In a move that puts traditional Native rights at odds with animal rights advocates, the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribe of Vancouver Island is planning to reinstate sea otter hunts, after reaching a tentative agreement with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The deal will allow the members of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council to hunt roughly one per cent of the sea otter population in their territory on the central section of the west coast of Vancouver Island every year. Based on current figures, the take would amount to approximately 20 otters per annum.
Cliff Atleo, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, stated: “For us, it’s not about the numbers. It’s about reconnecting with the pelts worn by our chiefs, the heads of our governments,” Council Member Keith Atleo said expects opposition to the hunt, especially since sea otters are known for their cute looks, but said the hunt is necessary to stop the sea otters from decimating sea urchin and shellfish stocks, which are a valuable source of food for First Nations communities and commercial fishermen. “We have a lot of cute children in our community that depend on the seafood, and we’d rather they have a good future. Sea otters have affected the balance in our food, traditionally and culturally,” he said.
Sea otters were hunted out of existence in British Columbia during the lucrative fur trade between colonialists and West Coast natives in the late 1700s and 1800s. In the 1960s and 1970s, animals from the surviving population in Alaska were reintroduced to the B.C. coast. The otter population is now estimated at 3,500 and the species is now listed as “at risk,” rather than endangered. The Nuu-chah-nulth otter hunt agreement still is awaiting final approval from First Nations leaders and the Canadian government, and the hunt is not yet scheduled.