Alaska dive fishermen plead for relief from sea otters

ANCHORAGE — Sea otters have come back from the brink of extinction along Alaska’s Panhandle, but fishermen who dive for crab and other shellfish are seeking relief from their voracious appetites.

Phil Doherty of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association said sea otters threaten the livelihood of his 200 members.

Sea otters grow as large as 100 pounds and eat the equivalent of a quarter of their weight each day.

They can decimate beds of red sea urchins and other species harvested for sale in Asia.

Patrick Lemons of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the agency can’t intervene to protect commercial fisheries until a species is at its “optimum sustainable population.”

Lemons says sea otters are still colonizing southeast Alaska. He says the population remains significantly below the number of animals the region can support without harming the environment.

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