SPRINGFIELD (AP) — At least 500 otters have been caught so far in Illinois' first river otter trapping season since 1929, and authorities say the prime weeks are still ahead.
Bob Bluett of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources says 500 trapped otters have been registered with the season less than half over. Illinois' season began in November, and it closes statewide March 31.
"A harvest of 2,000 statewide would put us in good shape," Mike Gragert, president of the Illinois Trappers Association, told The (Springfield) State Journal-Register (http://bit.ly/TB0478 ). "I think we'll harvest that many, but it depends on the weather."
Trappers are required to check their traps once a day, and experts say they may pull their sets if the weather gets bad.
"With all the snow in southern Illinois, it put a damper on a lot of fur trapping, period," Gragert said.
Because of habitat loss and unregulated trapping, otters were scarce in Illinois until their reintroduction in the mid-1990s. Their population has since boomed — growing to an estimated 11,000 by 2009. That number is expected to surpass 30,000 by 2014, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
Trappers report that they're finding an abundance of otters, according to Carroll Williams, vice president of the Illinois Trappers Association.
"I've talked to several trappers who are having a successful season," Williams said. "I've talked to one guy who has caught three, one guy who caught five (the limit for a season), and I've got two."