Sea Otter FAQs

Who can hunt sea otters?

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA), Alaska Natives living along the North Pacific or Arctic Ocean are the only people who may harvest sea otters. When the act was passed, Congress recognized the cultural importance of marine mammals to Alaska Native peoples, and included an Alaska Native exemption for their take for subsistence or handicraft, provided that marine mammals are not taken in a wasteful manner. A similar exemption for continued Alaska Native subsistence exists in the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Because the MMPA definition is more restrictive in terms of who may harvest marine mammals for subsistence, the ESA definition is overruled.

Current regulations require that a person have the following in order to harvest or use marine mammals for subsistence:

  • 1/4 (25%) Alaska Native blood quantum, or
  • Be originally enrolled under ANSCA in 1971, or
  • In the absence of proof regarding blood quantum, be considered Native by your Native village or group, and that one or both of your parents were considered Native by their Native village or group.

Now that sea otters in Southwest Alaska are listed under the Endangered Species Act, will hunting be shut down or regulated by the U.S. Federal Government?

No. Like the MMPA, the ESA has an Alaska Native exemption (Section 10(e)) that provides for harvest of a listed species for subsistence or handicraft, provided that the take is not wasteful. Sea otters found in SW Alaska were listed as threatened under the ESA in August 2005. The geographic area includes: Kamishak Bay, Barren Islands, Kodiak Island, North Alaska Peninsula, South Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutians. Sea otters in those areas are included under the ESA and are automatically considered depleted under the MMPA. The U.S. Federal government, in order to regulate or shut down hunting, must show that subsistence harvest is a major threat to the species, and is “materially and negatively affecting” the species. Since harvest levels have not been a major threat to the survival of the species, the U.S. Federal government cannot regulate sea otter harvests. However, to ensure the continuation of the ability to use our resources for subsistence purposes, harvests must be done wisely.

Will hunting in other areas of Alaska be regulated since the Southwest population of sea otters are listed under the ESA?

No. The only sea otters that have been listed under the ESA are found in SW Alaska. Sea otters in eastern Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and Southeast are not affected by the listing. Populations in these areas are stable or increasing. In order for U.S. Federal government regulations to occur, it must be shown that subsistence harvest is a threat to the survival to the species and the affected stock must be declared depleted under the MMPA. The Southcentral and Southeast populations are stable or increasing.

Do I need a permit to hunt sea otters?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has no permit requirement for sea otter hunting. However, some Alaska Native Tribal governments may have local sea otter harvest regulations, including permit requirements. Prior to hunting, it is respectful to know if any Alaska Native Tribal government regulations exist. Additionally, some areas may have restrictions on the use of firearms in certain areas, such as within city limits. Prior to hunting, it is important to know if any firearm restrictions exist.

Is there a season or bag limit on sea otters? 

There are no U.S. Federal government restrictions on the taking of sea otters for coastal Alaska Native subsistence as long as such practices do not contribute to the demise of the species. However, any Alaska Native Tribal Government has the ability to develop regulations on when and where hunts may occur. It is important to check with the local Tribal government to see if any regulations exist. In recognition that an ESA listed species may be important for Alaska Native subsistence, Secretarial Order No. 3225 Endangered Species Act and Subsistence Uses in Alaska (Supplemental to Sec. Order 3206) was signed on January 19, 2001. The order establishes a consultation framework and reiterates the Government to Government requirements for ESA implementation in Alaska. If hunting seasons or quotas are deemed necessary and/or proposed, government to government consultation on these issues must occur.

What do I have to do once I’ve shot a sea otter?

The sea otter’s skull and pelt must be tagged by a representative of the USFWS within 30 days of the harvest. Taggers are available in most villages. It is important to tag your otters as there are large fines for not tagging. Tagging is an important way of keeping track of the sea otter population and the number harvested. If you need your sea otters tagged, TASSC is a tagger, or can direct you to someone in your commnity.

What can I do with the pelts?

Under both the MMPA and ESA, sea otter pelts can be used for personal subsistence purposes or for the making of handicrafts. Subsistence purposes include food, clothing and other uses necessary to maintain the life of the hunter or those who depend on the hunter. Handicrafts are defined as items that are not mass-produced and, are significantly altered from the tanned skin form. They should be decorated or fashioned with traditional methods including stitching, sewing and lacing. Handicrafts can be sold to Natives and non-natives. Raw or tanned pelts can be sold or traded to other Alaska Natives or to registered agents for resale or transfer to Alaska Natives within Alaska. Raw pelts cannot be sold or traded to non-natives.

Do I have to be Native to sew with sea otter pelts?

Federal regulations require that a person must be 25% Alaska Native. The MMPA states that you must be an Alaska Coastal Dwelling Native.

Can I use sea otter fur from prior to the 1972 MMPA Act?

Yes. If it is pre-1972, anyone can use or possess these furs.

If I am non-native, can I accompany someone on a sea otter hunt? 

Yes, but you can not assist the hunt in any way (I.e. – operating skiff/boat, spotting sea otters to hunt, etc.).