Sea otters Enhydra lutris can be bycaught and drowned in fishing pots and traps, which may pose a threat to the welfare of otter populations. We explored this potential problem and its solutions using a wide variety of analyses. We exposed live California (USA) sea otters to finfish traps, lobster traps, and mock Dungeness crab traps in captive trials and found that the animals attempted to enter the circular and rectangular fyke openings, with some becoming entrapped. Using both live and dead sea otters, we found that a 3 ?? 9 inch (7.6 ?? 22.9 cm) fyke opening (1 inch narrower than the 4 ?? 9 inch [10.2 ?? 22.9 cm] openings currently used in California's commercial Dungeness crab fishery) would exclude most free-living (i.e. weaned from their mothers) otters while permitting the undiminished capture of crabs. Observer programs do not currently exist in California for these fisheries, so we calculated the effort required by an observer program to document sea otter bycatch over a range of hypothetical levels and evaluated the impact of those mortality rates on population growth. These analyses demonstrate that significant mortality from bycatch might easily go undetected, even with seemingly high levels of observer effort. As sea otters reoccupy portions of their former habitat in California, co-occurrence with finfish and shellfish traps with relatively large fyke openings will increase. ?? Inter-Research 2011.