A bill making its way through the General Assembly would remove an extra layer of protection granted more than 40 years ago to river otters.
River otters, along with other fur-bearers, are a protected species. Back in 1970, a public outcry over the illegal shooting of a river otter prompted the state legislature to give them an extra layer of protection, meaning they could no longer be trapped, just as other animals can be trapped and harvested during certain regulated seasons.
The Department of Environmental Management’s wildlife biologist Charlie Brown said that decision was an emotional response to the illegal shooting. The proposed bill is about letting the DEM manage the otter population.
“You might have some people say, ‘Oh, they ate all my fish.’ That’s not really the issue. It’s just that they should be, as the legislature originally intended, they should be managed by the DEM the same as all other species, and right now they’re not.”
Brown said the proposed bill does not suggest hunting river otters with firearms would be allowed.
“You can’t shoot them, okay? That’s not legal now. It’s never been legal in Rhode Island, not in modern times,” said Brown. “Trapping by means of catching them in device is allowed, by many states, actually the majority of states, 37 states currently have a trapping season for otters.”
The river otters would remain a protected species, even if the proposed bill passes. Brown said the otter population in Rhode Island is healthy, abundant, and widespread. They are semi-aquatic, fur-bearing creatures that tend to be nocturnal. They like to live near bodies of water that have good water quality to support their diet, such as crabs, frogs, and fish.
Brown said river otters are not a threat to other species.