Indiana's 1st otter trapping underway since species' return

Indiana's first river otter trapping season since the furry species was reintroduced to the state in the 1990s following a long absence has seen trappers take two-thirds of the statewide limit less than halfway into the season.

State officials authorized the trapping season — Indiana's first for otters in more than nine decades — in early 2015. They set a statewide quota of 600 of the animals for the season that opened Nov. 15 and ends March 15.

Licensed Indiana trappers had taken more than 400 otters as of Friday, with about 10 being claimed per day. If that pace continues, Indiana will close its season in late January or early February, once the 600-otter limit is reached, said Shawn Rossler, a furbearer biologist with the state Department of Natural Resources.

Indiana is now the last of six states in the lower Midwest — joining Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri and Ohio — to permit otter trapping following successful releases in the 1980s and 1990s that returned the aquatic mammals to that region, Rossler said.

"Those states had reintroductions, and their trapping seasons eventually followed," he said.

Indiana officials authorized the season in early 2015 after DNR officials said trapping was needed to properly manage the state's otter populations.

The DNR released about 300 otters taken from Louisiana into Indiana between 1995 and 1999. The otters flourished and are now found in more than 80 percent of the state's 92 counties. They were removed from Indiana's endangered species list in 2005.

But as their numbers have risen, so have complaints about them devouring fish in private ponds and fish hatcheries.

Indiana's otter trapping season was opposed by the Humane Society of the United States and individuals who said trapping is a cruel practice that subjects animals to pain, exposure to the elements and eventual death.

Indiana also allows trapping for coyotes, beavers, muskrats and other animals.

River otter trapping was last allowed in Indiana in 1921, when the species received state protection after being decimated by habitat loss and unregulated, year-round trapping.

"Prior to that, there were no regulations and river otters could be harvested at any time," Rossler said.

Under state rules, otter trapping is only permitted in only 66 counties, mostly in the north and south where the species is well-established. Trappers have a two-otter limit.

River otters have thrived in the lower Midwest, said Bob Bluett, a wildlife biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

He said the otters have fared better than had been predicted, moving along waterways into agricultural areas and even urban areas.

"They're more adaptable than we gave them credit when we started," Bluett said.

Fred Philips, president of the Indiana State Trappers Association, said most state trappers he's heard from who've taken otters plan to keep the furs for themselves. Many are holding onto them because prices for the pelts, used primarily in Asia for clothing trim, have plummeted in recent years.

But Philips said other trappers will hold onto their otter pelts because "it's their first otter."

"It's something Indiana hasn't had in many, many years. I still have my first coyote pelt," he said.



Indiana River Otter Trapping: