Sea Otter Handicraft Rules Changing
Tuesday, 19 March 2013
The federal government has a new proposal for defining handicrafts made out of sea otter pelts. But it’s not what some crafts-makers expected. CoastAlaska’s Ed Schoenfeld reports.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service governs hunting of sea otters and other protected marine mammals.
Its rules allow coastal Natives to hunt otters for traditional and
subsistence use. And it permits pelts to be sold to non-Natives after
they’re significantly altered.
But part of the rules are hard to
decipher. And different interpretations have led to citations, fines and
other legal action.
Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl is part of a region-wide effort to expand the otter business.
Worl (16) Our desire is to move away from the vague language that
we’ve had that has resulted in some consternation with the hunters and
with the craftspeople in not knowing what’s legally acceptable.
The Fish & Wildlife Service has released new wording and is taking comments through May 17th.
It defines “substantially altered” as weaving, carving, sewing, lacing, beading, drawing, painting and some other methods.
Fish and Wildlife’s Bruce Woods says artisans can make mittens, hats,
gloves, purses and scarves. But it prohibits some larger items.
Woods (25) If someone simply drew a picture on the back of a tanned sea
otter hide and attempted to sell that as significantly altered,
someone who was running a souvenir factory conceivably could buy those
hides and turn them into a whole series of little otter dolls and sell
them in competition (with) people who are doing the work as a
Woods says Native craftspeople could work in
cooperatives or other groups. But they could not use extensive
mechanization or divide tasks in anything like an assembly line.
He says the new rules include input from hunters and other groups.
Woods (19) So the service has been meeting with some handicrafter
groups and other interested parties in an attempt to refine that
definition and sort of take some of the angst out of the community of
crafters who may not be certain that what they’re manufacturing is
Some craftspeople are not happy with the proposed rules.
Worl says crafters worked with the Indigenous People’s Council for
Marine Mammals and other organizations to come up with their own, more
flexible proposal. But that’s not the Fish and Wildlife Service draft.
Worl (09) All of us are busy studying it right now, but there’s a lot
of unhappiness that it came out of the blue. So it’s like we’re back to
the drawing board.
The heritage institute is training tribal
members to sew otter pelts to help build a cottage industry, especially
in economically depressed villages.
Worl says the workshops have waiting lists and more are planned.
The effort comes as hunters, lawmakers and scientists debate the
impacts of rapid otter population growth in Southeast and some other
parts of the state. One bill would subsidize hunting with a
This is Ed Schoenfeld in Juneau.