Otter Frustration


     I love taking things out of context. It’s so much fun.
     So here’s a sentence from a complaint filed in Federal Court in Los Angeles last week:
     “The Commission estimated that termination would lead to the closure of over half of the state’s sea urchin processors and the disappearance of over 300 employees.”
     Yikes! Disappearing employees?!?
     Victims of vengeful urchin relatives – from OUTER SPACE?
     OK, I’m not being fair here. I’m pretty sure whoever wrote that sentence meant that the jobs would disappear, not the actual employees.
     But there’s another concept in that sentence that gave me pause: We have sea urchin processors in California? 600 people work in them?
     Litigation is so educational.
     At this point, if you don’t already know the answer, you’re probably wondering what that sentence was doing in a lawsuit and what’s being terminated.
     The answer is what I call the young Wilford Brimley problem.
     Go ahead and look up photos of Wilford Brimley.
     Now search for photos of California sea otters.
     See what I mean?
     I will now, for the rest of this column, refer to California sea otters as brimleys because it amuses me.
     The dispute is a little on the complicated side and I have no idea who’s right, but a few things are worth pointing out.
     In a clamshell (because a nutshell makes no sense here), the argument is over whether the brimleys should be allowed to roam free or be segregated on a secluded island where they can’t eat urchins and other shellfish that humans want to eat (or at least process).
     It seems the brimleys were almost wiped out at one point before getting federal protection, but when the brimleys made a comeback fishermen got upset about their eating habits and the government decided to ship the brimleys to San Nicolas Island, about 60 miles west of Los Angeles.
     This is where it starts to get silly.
     For some odd reason, most of the brimleys refused to stay on or around the island. For some odder reason, whoever came up with this plan didn’t realize this was going to happen.
     Meanwhile, the rest of the Southern California ocean area was declared a “no otter zone.”
     And apparently, people had jobs counting brimleys on the island and escorting escaped brimleys, presumably in little handcuffs, back to the island. The latter almost certainly is the cutest law enforcement job in the world.
     In 2011, two years after the filing of a lawsuit by The Otter Project and the Environmental Defense Center, the government instituted an amnesty program and stopped brimley deportation. This led to last week’s lawsuit claiming the brimleys were in this country illegally and were destroying American jobs (or making them disappear).
     Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include California Sea Urchin Commission and California Abalone Association.
     I bet you didn’t know there was a Sea Urchin Commission or an Abalone Association. As far as I can tell, the primary purpose of these groups is to protect urchins and abalone – until humans can eat them.
     I’m really hoping The Otter Project isn’t a front for brimley fur hunters.

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