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Sea otter hunt gets mixed reaction from enviro groups

VANCOUVER - Conservation groups appear split over whether to oppose a First Nations group's plan to allow a limited hunt on sea otters.

Reports suggest the Tribal Council of the Nuu-chah-nulth, a First Nations group on Vancouver Island, plan to hunt about 20 sea otters per year for cultural purposes.

But Peter Hamilton, founding director of the Lifeforce Foundation, said it's still too precarious to be hunting sea otters, which were brought back from the brink of extinction last century.

"It's a risk to kill any sea otters at this point, because they're still on their way trying to recover," Hamilton said.

However, the Western Canada Wilderness Committee isn't opposing the hunt, as long as it's for ceremonial reasons and limited to the planned 20 sea otters a year.

"We won't stand up in opposition, but we will be watching it very closely," said spokesperson Gwen Barlee.

B.C. sea otters were nearly wiped out before the turn of the century, when several dozen were reintroduced to the area in the 1960s, Barlee said. It's now estimated there are 3,500 sea otters along B.C.'s coast, a population that's growing by between 8 and 10 per cent every year.

B.C. sea otters are listed as "special concern" on Canada's Species at Risk Public Registry, a level between "threatened" and "not at risk."

Calls to the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council and to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans were not returned by press time.

Irwin Loy reports for Vancouver 24 hours.

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