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Groups worry that sea otters will take a hit during salmon season

April 6, 2010 | 12:10 pm

A group of sea otters gather in the bay.

The recreational salmon fishing season opened Saturday from Point Arena to the Mexican border, and with it has come concern for ocean mammals' safety, specifically sea otters residing in Monterey Bay.

The worry is that the animals may be at a higher risk of boat strikes from enthusiastic anglers speeding out of harbor during dark mornings.

"We've seen as many as 100 otters in Moss Landing Harbor near the boat launch," said Karl Mayer, animal care coordinator of the Monterey Bay Aquarium sea otter research and conservation program. "If fishermen are speeding out of the north harbor in the dark at 5 a.m., the likelihood of boat strikes is fairly high."

So the Aquarium has teamed up with other organizations, including Friends of the Sea Otter, Defenders of Wildlife, and Moss Landing Harbor District, to get word out of the importance for boaters to slow down in areas that are known sea otter habitats.

"We understand and respect the enthusiasm that fishers share on the opening days of salmon season," said Andrew Johnson, Monterey Bay Aquarium sea otter programs manager. "But this year many sea otters are residing in harm's way, so we're encouraging fishers to maintain a cautious speed until they are well clear of the Moss Landing jetty."

According to Johnson, more than a dozen of the mammals have died from boat strikes over the last several years, which might have been prevented had boaters been more cautious.

Those killing marine mammals, even accidentally, are subject to criminal and civil penalties, including imprisonment and/or substantial fines.

Certain areas, such as the Elkhorn Slough, are designated no-wake zones, with posted speed limits of 5 knots, or about 4 miles per hour. Patrols have been stepped up in recent days to enforce these limits and issue citations to violators.

"By and large, fishermen respect wildlife and make efforts to avoid harming animals," said Linda G. McIntyre, Moss Landing Harbor District general manager and harbormaster. "We hope they enjoy the salmon season and continue to use caution while traveling in and near the slough."

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: A group of sea otters gathered in the bay. Credit: Reed Saxon / Associated Press

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