Examining the potential conflict between sea otter recovery and Dungeness crab fisheries in California

Biological Conservation
By: , and 



Human exploitation of marine mammals led to precipitous declines in many wild populations within the last three centuries. Legal protections enacted throughout the 20th century have enabled the recovery of many of these species and some recoveries have resulted in conflict with humans for shared resources. With legal protections and reintroduction programs, the southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis) has returned to portions of its former range from which it had been extirpated for decades, causing concern that the Dungeness crab (Cancer magister) fishery could be negatively affected by increasing otter range and population size. The Dungeness crab fishery is one of the most valuable in California, and these crabs are a known prey item of sea otters. We examine sea otter population growth by port region in relation to Dungeness crab catch using landing receipts since the early 1980s. We find Dungeness crab landings and fishing success, as measured by landings per trip receipt, increased across all ports. In the most recent decade, we observed slower growth in fishing success in northern ports where otters were absent, relative to southern ports where sea otters exist and their populations have grown. In ports where otters were present, fishing success was positively correlated with otter population size over time. Further, an extensive dataset of 83,000 sea otter foraging dives identified Dungeness crab to be less than 2% of the total diet. Though we find no evidence that sea otter populations impact the Dungeness crab fishery in California, other potential conflicts could be considered before expanding reintroduction programs.

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    Publication type Article
    Publication Subtype Journal Article
    Title Examining the potential conflict between sea otter recovery and Dungeness crab fisheries in California
    Series title Biological Conservation
    DOI 10.1016/j.biocon.2020.108830
    Volume 253
    Year Published 2021
    Language English
    Publisher Elsevier
    Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
    Description 108830, 8 p.
    Country United States
    State California
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