SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) — Sea otters could be repopulated along the shores of Northern California and Oregon, according to a newly-released assessment by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service evaluated the feasibility of reintroducing sea otters to their historical range along the West Coast.

“The Service’s assessment indicates reintroduction is feasible, but it does not provide a recommendation as to whether sea otter reintroduction should take place. Additional information and stakeholder input would be needed to help inform any future reintroduction proposal if the initiative moves forward,” wildlife officials wrote.

The USFWS’ assessment recommends small-scale, experimental reintroductions of sea otters for some coastal areas of Northern California and Oregon.

Sea otters once lived across the north Pacific Rim, from the northern islands of Japan to Baja California. By 1911, the heavily-hunted species was nearly extinct. Poachers targeted the otters for their thick fur coats. Sea otters survived in only a few small populations, including one remote raft of otters off the rugged coast of Big Sur.

After decades of reintroduction efforts and slow population recoveries, today, sea otters inhabit some portions of their historical range.

sea otter pup
A sea otter swims with her fuzzy pup. (AP Photo /Ted S. Warren)

However, sea otters remain absent from the contiguous Pacific Coast, with the exception of Central California, the Monterey Bay, one island in southern California, and the northern coast of Washington. Sea otters in California are still listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

As a keystone species, sea otters play a fundamental role in the ecological health of nearshore ecosystems, according to federal wildlife officials.

Sea otters eat sea urchins, which helps keep kelp forests and seagrass beds in balance. Otters’ presence in the ocean increases carbon sequestration from kelp and seagrass, and makes the ecosystem more resilient to the effects of climate change.

“If sea otters are reintroduced to northern California and Oregon, it would benefit both otters and the nearshore marine ecosystem,” said Craig Rowland of USFWS.