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Measure to encourage sea otter cull headed to Senate floor

Posted: April 10, 2012 - 12:06am

House Joint Resolution 26 has cleared its last committee before heading to the Senate Floor for a final vote.

The resolution urges state and federal governments to work with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game and Southeast Alaska Native leaders to set a course for management of the reintroduced sea otter population of Southeast Alaska.

The management practice assumed in the bill is an increased cull to slow the growth of the population and therefore protect specific marine resources.

Sea otters were reintroduced to Southeast Alaska in 1965-1969.

According to resolution sponsor Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, said in a statement sea otter populations have grown at a rate of 12 percent in Southeast. The notorious eating habits of enhydra lutris have “cost the Southeast Alaska economy 28.3 million dollars directly and indirectly since 1995,” according to report by the McDowell Group from November 2011.

Wilson’s solution is incentivizing an increased sea otter harvest by Native Alaskans. To do so, Wilson’s resolution encourages the federal government to change the Marine Mammal Protection Act to change the definition of handicrafts to “Alaska native articles of handicraft.” This, the bill’s sponsor and many in the Native community said, will clear up confusion as to whether blankets, vests and teddy bears are permissible uses for sea otter pelts. The hope is that solid definitions will result in less disagreement between Natives and the federal government.

In an email interview following an earlier committee hearing in February, Diana Rae Riedel, owner of Dineega Specialty Furs, said she works with sea otter pelts in her business.

“An easier and better approach to utilizing sea otters would be for US Fish and Wildlife to back off from scaring people to use them and for them to quit harassing native artists,” Riedel stated in the email. “They told me I was not allowed to teach my own daughter how to sew pelts even though she is a coastal residing Alaskan native.”

The resolution originally encouraged the adoption of rules that would allow Natives to sell raw sea otter pelts to non-natives. This was strongly discouraged by the Southeast Native community.

HJR 26 moved out of Senate Resources Committee on Monday — its only committee referral after having passed the House on March 19.

The resolution has yet to be scheduled for a Senate floor vote.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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