa Barbara County) down to the Mexican border.  That’s all about to change.

Last Thursday, the California Coastal Commission (CCC) confirmed by unanimous vote that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) proposal to finally end the failed southern sea otter translocation program and “no-otter” zone does not violate California’s Coastal Act.  Additionally, several Commissioners noted that FWS’s program has been long recognized as a failure and that continuing the program would continue to hinder recovery of the population.

“The commission’s decision brings us one step closer to having southern sea otters fully protected throughout California and freely swimming in Southern California waters,” says Steve Shimek, chief executive and founder of The Otter Project, in a joint statement with the Environmental Defense Center (EDC). “This is a crucial outcome supporting recovery of one of California’s most charismatic marine species.”

“Allowing southern sea otters return to southern California coastal waters will be a great benefit to the region’s economy and environment,” adds Brian Segee, staff attorney with the EDC, in the same statement. “It also serves the purposes of the California Coastal Act, which promotes the protection and restoration of the marine environment and threatened species such as the southern sea otter.”

This action taken by the CCC appears to be a significant step by a State agency and perhaps a precedent-setting interpretation of the Coastal Act.  Who wins?  The southern sea otter – a threatened species listed under the Endangered Species Act since 1977!  Allowing otters to once again inhabit southern California waters is considered critical to the recovery of the species.  And now that the CCC has thrown their support behind ending the ‘no-otter’ zone, sea otters can finally soon begin their natural range expansion southward.

FWS has agreed to reach a final decision on the termination of the translocation project and ‘no-otter’ zone by December 2012.


Related links:

The Otter Project’s initiative,

H.R. 4043 and the “No-Otter” Zone

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About is dedicated to raising awareness about California's threatened sea otters and the role research plays in the species recovery and conservation. It's a collaboration of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, U.C. Santa Cruz, U.C. Davis, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, among others. is also home of the world's first HD live stream of southern sea otters in the wild.