August 26, 1998
Missouri Seeks to Regularize Otter-Trapping
Missouri is on the verge of reinstating an annual trapping season for river otters following complaints from anglers that they are destroying local fish stocks.
The problem has arisen following a Missouri Department of Conservation program launched in 1982 to save the otters from extinction, reports the Associated Press (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Aug. 2). The program surpassed all expectations, and with the population now estimated at 8-10,000, anglers view the otters as a pest and claim they have “devastated” fish stocks in rivers and ponds.
The solution, say the anglers, is to reinstate a permanent annual trapping season, and according to AP the Department “has taken their concerns to heart.” Trapping recommenced in 1996, but the season has so far only been approved on a year-to-year basis. In the 1997-98 season, trappers took 1,146 otters.
According to Dave Hamilton, a biologist with the Department, no one thought the otter population would grow so fast, or that they would spread to habitats other than those in which they were previously found. “We thought they would be river- and stream-oriented,” he told AP. “They’re using reservoirs, ponds and wetlands,” he said. Sightings have even been reported in cities.
Now Hamilton has reported to the Department that otter numbers can support a regular trapping season, and the Department in turn has asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for authority to export the pelts. Otter pelts are worth about $40, with the main export markets being China, South Korea and Europe, where they are used for clothing and accessories.
“Right now, we’re asking for multi-year authorization so we don’t have to do this every year,” Hamilton said.
Animal rights groups, such as the Animal Legal Defense Fund, are now expected to file lawsuits to block authorization by Fish and Wildlife.
Fund spokeswoman Jeanne McVey told AP that she did not believe the otters were ruining fish stocks or that trapping would reduce their numbers. “That whole fish-otter argument is merely an excuse,” she said. “It’s an excuse used to justify the trapping of a very valuable fur-bearer.”
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August 26, 1998