Archive for the View from the Ocean Category

Apr 26 2018

Monterey Bay fishermen working round the clock to pull in plentiful catch

Monterey >> Below the surface of Monterey Bay, opalescent market squid are busily creating a new generation, laying eggs in clusters on the seafloor. And at the water’s surface, a fleet of fishing boats are ready to scoop those squid up, continuing a fishing tradition that’s well over a hundred years old.

In Monterey Harbor, a collection of at least eleven boats have been fishing for squid not far from shore since April 1, their lights visible off the coast at night. When the fishing is good, said Joe Russo, second captain and deckhand on the fishing vessel King Philip, it’s not uncommon for them to spend 24 hours a day netting tens of thousands of pounds of slippery squid with each return to shore. They continue through the spring, summer, and into early fall, if they don’t exceed the quota set by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Tons of squid being unloaded from commercial fishing boats at Monterey’s Wharf No. 2 on Wednesday. (Vern Fisher – Monterey Herald)

“From noon on Sunday until noon Friday, as long as there’s fishing you might not sleep for two days,” he said, looking remarkably awake. The crew on his boat, including his father Anthony Russo (captain of the King Philip), rushed to pump the squid out of their hold on Wednesday and into big yellow tubs, each of which holds around 1,500 pounds of catch. As soon as their boat was completely unloaded, they planned to head right back out to the squid. In the meantime the elder Russo ducked inside to catch an hour-long nap.

Market squid (Doryteuthis opalescens) is in many years the most productive and valuable fishery in California. This year, with cold water and plenty of food available, plentiful squid are coming into Monterey Bay. But in some years the squid catch plummets — researchers believe that changes in water temperature and food availability associated with El Niño years keep squid populations down. The animals live for less than a year and die after one reproductive effort, which means their population can be wildly variable with yearly conditions.

Fishermen look for aggregations of squid that arrive in the bay to spawn and lay their eggs. Using bright lights, specialized independent “light boats” can attract the animals to the surface at night, trading their services for 20 percent of whatever the fishermen catch. During the day, fishermen look for the squid to collect on their own. Boats like the King Philip, said Russo, capture their squid using purse-seine nets, surrounding the squid with a net that can be closed at the bottom. They pump squid from the net into the boat’s hold, bring it back to shore, and unload at the dock closest to the wherever the fishing is good.

For now, that’s Monterey Harbor. According to John Haynes, harbormaster for the city of Monterey, the amount of squid coming through Monterey can be wildly variable. In 2016, a squid season associated with an El Niño climate event, saw landings valued at about $3.6 million. In 2014, a good squid year brought almost $18 million worth of squid through Monterey Harbor.

From the harbor, squid caught in California is split into several streams. Some becomes bait for other fisheries like rockfish, and some is boxed up and sold to local restaurants, but the majority is frozen and sent to Asia for processing. Some of that squid, processed overseas, comes right back and is resold in California again.

“Squid has become big in the last 15 years,” said Gaspar Catanzaro, a sales associate and chef at Monterey Fish Company, Inc. When Catanzaro was a child in New York, his parents owned a market. “We couldn’t give squid away,” he recalls. Now, he recommends calamari fried or lightly sauteed in a pan with onions, garlic, tomatoes, clam juice, basil, and red chili flakes over pasta.

“Fishing literally put Monterey on the map,” said Catanzaro. Fishermen from China, Italy, and many other countries competed over access to Monterey’s rich marine life; the first local squid fishermen netted their catches from rowboats in the early 1860s. “It’s what Monterey was built for,” said Haynes.

Russo and his crew still use some of the same techniques as the fishermen of old to catch their squid, assembling and repairing their nets by hand. But they have the advantage of engines, winches, and thick steel hulls on their side; at maximum capacity, Russo’s boat can hold 138 tons of squid.

On Wednesday afternoon, one squid boat waited at anchor for its turn to unload at the wharf. In the distance, another boat was circling a school of squid accompanied by a flock of hungry gulls.

“It’s pretty much nonstop,” said Russo.

Read the original post:

Apr 10 2018

California Wetfish Producers Association Statement: West Coast Sardine Fishery Management Action

April 9, 2018 — The following was released by the California Wetfish Producers Association:

On Sunday, the Pacific Fishery Management Council approved the management measures for the West Coast sardine fishery that were recommended by the CPS management team. The decision provides for 7,000 Mt for all uses, allowing fishermen a reasonable set aside for incidental take.

“We are very thankful to the Council for applying the best available common sense in making its decision, especially in light of the concerns expressed during the recent ATM methods review and the earlier problems voiced about last year’s sardine STAR panel review.

“And we are especially grateful to NOAA Assistant Administrator Chris Oliver, who took the time to address the Council in support of sustainable fishing communities, as well as resources, saying in part, ‘We have to combine that scientific underpinning with practicality and common sense.’

“This is especially topical given the ongoing forage fish discussion and its relationship to California’s historic wetfish industry, which has been the foundation of our fishing economy for more than a century. All too often, that importance is largely ignored or dismissed with pleas to ‘leave most of the fish in the water for other predators.’ Our precautionary catch rules already do that.

“In sum, a big thank you to the Council for doing the right thing for sardine fishery management and for fishing families and communities up and down the West Coast.”

Diane Pleschner-Steele, Executive Director
California Wetfish Producers Association


About the California Wetfish Producers Association
The California Wetfish Producers Association is a nonprofit dedicated to research and to promote sustainable Wetfish resources. More info at

Diane Pleschner-Steele

Ray Young

Read more about forage fish management here


Apr 10 2018

Despite fears, council ok’s incidental fishery for West Coast sardines

Pacific sardines, Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo: Todd Dwyer


A regulatory body heeded to “common sense” called for by the US’ top fishing regulator to be considered along with science allowing for an incidental fishery for West Coast sardines despite fears that there wouldn’t be one this year.

The April 8 decision by the Pacific Fishery Management Council, one of eight regional bodies that set quotas and fishing rules for federal waters, will allow West Coast commercial harvesters — and other users such as a Native American tribe, bait fishers and researchers — to catch up to 7,000 metric tons of sardines this year as “incidental take” or bycatch.

The health of the West Coast sardine biomass is hotly contested and has been since 2015 when the directed fishery was shuttered in an emergency closure after stocks fell below the 150,000t level. With current National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates putting the biomass at around 52,065t, not far above the minimize size stock threshold of 50,000t, harvesters were concerned that the incidental fishery wouldn’t be allowed.

The environmental campaign group Oceana had called for further cuts arguing that the stock is “not recovering and has declined even further compared with previous assessments”.

However, that position is counter to that of the California Wetfish Producers Association (CWPA), which said that NOAA estimates are too low given the amount of sardines that fishermen are seeing in the water. One possible reason that the NOAA surveys aren’t seeing the extra sardines is that the agency’s vessels are too large to survey closer to shore where many of the fish are, the CWPA has said.

The council took its decision to allow for the incidental fishery after discussion that included comments from Chris Oliver, the head of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, who repeated his call to combine “scientific underpinning with practicality and common sense”.

Diane Pleschner-Steele, the CWPA’s executive director, told Undercurrent News that her group is grateful for Oliver’s comments and the council’s ruling.

“”The fishermen are being heard and that, I think, is a blessing,” she said.

The CWPA is working on projects to improve sardine surveys that NOAA uses for stock assessments even as the stock remains below levels that would allow for the directed fishery.

The industry that the CWPA represents is historically known as “wetfish” because their target pelagic species — sardine, anchovy and mackerel — were canned while still wet. In recent years California market squid, Loligo opalescens, has become the wetfish industry mainstay as pelagic catches waned, often due to fishing restrictions.

The warmer waters brought by El Nino scattered squid for colder waters and several wetfish processors struggled, the end result being a wave of buyouts and closures.

Anchovy and mackerel landings are still not as abundant as the group would like, and squid catches are rebounding this year.

Still, sardines are the “glue” that holds the industry together as the year-round fishery allows producers to keep occupied even as squid and other catches wax and wane, Pleschner-Steele told Undercurrent.

Posted on:

Apr 5 2018

Sardine Fishery Collapse Latest Fake News

For Immediate Release
April 5, 2018
Diane Pleschner-Steele

Ray Young

Sardine Fishery Collapse Latest Fake News

Deeply Flawed Population Survey Fuels False Claims


Buellton, CA – This Sunday, April 8, the Pacific Fishery Management Council is meeting in Portland to debate the fate of the West Coast sardine fishery, after the 2018 sardine stock assessment estimated the biomass has declined by 97 percent since 2006. The only problem with that finding is it belies reality.

“Fishermen are seeing more sardines, not less, especially in nearshore waters. And they’ve been seeing this population spike for several years now,” said Diane Pleschner-Steele, executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association (CWPA). “This stock assessment was an update that was not allowed to include any new methods and was based primarily on a single acoustic survey that reached only as far south as Morro Bay and totally missed the nearshore coastwide.”

The 2018 update assessment of 52,000 tons, down from 86,586 tons in 2017 and 106,100 tons the year before, is based on a change in methods and assumptions in estimating population size developed during an independent stock assessment review in 2017. Scientists acknowledged that assuming the acoustic survey ‘sees’ all the fish leads to lower biomass estimates. But it’s obvious to fishermen that the survey missed a lot of fish. In fact, with different assumptions, the 2017 biomass estimate would have increased from 86,586 tons to 153,020 tons.

The thorny problem the Council faces in April is what to do with a flawed assessment that is perilously close to the 50,000-ton minimum stock size threshold that would trigger an “overfished” condition and curtail virtually all sardine fishing. (The directed fishery has been closed since 2015, but incidental harvest in other fisheries, as well as Tribal take and live bait fishing have been allowed under a precautionary annual catch limit of 8,000 tons for all uses.) The extremist group Oceana has already signaled its intent to lobby for the Council to declare sardines “overfished.”

“Despite ample evidence to the contrary – most scientists agree that environmental factors play the primary role in sardine populations swings – Oceana claims that overfishing is the cause of the sardine fishery decline,” said Pleschner-Steele. “But the absolute opposite is true: fishing is a non-issue and more importantly, the sardine stock is not declining.”

The NOAA acoustic survey was based mainly on the 2017 summer acoustic trawl cruise that ran from British Columbia to Morro Bay, CA, but did not include the area south to Pt. Conception and Southern California where fishermen have reported large schools of sardines for the past three years. What’s more, this stock assessment update was based on a model that the chair of the 2017 Stock Assessment Review panel termed the “least worst” option. In part, the problem is that acoustic trawl surveys conducted by large research vessels cannot gather data in nearshore waters inside about 50 meters depth – 27 fathoms. But 70 to 80 percent of California’s sardine catch comes from nearshore waters inside the 20-fathom curve.

Acoustic trawl survey methods also underwent review in January 2018, and independent scientists criticized current survey methods and assumptions, noting that the current ATM trawl procedure seems to focus on precision at the expense of accuracy, and the protocol is repeatable but not necessarily objective.

To document the missing fish, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and CWPA conducted a cooperative aerial survey in the Monterey / Half Moon Bay area last summer – at the same time the acoustic trawl cruise was surveying outside waters – and saw a significant body of both sardine and anchovy inside the acoustic survey nearshore limit.

Here is the map illustrating the thousands of tons of sardine that the NOAA acoustic survey missed, an estimated 18,118 mt of sardine and 67,684 mt of anchovy.

And here is a video from fisherman Corbin Hanson who was out fishing for squid last November and saw large schools of sardines in Southern CA. He commented that, “…this is just one school. Last week we drove by the biggest school of sardines I have ever witnessed in my career driving boats. It was out in front of Ventura Harbor and we saw countless other schools along with it.”

The problem is this evidence has not yet been qualified for use in stock assessments. However, at the upcoming meeting, the Department of Fish and Wildlife will present the data from our nearshore aerial surveys in 2016-17. CWPA will also request that the Council approve our experimental fishery permit to help us qualify our aerial surveys as an index of nearshore abundance for future assessments.

“The bottom line is it’s vital for proper management of our fisheries that we use all available scientific data. That’s why the Council needs to take into consideration these nearshore findings when recommending sardine management measures in 2018,” said Pleschner-Steele. “CWPA along with sardine fishermen contest the 52,000-ton stock assessment and will request a new stock assessment review as soon as possible, including other indices of abundance in addition to acoustic trawl. If the Council closes the sardine fishery entirely, California’s historic wetfish industry – which until recent years produced 80 percent or more of the volume of seafood landed statewide – will suffer unnecessarily, along with the state’s entire fishing economy.”

About the California Wetfish Producers Association
The California Wetfish Producers Association is a nonprofit dedicated to research and to promote sustainable Wetfish resources. More info at

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Apr 4 2018

Market squid tell a tale of two krill

In good years, noisy fishing boats filled with freshly-netted market squid spill their slippery catch into processing plants on the California coast. During those years, market squid (Doryteuthis opalescens) are California’s most productive fishery, accounting for up to $70 million in revenue and 110,000 metric tons of squid. But in other years, calamari is hard to find. Cyclical changes in ocean conditions change the productivity of California waters, and as a result squid populations plummet and the fishing industry suffers.

Fishermen and researchers have known about this cycle for decades—the rise and fall of squid populations are clearly linked to El Niño cycles—but the cause is a complicated tale. This is according to Steven Litvin, an ecologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). Litvin spent several years researching the ups and downs of market squid looking for trends that could help fishers and regulators better predict how squid populations might respond to natural and human-induced changes in the ocean.

Market squid (Doryteuthis opalescens) are one of California’s biggest fisheries, but their populations fluctuate drastically with changes in ocean climate conditions. Image: © 2001 MBARI

The story starts with juvenile market squid, a month or so after they hatch from their egg capsules. The young predators are only 15-70 millimeters long, “sort of similar in size and shape to a baby carrot,” said Litvin. As they grow to adult size, the juveniles rely in large part on two different species of krill as food.

Thysanoessa spinifera is one of two species of krill that market squid often feed on in California waters. Image: Steve Haddock

Krill are small crustaceans that live their lives filtering tiny algae, also known as phytoplankton, out of the water column. In places like California, where upwelling currents bring deep, cold, nutrient-rich water to the surface, the algae bloom and flourish, nourishing huge swarms of krill. But when ocean conditions vary, so do the phytoplankton.

In an El Niño year, the surface of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean warms, winds change, and upwelling slows along the usually productive California coast. These are less productive years in terms of the oceanic food web—less upwelling means less algae, which means fewer krill. Fewer krill mean that juvenile squid might have a tough time finding and collecting enough food.

Litvin and colleagues decided to pick apart one piece of this complex story—the feeding behavior of juvenile squid on two krill species. The krill vary both over time, with El Niño cycles and other changes in yearly productivity, and over space, up and down the California coast. One species of krill (Thysanoessa spinifera) gathers in larger numbers over the continental shelf near to shore, thrives in nutrient-rich waters, and is more frequently found in central and northern California. The other (Euphausia pacifica) is common farther away from shore in deeper water, and can be found anywhere along the California coast.

Most species of krill spend their nights feeding on algae near the sea surface and descend into dark, inaccessible waters during the day to avoid predators. But E. pacifica makes a much longer daily migration than T. spinifera, taking them deeper below the surface and making them more difficult prey for juvenile squid. In productive years, Litvin expected that squid would feed on plentiful krill from both species, but during unproductive years the squid might be forced to change their diets.

This graphic shows simplified food webs for market squid during productive years and unproductive years. The sizes of the circles indicate the relative populations of each type of animal. Image: Vicky Stein © 2018 MBARI

In partnership with the National Marine Fisheries Service Litvin and the team used samples from midwater trawl surveys to look at stable isotopes in juvenile squid tissue. By looking at specific kinds of carbon and nitrogen atoms in a squid’s body, the researchers hoped to learn where that individual’s food was coming from.

Researchers find a tangled web of isotope gradients in the oceans. Isotopes, “heavier” or “lighter” versions of atoms like carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, or oxygen, move differently through nutrient cycles and food webs. Nitrogen-15, for example, is found to increase in animals higher up the food web, accumulating as one animal consumes another.

If Litvin found that a squid had stable carbon and nitrogen values close to those of T. spinifera, the near-shore krill, it would suggest that the animal was feeding more heavily on this species. Squid with different isotope values could be feeding more heavily on offshore krill (E. pacifica) or other prey. Litvin noted that with so many different variables affecting isotopes (latitude, distance from land, water depth, and others), the specific numbers can be confusing. Researchers must make careful comparisons between sampling sites and years.

Litvin and colleagues examined juvenile squid tissue samples collected from many sites along the California coast in 2013 and 2015. While 2013 was an average year in terms of productivity, 2015 was a year of a strong El Niño event—an atypical year with variable upwelling, an unusual offshore warm water “blob,” and changes in food webs.

Over the whole California coast in 2013, squid isotope values in areas with lots of upwelling and productivity corresponded well with T. spinifera as a major food source for the juvenile squid, as expected. Litvin was then unsurprised to find that in 2015, isotope ratios indicated that juvenile squid in some of the same areas fed less on T. spinifera and more heavily on difficult-to-catch E. pacifica.

Southern California was a bit different. The squid populations in the south are less variable than the boom-and-bust cycles commonly seen in central California and, no matter the ocean conditions, those squid seem to rely on E. pacifica. While central California squid populations seemed to respond to relative abundances of T. spinifera and E. Pacifica, southern California populations might respond just based on the abundance or absence of E. pacifica. The variation between unproductive and normal years, said Litvin, could be “based on the same productivity, but with different drivers.”

Swarms of krill, such as this one, flourish in productive, phytoplankton-rich water. Image © 2003 MBARI

Litvin started this research before joining Jim Barry’s lab at MBARI. Now, Litvin hopes he and his fellow researchers will be able to discover even more of the interactions that tie together krill, squid, and environmental oscillation.

As El Niño cycles affect productivity off of the California coast, scientists and fishermen will be watching squid populations closely. And as climate change begins to shift patterns of upwelling and other ocean conditions, Litvin hopes that research on the interactions between currents, krill, and squid will help people predict what might happen to this lucrative and vital species.

According to Litvin, “it’s still a really evolving story.”

Originally posted: Article by Vicky Stein

Mar 12 2018

West Coast waters returning to normal but salmon catches lagging

Fish school around a drill rig off Southern California. A new report says West Coast waters are returning to normal after warm temperatures shook up the food web. Credit: Adam Obaza/West Coast Region/NOAA Fisheries

Ocean conditions off most of the U.S. West Coast are returning roughly to average, after an extreme marine heat wave from about 2014 to 2016 disrupted the California Current Ecosystem and shifted many species beyond their traditional range, according to a new report from NOAA Fisheries’ two marine laboratories on the West Coast. Some warm waters remain off the Pacific Northwest, however.

The Southwest Fisheries Science Center and Northwest Fisheries Science Center presented their annual “California Current Ecosystem Status Report” to the Pacific Fishery Management Council at the Council’s meeting in Rohnert Park, Calif., on Friday, March 9. The California Current encompasses the entire West Coast marine ecosystem, and the report informs the Council about and trends in the ecosystem that may affect marine species and fishing in the coming year.

“The report gives us an important glimpse at what the science is saying about the species and resources that we manage and rely on in terms of our West Coast economy,” said Phil Anderson of Westport, Wash., the Council Chair. “The point is that we want to be as informed as we can be when we make decisions that affect those species, and this report helps us do that.”

Unusually warm temperatures, referred to as “the Blob,” encompassed much of the West Coast beginning about 2014, combining with an especially strong El Nino pattern in 2015. The warm conditions have now waned, although some after-effects remain.

Salmon catches off the West Coast are likely to remain low in the next few years, until new generations of salmon can benefit from improving conditions Credit: NOAA Fisheries/West Coast Region

  • Feeding conditions have improved for California sea lions and seabirds that experienced mass die-offs caused by shifts in their prey during the Blob.
  • Plankton species, the foundation of the marine food web, have shifted back slightly toward fat-rich, cool-water species that improve the growth and survival of and other fish.
  • Recent research surveys have found fewer , and consequently adult salmon returns will likely remain depressed for a few years until successive generations benefit from improving ocean conditions.
  • Reports of whale entanglements in fishing gear have remained very high for the fourth straight year, as whales followed prey to inshore areas and ran into fishing gear such as pots and traps.
  • Severe low-oxygen conditions in the ocean water spanned the Oregon Coast from July to September 2017, causing die-offs of crabs and other species.

Even as the effects of the Blob and El Nino dissipate, the central and southern parts of the West Coast face low snow pack and potential drought in 2018 that could put salmon at continued risk as they migrate back up rivers to spawn.

“Overall we’re seeing some positive signs, as the ocean returns to a cooler and generally more productive state,” said Toby Garfield, a research scientist and Acting Director of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center. “We’re fortunate that we have the data from previous years to help us understand what the trends are, and how that matters to West Coast fishermen and communities.”

NOAA Fisheries’ scientists compile the California Current Ecosystem Status Report from ocean surveys and other monitoring efforts along the West Coast. The tracking revealed “a climate system still in transition in 2017,” as surface ocean conditions return to near normal. Deeper water remained unusually warm, especially in the northern part of the California Current. Warm-water species, such as leaner plankton often associated with subtropical waters, have lingered in these more-northern zones.

Feeding conditions for California sea lions have improved off the West Coast, following several lean years that led to unusually high losses of sea lion pups. Credit: Sharon Melin/Alaska Fisheries Science Center/NOAA Fisheries


One of the largest and most extensive low-oxygen zones ever recorded off the West Coast prevailed off the Oregon Coast last summer, probably driven by low-oxygen water upwelled from the deep ocean, the report said.

While the cooling conditions off the West Coast began to support more cold-water plankton rich in the fatty acids that salmon need to grow, salmon may need more time to show the benefits, the report said. Juvenile salmon sampled off the Northwest Coast in 2017 were especially small and scarce, suggesting that poor feeding conditions off the Columbia River Estuary may remain.

Juvenile salmon that enter the ocean this year amid the gradually improving conditions will not return from the ocean to spawn in the Columbia and other rivers for another two years or more, so fishermen should not expect adult salmon numbers to improve much until then.

“These changes occur gradually, and the effects appear only with time,” said Chris Harvey, a fisheries biologist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and coauthor of the . “The advantage of doing this monitoring and watching these indicators is that we can get a sense of what is likely to happen in the ecosystem and how that is likely to affect communities and economies that are closely tied to these waters.”

Originally posted:

Nov 25 2017

Biggest Chinook Salmon Haul Going to Sea Lions, Seals & Killer Whales

A young resident killer whale chases a chinook salmon in the Salish Sea near San Juan Island, Washington, in September 2017. Oregon State University, Flickr Creative Commons


It’s been a long haul, but West Coast seal and sea lion populations have recovered over the past 40 years. All those extra predators may be eating more chinook salmon than people are catching, according to a new study.

Increasing numbers of marine predators could be bad news for chinook salmon — and for critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales.

In a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers used models to estimate how many salmon marine mammals are eating.

“The reality is, if (marine mammal) population numbers are increasing, undoubtedly their consumption and predation is also increasing,” said Brandon Chasco, the study’s lead author and a Ph.D. candidate at Oregon State University.

Turns out, sea lions, harbor seals, and growing populations of killer whales in Alaska and Canada are consuming almost 150 percent more chinook salmon than they did 40 years ago. That’s compared to a 41 percent decrease in the amount of chinook salmon fisheries are harvesting.

“This sort of thing has been documented around the world — recovery of seals and sea lion predation on fish that lots of people care about and harvest,” said Isaac Kaplan, with NOAA Fisheries Northwest Fisheries Science Center and study co-author. “But really putting the diet information together and doing the sort of careful accounting … it really emphasizes the strength of that impact on the chinook salmon population.”

As the juvenile salmon swim out to sea, they get eaten by seals and sea lions. Then some salmon swim clear up the coast to Alaska, where booming populations of killer whales take a bite out of the chinook numbers.

As the salmon then migrate back to spawn in Northwest streams, there are fewer fish for the southern resident killer whales in Washington’s marine waters.

The researchers said all that means chinook salmon could be doing better than previously thought — they’re just getting gobbled up before returning home and getting counted.

“There is a conflict. There is a trade-off here,” Kaplan said. “To some extent, it means that recovery of chinook salmon populations has been more successful than we realized — it’s just that some of that success is going towards feeding marine mammals.”

The sea lions and seals are protected by the U.S. Marine Mammals Protection Act of 1972. At the same time, the Endangered Species Act protects chinook salmon.

Columbia River tribes of Native Americans have recently fought to protect salmon runs from the pinnipeds, asking for authorization to kill more of the sea lions that feast on the fish.

The study, funded by the Pacific Salmon Commission, found that sea lions and seals are eating more individual fish, while killer whales are eating more biomass, or weight, of fish. It’s unclear, right now, which number has a bigger impact on salmon numbers, Chasco said.

The researchers said salmon recovery efforts must take into account all the different challenges salmon face, including these increasing marine mammal predators studied.

Right now many salmon survival models focus more on ocean conditions and commercial and recreational fisheries. Taking more of an ecosystem approach to managing salmon might be a better way to go, the researchers said.

“There’s more than just fishing to the story (of salmon recovery). There’s also predation,” Kaplan said. “This study helps us understand that there are multiple pressures acting on salmon.”

But there’s still much more to study, Chasco said.

For example, he said, “Is this an additive effect, or is it these predators simply taking fish out of the mouths of other predators?”

Originally published:

Nov 20 2017

As Oceans Warm, the World’s Kelp Forests Begin to Disappear

Kelp forests — luxuriant coastal ecosystems that are home to a wide variety of marine biodiversity — are being wiped out from Tasmania to California, replaced by sea urchin barrens that are nearly devoid of life.

By Alastair Bland

A steady increase in ocean temperatures — nearly 3 degrees Fahrenheit in recent decades — was all it took to doom the once-luxuriant giant kelp forests of eastern Australia and Tasmania: Thick canopies that once covered much of the region’s coastal sea surface have wilted in intolerably warm and nutrient-poor water. Then, a warm-water sea urchin species moved in. Voracious grazers, the invaders have mowed down much of the remaining vegetation and, over vast areas, have formed what scientists call urchin barrens, bleak marine environments largely devoid of life.

Today, more than 95 percent of eastern Tasmania’s kelp forests — luxuriant marine environments that provide food and shelter for species at all levels of the food web — are gone. With the water still warming rapidly and the long-spine urchin spreading southward in the favorable conditions, researchers see little hope of saving the vanishing ecosystem.

“Our giant kelp forests are now a tiny fraction of their former glory,” says Craig Johnson, a researcher at the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies. “This ecosystem used to be a major iconic feature of eastern Tasmania, and it no longer is.”

The Tasmanian saga is just one of many examples of how climate change and other environmental shifts are driving worldwide losses of giant kelp, a brown algae whose strands can grow to 100 feet. In western Australia, increases in ocean temperatures, accentuated by an extreme spike in 2011, have killed vast beds of an important native kelp, Ecklonia radiata. In southern Norway, ocean temperatures have exceeded the threshold for sugar kelp — Saccharina latissima — which has died en masse since the late 1990s and largely been replaced by thick mats of turf algae, which stifles kelp recovery. In western Europe, the warming Atlantic Ocean poses a serious threat to coastal beds of Laminaria digitata kelp, and researchers have predicted “extirpation of the species as early as the first half of the 21st century” in parts of France, Denmark, and southern England.

Routine summertime spikes in water temperature in eastern Tasmania have pushed kelp forests over the edge.

And in northern California, a series of events that began several years ago has destroyed the once-magnificent bull kelp forests along hundreds of miles of coastline. A brief shutdown of upwelling cycles left the giant algae groves languishing in warm surface water, causing a massive die-off. Meanwhile, a disease rapidly wiped out the region’s urchin-eating sea stars, causing a devastating cascade of effects: Overpopulated urchins have grazed away much of the remaining vegetation, creating a subsurface wasteland littered with shells of starved abalone. Scientists see no recovery in sight.

A 2016 study noted a global average decrease in kelp abundance, with warming waters directly driving some losses. But the researchers said that a characteristic of kelp forest declines is their extreme regional variability. Some areas are even experiencing a growth in kelp forests, including the west coast of Vancouver Island, where an increasing population of urchin-hunting sea otters has reduced the impacts of the spiny grazers, allowing kelp to flourish. Ultimately researchers say, warming ocean waters are expected to take a toll on the world’s kelp forests. The 2016 paper, coauthored by 37 scientists, concluded that “kelp forests are increasingly threatened by a variety of human impacts, including climate change, overfishing, and direct harvest.”

In eastern Tasmania, sea surface temperatures have increased at four times the average global rate, according to Johnson, who along with colleague Scott Ling has closely studied the region’s kelp forest losses. This dramatic environmental change began in the mid-20th century and accelerated in the early 1990s. Giant kelp — Macrocystis pyrifera — does best in an annual water temperature range of roughly 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Johnson. He says routine summertime spikes into the mid-60s pushed the kelp over the edge. First in Australia, and subsequently in Tasmania, the kelp forests vanished. The Australian government now lists giant kelp forests as an endangered ecological community.

The progression of the destruction of a kelp forest in Tasmania by urchins, from left to right. The Australian island state has lost more than 95 percent its kelp forests in recent decades. Courtesy of Scott Ling

As waters warmed, something else also happened. The long-spine sea urchin, which generally cannot tolerate temperatures lower than 53 degrees Fahrenheit, traveled southward as migrant larvae and established new territory in Tasmanian waters. Lobsters — which prey on urchins — had been heavily fished here for decades, and consequently few predators existed to control the invading urchins, whose numbers boomed.

Since the 1980s, long-spine urchins — Centrostephanus rodgersii — have essentially taken over the seafloor in southeastern Australia and northeastern Tasmania, forming vast urchin barrens. An urchin barren is a remarkable phenomenon of marine ecology in which the animals’ population grows to extraordinary densities, annihilating seafloor vegetation while forming a sort of system barrier against ecological change. Once established, urchin barrens tend to persist almost indefinitely.

“For all intents and purposes, once you flip to the urchin barren state, you have virtually no chance of recovery,” Johnson says.

In some places, like the southwestern coast of Hokkaido, in Japan, and the Aleutian Islands, urchin barrens have replaced kelp forests and have remained for decades.

This bodes poorly for eastern Tasmania, where expansive areas in the north have already been converted into barrens. Urchins have not yet overrun southeastern Tasmania. “But we’re seeing the problem moving south, and we’re getting more and more urchins,” says Johnson, who expects roughly half the Tasmanian coastline will transition into urchin barrens. “That’s what we have in New South Wales.”

Warm ocean temperatures, a sea star disease outbreak, and a boom in urchin populations decimated several major kelp beds in northern California between 2008 and 2014. California Department of Fish and Wildlife

A similar scenario is unfolding in northern California, where local divers and fishermen have watched the area’s bull kelp forests collapse into an ecological wasteland. As in Tasmania, the change has resulted from a one-two punch of altered ocean conditions combined with an urchin boom.

The problems began in 2013, when a mysterious syndrome wiped out many of the sea star species of the North American west coast. Sea stars — especially Pycnopodia helianthoides, the sunflower sea star — eat urchins. With the predators abruptly absent in the region, the population of purple sea urchins — Strongylocentrotus purpuratus — began growing rapidly.

By coincidence, a simultaneous onset of unusual wind and current patterns slowed the upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich bottom water, which typically makes the waters of the west coast of North America so productive. Kelp forests, already under attack by armies of urchins, disappeared.

The upwelling cycles have since resumed. “But the system just can’t recover, even with a shift back in water temperature,” says Kyle Cavanaugh, an assistant professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles who has studied global kelp ecosystems. “The urchins are just everywhere.”

Divers surveying the seafloor have seen purple urchin numbers jump by as much as 100-fold, according to Cynthia Catton, a biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife who has been surveying the environment since 2002. Urchins  — dozens per square meter in places — continue to gnaw away the remnant scraps of the vanishing kelp forests, 95 percent of which have been converted to barrens, Catton says.

Urchins — dozens per square meter in places — continue to gnaw away the remnant scraps of the vanishing kelp forests.

Other animals also depend on kelp, and the region’s red abalone are now starving in droves. The population has collapsed, and the recreational harvest could be banned in the coming year, Catton says. Juvenile fish use kelp as nursery habitat, and certain species of rockfish may see declines in the absence of protective vegetation. Predatory fish, like lingcod, may move elsewhere to hunt. Populations of the commercially valuable red urchin, Mesocentrotus franciscanus, are also being impacted as their gonads — finger-sized golden wedges listed on sushi menus as uni — shrivel away, making the urchins no longer worth harvesting.

An urchin barren is considered to be an “alternative stable state” to the kelp forest ecosystem and is almost invincibly resistant to change. Johnson says that while it takes relatively high urchin densities to graze a kelp forest down to a barren, the animals must be almost eradicated entirely to allow a shift back to a kelp forest. In other words, he says, “The number of urchins needed to create a barren is much greater than the number of urchins needed to maintain it.”

Part of the reason urchin barrens are difficult to reverse is the hardiness of the urchins themselves. Foremost, they are almost immune to starvation, and once they’ve exhausted all vegetation will outlive virtually every other competing organism in the ecosystem. In the urchin barrens of Hokkaido, which formed roughly 80 years ago for reasons that remain unclear, individual urchins have lived in the collapsed environment for five decades, according to a 2014 analysis.

What’s worse, the hungrier urchins get, the more destructive they become. Research has shown that the calcite deposits that form urchins’ jaws and teeth enlarge when the animals are stressed by hunger — a rapid adaptation that allows them to utilize otherwise inedible material.

A bull kelp forest as seen from the surface of Ocean Cove in northern California in 2012 and 2016. Kevin Joe and Cynthia Catton, California Department of Fish and Wildlife

“They’re now eating through barnacles, they’re eating the calcified coralline algae that coats the rocks, they’re eating through abalone shells,” Catton says of the purple urchins in northern California. “The magnitude of their impact increases as their food supply diminishes.”

They become aggressive, too. Whereas urchins in healthy kelp ecosystems tend to dwell in crevices for much of their lives and wait for drifting kelp to come their way, in a barren state they exit their hiding places and actively hunt for food. “They form these fronts, and they graze along the bottom and eat everything,” says Mark Carr, a marine biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

In the kelp forests of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands chain, urchin barrens began forming in the 1980s, causing local declines in various fishes, bald eagles, and harbor seals. The transition began when the population of sea otters started to decline, possibly because of increased predation by killer whales. Green urchin numbers skyrocketed, and the animals destroyed the kelp forests along hundreds of miles of the archipelago. “The densities are getting ridiculous,” says Matthew Edwards, a San Diego State University biologist who has studied the region. “In some places we have hundreds of urchins per square meter.”

In Tasmania, Johnson and Ling are leading an effort to protect areas that haven’t yet been overwhelmed by the long-spine urchin. The best chance they see is to boost localized populations of predatory rock lobsters. Fishery officials are on board with the plan, Johnson says, and have tightly restricted lobster harvest in order to help increase their numbers. Johnson and Ling have also been directing the translocation of large lobsters into test site barrens.

“It’s like seeing a forest you once knew turn into a desert,” says one scientist.

But the measures have been only moderately successful. Ling is currently re-surveying dozens of study sites first assessed in 2001, and he says urchin density has more than doubled in some locations. On relatively small barrens surrounded by healthy reef ecosystems, the scientists have seen progress as translocated lobsters knock down urchin numbers sufficiently to allow some vegetation to grow back.

“But on those extensive barrens, you can pour in as many large lobsters as you like, and they will eat hundreds of thousands of urchins, but they cannot reduce the urchins enough for any kelp to reappear,” he says. “Even if you turned all those urchin barrens into marine protected areas tomorrow, you could wait 200 years and you still wouldn’t get a kelp forest back.”

In central California, kelp forests are still thriving, a fact Carr credits to one animal.

“We have sea otters down here, and they’re voracious predators of urchins,” he says.

Carr, both a research diver and a recreational abalone diver, says he has watched the decline of northern California’s kelp forests with great sorrow.

“It’s like seeing a forest you once knew turn into a desert,” he says. “Not only do you lose all the trees, but all the smaller plants around them die, until there’s nothing left.”

Originally published:

Nov 9 2017

Several hundred tons of squid offloaded in Ventura

Ventura Harbor saw a haul of around 300 to 400 tons of squid Tuesday morning, which harbor officials say is a good sign. TYLER HERSKO/THE STAR


The smell of squid filled the air Tuesday morning at Ventura Harbor, where workers were bustling to offload hundreds of tons of it.

The morning’s activities represented one of the largest squid hauls the harbor has seen in recent history. Approximately 300 to 400 tons of squid were brought into the harbor, representing a positive turn of events, said Frank Locklear, manager of commercial fisheries and technology at the Ventura Harbor Village Marina.

Locklear noted that squid season typically begins in April and the harbor saw squid through June. That said, Locklear added that squid numbers were practically nonexistent from July through September, which forced the harbor’s fishing companies to carefully save their resources until squid returned. Beyond that, the past three years have been particularly difficult for squid fishing due to poor weather conditions.

While the harbor prefers to receive around 500 to 600 tons on an average day, Locklear was confident that Tuesday’s haul represented a change of fortune. Squid fishing is one of the leading factors in the harbor’s success, according to Locklear.

“The harbor is a huge economic ball that is supported by the fishing industry,” Locklear said. “Fishing is the lifeblood of this harbor, and squid is the key.”

The squid fishing businesses that use the harbor export a significant majority of their yields to China, Locklear said.

Most of the squid sold in restaurants is imported from Asia, where squid cleaning and processing is cheaper.

Regardless, Locklear stressed that squid fishing is crucial to the economic well-being of both local fishing companies and the harbor as a whole. The harbor uses part of the revenue it receives from squid fishing companies to send representation to Washington, D.C., to get the funding it needs for dredging, which removes sand and sediment from the bottom of the harbor’s entrance.

Regular dredging is of paramount importance, and squid fishing is the primary thing that makes dredging possible, according to Locklear.

“Ventura Harbor is home to three large recreational marinas that have dive boats, island excursion boats and sport fishermen that need to get out of the harbor to survive,” Locklear said. “Without the funds that we get for our squid, we can’t go to Washington to get the funding we need for dredging. If we don’t dredge yearly, our boats can’t come in and out.”

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Nov 3 2017

Why a small, oily, strong-tasting fish is showing up on restaurant menus

You probably didn’t expect to see sardines on the list of 2017 food trends. The small, oily fish have an assertive flavor that can be a turnoff for some. Most people associate them with cans, which runs contrary to our notion that the best food is fresh. They feel like a throwback to an era when people didn’t understand exactly how good food could be.

Americans “weren’t going to embrace grandpa’s can of sardines on the supermarket shelf,” says Elizabeth Moskow, culinary director for the Sterling-Rice Group, a branding agency that put sardines on its trend forecast for the year. But high-quality canned sardines, as well as fresh ones, are making more appearances on restaurant menus. “I think the American palate may be ready for something as strong as sardines,” Moskow says.

Sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce the risk of heart disease. They’re also environmentally friendly, because they’re lower on the food chain.

“They were considered kind of a trash fish, and not something as prized as they currently are or could be in the future,” says Jon Sybert, chef and co-owner of Adams Morgan’s Tail Up Goat restaurant, which has rotated through several sardine dishes throughout the year. He particularly likes preparing them in a salt crust, which keeps them super moist, and serving them with a chocolate rye bread.

A fisherman uses a hook to bring sardines onto a fishing boat in Matosinhos, Portugal. (Nacho Doce/Reuters)

The sardine’s popularity is benefiting from a recent wave of travel to Portugal, one of this year’s “it” destinations. There, tourists encounter tinned sardines with beautiful packaging, canned in high-quality oils, often with spices, pickles or peppers.

“The reality is you can’t get fresher,” says Kathy Sidell, owner of the Saltie Girl restaurant in Boston, pointing out that the fish are often canned directly off the docks. Saltie Girl has sold sardines fried, grilled, marinated and canned, served with bread and a house-made butter, similar to how the fish are presented in Portugal. “We often say it’s like a charcuterie board, but with seafood,” she notes.

At Mola, a Spanish restaurant in Mount Pleasant, you’ll find a house-cured sardine plate with an aioli and piquillo pepper, a riff on a dish co-owner Erin Lingle had in Madrid, or pan-roasted sardines with paprika vinaigrette and a side of Swiss chard.

The dishes have proved popular, thanks in part to the enthusiasm of her staff.

“People are learning to embrace those aspects of sardines rather then find them off-putting,” Lingle says. “I love sardines because they are an oily, strong-flavored fish that stand up well to bold flavors.”

Originally posted: