PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – The Center for Biological Diversity submitted a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Thursday asking federal officials to reintroduce sea otters to a large stretch of the West Coast. 

The petition comes months after research conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that sea otters could be reintroduced to their native habitat on the Oregon coast. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released that research in July but said whether otters should be reintroduced to the area is still up for debate. 

Despite this, wildlife advocates from the Center for Biological Diversity are pushing forward with their efforts. They said threatened southern sea otters occupy only 13% of their historic range. Only a small population remains living on California’s central coast. 

“Bringing the sea otter back to the broader West Coast would be an unparalleled conservation success story,” said Kristin Carden, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Not only would the sea otters thrive, but they would also help restore vital kelp forest and seagrass ecosystems.” 

While sea otters quite possibly could thrive if they were reintroduced, experts fear bringing sea otters back could have an impact on local shellfish fisheries. 

The petition filed Thursday cites the importance of allowing sea otters to expand their range. The Center for Biological Diversity recommends reintroducing sea otters in the region between the San Francisco Bay and Oregon. 

It also asks the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct an assessment to determine the feasibility of reintroduction from Southern California to Baja California, Mexico. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s research said reintroducing sea otters to the coastline could have benefits for both sea otter populations and the coastal ecosystem. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said more information and input would be necessary before they create any reintroduction proposal. They recommended stakeholders discuss and identify possible sites where the sea otters could be reintroduced and conduct small-scale experimental reintroductions as the next steps. 

“Re-establishing sea otters along the Pacific Coast would allow these subspecies to intermingle, enhancing genetic diversity and helping them adapt to changing environmental conditions,” the Center for Biological Diversity said when it announced its petition. “A higher population would also make it more likely that the species would withstand an oil spill or other catastrophe.” 

Sea otters once lived all along the Pacific Coast, from Washington to California, but by 1911, after being heavily hunted, sea otters were nearly extinct. 

Slowly, the population has recovered and otters once again live in parts of Central California, Southern California and the northern coast of Washington. In California, sea otters are still listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.