In this May 21, 2016 file photo, a northern sea otter floats on its back while crushing a clam shell with its teeth in the small boat harbor at Seward, Alaska. Sea otters, once wiped out by hunting along Alaska's Panhandle, have made a strong comeback and fishermen who target shellfish are seeking relief from their voracious appetites. Sea otters eat the equivalent of a quarter of their own weight each day. (AP Photo/Dan Joling, File)

Alaska dive fishermen plead for relief from sea otters

May 16, 2018 - 11:34 pm

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Sea otters have come back from the brink of extinction along Alaska's Panhandle, but fishermen who dive for crab and other shellfish are seeking relief from their voracious appetites.

Phil Doherty of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association says sea otters threaten the livelihood of his 200 members.

Sea otters grow as large as 100 pounds (45 kilograms) and eat the equivalent of a quarter of their weight each day.

They can decimate beds of red sea urchins and other species harvested for sale in Asia.

Patrick Lemons of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the agency can't intervene to protect commercial fisheries until a species is at its "optimum sustainable population."

Lemons says sea otters are still colonizing southeast Alaska. He says the population remains significantly below the number of animals the region can support without harming the environment.

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