This was a vote on passage of H.R. 556, the Southern Sea Otter Recovery and Research Act. The bill directed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to implement a program addressing the decline of the southern sea otter population. That population had experienced very slow growth over the previous decade because of high death rates. The causes of death included disease and parasites, malnutrition and entanglement in fishing gear.
H.R. 556 directed the Fish and Wildlife Service to examine health, mortality, and life history parameters of the southern sea otter, and to develop measures to reduce factors impacting marine ecosystems, health and human activities that limit sea otter populations. Rep. Bordallo (D-Guam) said in her statement in support of the measure that it had been modified from its original form “to address concerns of coastal fishing interests.” She also said that the funds in the bill provided “a stable and reliable source of funding for critically needed research, monitoring, and implementation of recovery actions.” Bordallo claimed that southern sea otters “are a keystone and a sentinel species that are an important part of the California coastal ecosystem.
Rep. Hastings (R-WA) led the opposition to the bill. He said his opposition was based on the fact that H.R. 556 “will take a threatened species and place its management needs above others, even if those species are in danger of becoming extinct. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the agency with management over the southern sea otter and most other animals listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The Service should be afforded the opportunity to make its own determination on how best to use Endangered Species Act recovery funds. I don't believe Congress should get into the habit of promoting one species' needs over other more endangered species. We should let the management agency do its job, guided by the Endangered Species Act. “
Rep. Farr (D-CA), who introduced the original version of H.R. 556, responded to Hastings by noting that Congress had previously passed measures that singled out certain individual species for protection - - including the African elephant, the bald and the golden eagles, the fur seal, the starfish, the North Pacific halibut, the salmon and the Atlantic striped bass. Farr also noted the several organizations that favored the bill, including the Defenders of Wildlife, the Marine Conservation Biology Institute, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The legislation passed by a vote of 316-107. Two hundred and forty-six Democrats and seventy Republicans voted “aye”. One hundred and five Republicans and two Democrats voted “nay”. As a result, the House approved and sent on to the Senate the bill directing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to implement a program addressing the decline of the southern sea otter population.