Chapter 11 reenters the realm of the social considerations of reintroduction and provides a brief overview of the wide range of opinions and concerns associated with sea otters and sea otter reintroductions. Community members and stakeholder groups will hold a variety of views and perspectives, and all of these views and perspectives deserve full and careful consideration. This chapter is not intended to be an exhaustive analysis of all different viewpoints. Still, it is intended to help foster open and candid discussion about some of the societal-level challenges associated with sea otter recovery and encourage respect for the diverse and sometimes conflicting views about this subject.
Sea otters have been absent from Oregon’s coast for over 100 years, and human activities such as commercial and recreational fisheries have developed during that time without sea otters as competitors. Thus, the potential return of sea otters to nearshore areas often elicits positive and negative reactions from coastal communities. Some Indigenous community members may welcome the return of the sea otter to reestablish the relationship that native people have had with these animals for cultural and spiritual reasons. Other coastal community members will have mixed opinions, as the expected gains and losses will not affect all people equally.
Economic benefits to coastal communities following the return of sea otters often emerge as an increase in total ecosystem biomass, increased value of fin-fish, increased carbon sequestration, and increased ecotourism. Following the return of sea otters, economic costs to coastal communities are most often associated with a loss to invertebrate fisheries, such as crab, clam, cucumber, and urchin fisheries.
A small survey of Oregon stakeholders found that over 90% of survey respondents perceived that there would be positive potential outcomes associated with the reintroduction of sea otters to Oregon, while over 40% also perceived that there could be negative outcomes. The return of the sea otter to Oregon’s nearshore will almost certainly be associated with disruptive changes to the nearshore ecosystem. These changes could include conflicts with commercial and subsistence fisheries in areas where sea otters compete with humans for commercially valuable invertebrates like crabs, clams, urchins, and sea cucumbers. Restored nearshore ecosystems, consisting of kelp forests and eelgrass beds, could become more stable and productive and enhance the abundance of nearshore fish species—rockfish, salmon, various invertebrates, and even abalone. As in other regions, reintroducing sea otters will evoke both positive and negative responses from stakeholders. Engaging and continuing a constructive dialogue with all affected stakeholders and community groups should be a fundamental component of the decision-making process.