Residents and boaters complained last week when they learned that river otters that frequent the area around the Kingston Marina were trapped — a process Port of Kingston officials say is standard practice.
The protests were at least partially effective. The port won’t stop trapping the critters, but the method being used now leads to a happier result for the otters themselves.
Otters are drawn to marinas because they find food there, but they can become a nuisance. They defecate on the docks, for one thing, and they can cause serious damage to vessels or boathouses.
Port officials say the otter traps are set every year, but some in the community raised concerns about what happens to the animals after they’re caught.
Mark Andresen, a Kingston resident, said he noticed a port employee with a trapper setting the snares in the water last week. When Andresen asked, the employee told him the otters would be killed.
“I said, really, you’re going to just kill them?” Andresen said.
Andresen, who has had a slip at the marina for seven years, said he was shocked that the port would kill the animals just for defecating on the dock.
“It seems like the punishment didn’t fit the crime,” he said.
Port executive director Jim Pivarnik said several people objected to the traps. He emphasized that the port isn’t setting or checking the traps — the agency contracts with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program to capture and deal with otters.
“We do have a lot of damage being done, not just pooping on the dock,” Pivarnik said. “We have otters that will move into boats and have babies, we’ll have them just making terrible messes, ripping canvas and things like that.”
Trapping otters is an annual operation for the port, according to Pivarnik, and something most marinas have to deal with. He said it’s the first time anyone has complained about the practice.
“We’ve never really had an issue with it until this year,” Pivarnik said. “It just takes one person to complain and then all of a sudden it turns into, ‘We’re killing Bambi.’”
Pivarnik suspects some people may have been confusing sea otters, which are federally protected, with river otters. River otters, which are what are being trapped in Kingston, are smaller and come ashore more often than sea otters.
Under state law, river otters are “furbearers,” meaning they can be trapped during open season with a trapping license. Killing river otters is legal if they damage property, crops or domestic animals, according to the Department of Fish & Wildlife.
Trapping otters should be a last resort, according to Matt Blankenship, a wildlife conflict specialist with the state. But it can be a more reliable method in commercial areas — nonlethal methods like scare tactics or barriers don’t work as well in marinas because of the elusiveness of the animal.
“You can deploy some of these nonlethal techniques out there, but often they’ll move around and its harder to do that,” Blankenship said.
According to USDA data, 64 river otters were intentionally killed or euthanized in Washington state in 2016. Two otters have been killed at the Kingston Marina this year, according to Pivarnik.
Kingston isn’t the only marina in Kitsap that has an issue with river otters.
The Port of Poulsbo hires a private professional trapper every few years to catch and relocate them to the Olympic Peninsula, according to port manager Brad Miller.
“They just make a nuisance of themselves, they defecate all over the place, they can actually be destructive …. some of the boathouses that have the old foam flotation, they will tear that up,” Miller said.
At the Brownsville Marina, river otters are “absolutely” a problem, interim port manager Matt Appleton said. Otters have chewed holes in docks, nested in boats and chased people around the marina. At some point, it becomes a safety problem.
“They get into people’s boathouses, they do all kinds of physical damage,” Appleton said.
The Port of Brownsville also pays the USDA to trap the animals every year, but Appleton said he isn’t sure what the agency does with them once they’ve been caught.
“As long as they leave here, I’m not concerned with what happens,” he said.
In contrast, Port of Bremerton officials don’t hear many otter complaints at the Bremerton and Port Orchard marinas. The port had contracted with the USDA for a trap and release program in the past, but most boaters know that dealing with otters is part of boat ownership, port manager Kathy Garcia said.
That’s how Andresen, the Kingston Marina boater, feels.
“You take a hose and you spray it (the poop) off. … If you have a boat then that’s part of the deal, it comes with the territory,” Andresen said.
Because of the complaints from Andresen and others, the Port of Kingston asked the USDA to swap to “live” traps earlier this week, Pivarnik said. But he said he isn’t sure what will be done with the otters once they are caught.
Some boaters voiced objections because they thought the carcasses of the otters were being wasted, but Andresen thinks they shouldn’t be being killed at all.
“I understand they’re a nuisance, I’ve had them come into my backyard,” Andresen said. “But we kind of put our stuff on top of their world.”
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