Enhydra lutris nereis is listed on CITES Appendix I. All other populations are included in CITES Appendix II. In Canada, Sea Otters are protected and managed under the Species at Risk Act. In the United States, Sea Otters are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA) and in Southwest Alaska and California, the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). The US Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is the federal agency responsible for their conservation and management. The ESA also makes it illegal to buy, sell or possess any part of endangered species or items made from them. However, both the ESA and the Act allow for coastal Native people in Alaska to harvest Sea Otters for personal use, trade, barter, and the development of cottage industry. Native subsistence harvest of Sea Otters is monitored by the Service through a Marking, Tagging and Reporting program. The Service and Native organizations conduct joint population surveys and dialog on important conservations issues. The MMPA also mandates that efforts must be made to recover the species, which means creating and implementing a plan for returning them to healthy population levels.
Despite protection and various conservation measures, the southern Sea Otter population has been slow to recover. In 1994, the Service developed a Conservation Plan for northern Sea Otters in Alaska with the aim of managing human activities that hinder Sea Otter population recovery or sustainability. When a significant portion of the species range is stable and healthy, this will facilitate removing the species from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. Many of the conservation actions in the 1994 Plan have been completed, however, the population declines in the Aleutian Islands were unanticipated and new health risks are being identified that may limit population recovery. There have been several successful reintroduction attempts along the west coast of North America, restoring this highly appealing animal to much of its former range.