Dec 1 2016

In California, Squid Is Big Business. But Good Luck Eating Local Calamari

A squid salad in Los Angeles. In California, squid is an economic driver of the seafood industry. Bit most of this squid is frozen and exported overseas to China to be processed and distributed across the globe.

A squid salad in Los Angeles. In California, squid is an economic driver of the seafood industry. Bit most of this squid is frozen and exported overseas to China to be processed and distributed across the globe. (Rick Loomis/LA Times via Getty Images)

More than 80 percent of U.S. squid landings are exported — most of it to China. The rare percentage of that catch that stays domestically goes to Asian fresh fish markets or is used as bait.

Ironically, the lion’s share of the squid consumed in the United States is imported.

“Squid is a labor-intensive product,” says Emily Tripp, founder of Marine Science Today, a website on the latest ocean-based research. “It’s cheaper in some situations to ship it to China to be processed and ship it back.”

Tripp, who recently graduated with a masters from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, did her thesis project on California market squid, which, during non-El Niño years, is California’s most valuable fishery.

In California, squid is an economic driver of the seafood industry – it’s the fifth-largest fishery in the United States by weight. Yet most of this squid is frozen and exported overseas to China to be processed and distributed to over 42 countries across the globe. It’s an export market that, according to 2011 figures, is valued at $107 million. Only 1.4 percent of it, on average, makes it back to the U.S. In 2015, that figure was 0.46 percent.

“It has to do with the American desire for a larger squid,” explains Diane Pleschner-Steele, executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association. “A lot of squid that is shipped overseas stays overseas because they prefer it. They eat it over there. Our consumers typically prefer a larger squid, and so there’s just a ton of squid imported into this country that comes in at a far lower price.”

In the U.S., the squid that ends up on our dinner table is typically Patagonian squid from the Falkland Islands or Humboldt squid — a jumbo cephalopod fished predominantly in Mexico and Peru.

California market squid isn’t usually desired because of its smaller size.

“Our squid is a learning curve,” Pleschner-Steele says. “If you overcook it, it can taste like a rubber band. But in my opinion, if you do it right, it tastes more like abalone than any other squid. It’s nutty, sweet and delicate.”

The cost of labor is another, perhaps more significant, factor. Squid cleaning and processing is an extremely time-consuming practice. The eyes, cartilage, skin and guts need to be removed ahead of time, and it’s cheaper to have this done overseas than domestically.

A round-trip freight cost to China is $0.10 per pound and labor is just $7 a day there. By contrast, California wages — with tax and health insurance — amount to $12 an hour, according to Pleschner-Steele.

Also, supply chains and markets are incredibly opaque. Pleschner-Steele suspects that as the Chinese middle-class economy has blossomed, a lot of the squid processing facilities are now based in Thailand.

Tripp says during her research, it was nearly impossible to track down where exactly the squid was being processed abroad.

“The biggest challenge was trying to find out where the squid goes when it leaves to the United States,” she says. “No one wants to say where they partner. It’s a bit of a challenge. In the United States we keep such good records of all of our fish and seafood. There’s no comparable system in China. I couldn’t follow the chain backwards.”

Regardless, the narrative is the same: Californians aren’t eating Californian squid. And if they are, it likely wasn’t processed in California.

At Mitch’s Seafood, a restaurant in San Diego committed to local fish, the owners spent three years looking for a California-based squid processor for their calamari. They eventually found a company in San Pedro called Tri-Marine.

“We have to pay twice as much for it, but it’s worth it so that we can say we offer California-caught and processed squid,” owner Mitch Conniff says. “Squid that’s caught two to three miles away takes a 10,000-mile round-trip journey before I can get it back into my restaurant.”

All Californian fish processors are capable of dealing with squid, Pleschner-Steele says. However, it’s not a money-making operation because people aren’t willing to pay for it.

“It has to be on request,” she says. “We simply can’t compete with the cost of other imported squid. ”

Supporting the local squid industry is much more than just helping the local economy – it’s helpful from a sustainability angle as well.

Even with squid being sent on a round-trip journey across the world, the California market squid fishery has one of the lowest carbon footprints in the industry.

“California squid fishing fleets are one of the most energy efficient in the world because [they’re] so close to port,” Pleschner-Steele says. “Our boats can produce a ton of proteins for about six gallons of diesel fuel. … Efficiency is key.”

Further efficiency, she says, could be achieved if consumers would be keen to fork over $1.50 a pound more for California-caught and processed squid.

But the “truth is that Americans aren’t willing to pay for it,” she says. “If people were willing to pay the price, we can definitely feed the demand.”

Clarissa Wei is a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles and Taipei. She writes about sustainability and food.

Copyright 2016 NPR.

Dec 1 2016

NOAA research links human-caused CO2 emissions to dissolving sea snail shells off U.S. West Coast

November 22, 2016 – For the first time, NOAA and partner scientists have connected the concentration of human-caused carbon dioxide in waters off the U.S. Pacific coast to the dissolving of shells of microscopic marine sea snails called pteropods.

Commercially valuable fish such as salmon, sablefish and rock sole make the pteropod a major part of their diet.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to tease out the percentage of human-caused carbon dioxide from natural carbon dioxide along a large portion of the West Coast and link it directly to pteropod shell dissolution,” said Richard Feely, a NOAA senior scientist who led the research appearing in Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science. “Our research shows that humans are increasing the acidification of U.S. West Coast coastal waters, making it more difficult for marine species to build strong shells.”

The global ocean has soaked up one-third of human-caused CO2 emissions since the start of the Industrial Era. While this reduces the amount of this greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, it comes at a cost to the ocean. CO2 absorbed by seawater increases its acidity, reducing carbonate ions, which are building blocks used by shellfish to grow their shells.

fairweather (NOAA)

The pteropod, a sea snail the size of the head of a pin, is found in the Pacific Ocean. It has been the focus of research in recent years because its shell is affected by how much CO2 is in seawater and it may be an indicator of ocean acidification affecting the larger marine ecosystem.

A key piece of the new research was determining how much human CO2  emissions have added to naturally occurring CO2 in seawater off the U.S. West Coast. Using several decades of measurements from the Pacific Ocean taken through the U.S. Global Ocean Carbon and Repeat Hydrography Programoffsite link and new data from four NOAA West Coast research cruises conducted between 2007 and 2013, the research team developed a method to estimate additional CO2 from human-caused emissions since the start of the Industrial Era as compared to CO2 from natural sources.

The analysis shows that concentrations of human-caused CO2 are greatest in shallow waters where the atmosphere gives up large amounts of its CO2 to the sea. The researchers also estimated that CO2 concentrations from fossil fuel emissions make up as much as 60 percent of the CO2 that enriches most West Coast nearshore surface waters. But the concentrations dropped as they measured deeper. It drops to 21 percent in deeper waters of 328 feet or 100 meters, and falls even lower to about 18 percent in waters below 656 feet or 200 meters. Concentrations vary depending on location and seasons as well.

Once researchers created a detailed map of the human-generated CO2 concentrations, they  looked at how pteropod shells fared in areas with varying seawater CO2 concentrations. They found more than 50 percent of pteropod shells collected from coastal waters with the high CO2 concentrations were severely dissolved. An estimated 10 to 35 percent of pteropods taken from offshore waters showed shell damage when examined under a scanning electron microscope.

“We estimate that since pre-industrial times, pteropod shell dissolution has increased 20 to 25 percent on average in waters along the U.S. West Coast,” said Nina Bednaršek of the University of Washington. Earlier research by Bednaršek and others has shown that shell dissolution affects pteropod swimming ability and may hamper their ability to protect themselves from predators.

“This new research suggests we need a better understanding of how changes in pteropods may be affecting other species in the food chain, especially commercially valuable species such as salmon, sablefish, and rock sole that feed on pteropods,” Bednaršek added.

Media Contact:

Monica Allen, 301-734-1123

Nov 9 2016

Sea Snails on Acid

Twice a day the rocky Pacific coast traps seawater in pools as the tide rolls in and out. Compared to the ocean, the puddles are so small and innocuous that it seems nothing momentous could possibly be happening there, but there is. It turns out tiny black turban snails may be getting a buzz from the changing levels of acidity caused by ocean acidification. The scientists at Bodega Marine Lab looked closely at sea stars and snails to find out.

The underside of the purple sea star is covered in tiny delicate suction cups that make one wonder how it moves fast enough to be a voracious hunter, but it is. It’s the bully on the playground, a merciless predator. It can pry open mussel shells, turn its stomach inside out and wrap it around large prey, and digest its meal before even swallowing. It’s no wonder that when black turban snails sense the purple star’s arrival, they all flee to safety, crawling quickly up the side of a tide pool until the enemy leaves the water. Quickly for snails, that is.

Black turban snail, upper right, with its nemesis the purple sea star in the foreground. Credit: Gabriel Ng


Snails have always been good at running away from their primary predator – the purple sea star – until now. Brittany Jellison, a graduate student at University of California Davis, has found in a recent study that the snail’s dramatic response might be slowing down because of ocean acidification. Jellison modified tide pools to mimic ocean acidification conditions. Then she observed the snail’s response by measuring the path they took to safety. What she found when watching the snail was a trippy set of behaviors.

“Elevated carbon dioxide is a foreign substance in seawater, and snails are taking that foreign substance into their body, so yes, they in essence are on drugs,” said Brian Gaylord, a professor at UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab, where Jellison discovered that under ocean acidification conditions, snails didn’t immediately flee the pool to safety.

Ocean acidification occurs when the ocean absorbs excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  While most scientists studying the phenomenon are trying to understand how it effects a single species in a lab, Jellison’s work explores how ocean acidification effects multiple species interactions.

Brittany Jellison collecting black turban snails for lab studies. Credit: Gabriel Ng


“I think what’s really important here is that she is moving beyond thinking about an individual species, and instead thinking about how the direct effects on individuals scale up when they are in nature and interacting with other species. That is the important part of it,” said Kristy Kroeker, Assistant Professor at the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at University of California Santa Cruz.

Professor Philip Munday of James Cook University agrees. He studies how ocean acidification effects reef fish and their ability to adapt to a changing environment.

“Ecosystems are a whole combination of interactive species,” said Munday. “If we want to understand how ocean acidification is going to impact marine ecosystems we need to understand how it will impact with the really critical ecological interactions, such as predatory-prey interactions. That’s one of the really exciting things about Jellison’s work.”

Tide pools on the Pacific coast have natural fluctuations in acidity, and the black turban snail and other animals that live there have adapted to that. Jellison wondered if the snails would be tolerant to ocean acidification conditions as well, or if they would reach their tipping point, and no longer able to tolerate the changes.

To find out, Jellison made model tide pools in aquariums. So that the snails would feel most at home, she simulated the conditions of natural tide pools, with one exception. Jellison changed the levels of acidification in some of the pools to mimic the levels that are expected for rock pools under ocean acidification by the year 2100. Having some tide pools with normal conditions and some with future acidic conditions allowed her to compare the behavior of sober snails with snails on acid.

With the arena built, let the show begin. Clutching her camera, Jellison carefully lowered black turban snails into the tank. One by one the snails reacted to a chemical cue produced by the predator sea star. Jellison took photos every two minutes for a half hour, then analyzed them for the distance the snails traveled, where they moved, and most importantly, if they left the water and escaped to safety. In total, Jellison did two 5-day trials, created 32 aquariums, tested 32 snails, and took photos every two minutes for 28 minutes per snail.

Under normal conditions, the snails will run away and exit the water, a flight response that keeps them safe. Jellison found that in water with higher acidity the snails started to run away, but instead of moving to dry ground, they seemed to get confused, haphazardly meandering around the pool.

Ocean acidification’s ability to change the interactions between predators and prey can have far reaching consequences. Jellison and her team aren’t yet sure exactly why the snails act confused. They think it’s related to changes in the brain as the animal tries to maintain balanced brain chemistry, which is something they would like to understand further.

“I really love research and I especially love working with marine animals,” said Jellison, “but when I think about what my work is saying about the future it can be a little bit hard to take in. Most of the things we are finding is that the world is going to look very different form what we see today.”

In the meantime, Jellison continues this research out in the field, in a creative study that has her waking up at all hours to hike to the tide pools and observe snails – all to understand the cascading effects of ocean acidification on the ecosystem. “I have a lot of hope that we will move forward as a society and try to come up with solutions and actually make changes. It is having hope that is important,” said Jellison.

Ocean acidification may cross national boundaries, and reach all corners of the earth, but a glimpse into a puddle of seawater reveals an elaborate community, a tiny snail, and a big message.

Read the original post:

Nov 7 2016

West Coast CSF Launches “Boat-to-School” Program to Teach California Students About Seafood

— Posted with permission of SEAFOODNEWS.COM. Please do not republish without their permission. —

Copyright © 2016

Seafood News


SEAFOODNEWS.COM [Civil Eats] By  Anna Guth – November 7, 2016

New programs in three states support local seafood markets while educating children.

A few years ago, Alan Lovewell had a vision. He wanted to replace the bland, deep-fried anonymous “fish” served in school cafeterias with flavorful, locally caught seafood—as a way to bring nutrition to the kids in his area, and help them understand where their food comes from.

Lovewell had created a community supported fishery (CSF) subscription service called Real Good Fish, which provides local seafood direct to consumers, in much the same way that community supported-agriculture (CSA) works for produce. The program enjoyed quick success after it launched out of Monterey Bay in 2012 (it now supplies more than 1,000 members with weekly shares). But Lovewell wasn’t satisfied. In his mind, he had a long way to go to build a regional food system.

The young entrepreneur shifted his focus toward supplying seafood to public K-12 schools, particularly in districts where the majority of students receive free or subsidized meals. In 2014, Real Good Fish partnered with the nonprofit Center for Ecoliteracy to pilot the “Bay2Tray” program in California’s Monterey Unified School District. After a significant number of students reportedly chose the fish tacos over pizza, the team at Real Good Fish knew they had some traction. Bay2Tray quickly spread to three more school districts in the state.

“Looking at the maps [in California], the irony is that most of the areas that produce the nation’s food are in fact food deserts,” says Lovewell, who was recently named a White House “Champion of Change for Sustainable Seafood.” “I realized that the missing piece was schools and children: they have the lowest income and lowest access, and obviously, they are the ones with the vested interest in the future of our oceans.”

The Bay2Tray program is not alone. Across the country in seaside states including Oregon and Massachusetts, schools are piloting a range of models of “boat-to-school” programs. Most of these programs feature an educational component as well as an edible one; organizers provide ethically caught seafood, and an understanding of where and how that seafood was harvested.

In 2015, Real Good Fish received a $6,000 grant from the outdoor clothing company Patagonia to bring the fishermen into the classroom. Fisherman Ernie Koepf, who has a lifetime of experience catching herring in the San Francisco Bay, contributes his spare time. After answering the typical, urgent questions about whether he’s seen a whale—or a shark!—Koepf focuses on making the basic connection between local fish and the food on the kids’ plates.

“When I come into the classroom, I speak to them about seafood [from] the perspective of the food chain—how fish end up on their plates, and how we catch them,” says Koepf. “And they find this very fascinating. It’s a very rewarding experience.”

Building Local Seafood Markets
Consumer awareness and interest in local, sustainably caught seafood has grown in the years since the first CSF, Port Clyde Fresh Catch, took off in Maine in 2008. The fishermen in that community mobilized in response to the decimated stocks of signature New England species like cod and flounder and the resulting tightening of federal fishing restrictions; to save their livelihoods, they abandoned their wholesale markets and sold other, less popular species directly to their community.

CSFs are the first “building blocks for a community to take more control over the [seafood] supply chain,” says Brett Tolley, who comes from a four-generation commercial fishing family and is now a community organizer for the advocacy organization, the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA).
Falling into step, schools and other institutions have a huge role yet to play, notes Tolley. He says he’s starting to see a shift “toward institutions paying fair price and committing to buying a large volume collectively from many smaller, independent businesses.” It’s a change that “stands to make an enormous, game-changing difference to family fishermen and fishing communities, who are right now struggling to survive.”

For fishermen often unable to find a domestic market for their product, the benefits of the local support from boat-to-school programs cannot be overstated. Koepf says he’s looked for outlets for his herring for years—without success—and so he had been selling it exclusively to Japan until Alan Lovewell approached him about Real Good Fish.

Koepf’s story echoes big picture statistics. The U.S. imports 91 percent of its seafood and selling a third of its domestic catch abroad. This global conundrum arises not from a lack of domestic fish—the U.S. successfully adopted stronger fishing regulations in recent years, with healthier fisheries as a result—but rather from our domestic market’s taste for a select few species. Remarkably, shrimp, canned tuna and salmon accounted for 55 percent of all seafood consumed in the U.S.

Companies like Real Good Fish have their work cut out for them, therefore, to introduce new species to students and their members. “We really want children to engage and make that connection between their lunch and the natural world,” says Maria Finn, Real Good Fish’s marketing director. “And we really want our members to be aware that there are seasons in seafood,” she continues. “There are things that have an impact. For instance, if it’s stormy out, they’re probably going to get oysters, clams, or abalone because fishermen can’t go out in the ocean.”

Boat-to-School Programs in Oregon and Massachusetts 

Organizations in other states have followed in Real Good Fish’s footsteps. In Oregon, the Seaside School District is piloting a yearlong boat-to-school program run by the Oregon Albacore Commission (OAC) and funded by a $15,000 farm-to-school education program grant from the Oregon Department of Education.

The curriculum kicked off this October, themed “salmon month,” and includes fieldtrips to a local hatchery, presentations from fishermen, taste tests, and even ingredients for a take-home dinner for families. Students will also explore crab, tuna, pink shrimp, and groundfish such as cod, flounder, halibut, and sole, based on the season

“This is an outlet for us as an industry to tell our story, to talk about the changes that we’ve made, the things that we’re doing right, and to allow children to try something that’s very close to home,” says the OAC’s Vice Chair Christa Swensson, who helped spearhead the grant and who also does marketing for Bornstein Seafood, another supplier and program funder.

In another state where fish is close to home, Deborah Jeffers, the director of Salem, Massachusetts’ Food and Nutrition Services, is sourcing local seafood by using federal funding. Once a week, Jeffers serves Salem high school students with local fish from the nearby Cape Ann Fresh Catch Fishery, which was one of the first CSFs started by the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association back in 2008.

Jeffers plans to extend the program to the elementary school and provide local fish to all 3,800 students across the 12 schools in her district.

The Benefits and Challenges

For schools, supporting fishermen to catch otherwise unmarketable species can have unexpected cost-cutting benefits. For example, Lovewell convinced black cod fishermen to sell Real Good Fish grenadier, a fish they mostly throw back because, as Finn says, it “has zero markets—it’s really ugly.” For $5 per pound however, the mild, flaky white fish is perfect for fish tacos in schools.

“This is a lesson farm-to-school advocates learned in the apple industry: People started selling cider apples, the really small ones, to schools because they were perfect for little kids,” says Simca Horwitz, the Eastern Massachusetts director for the Massachusetts Farm to School project, reflecting on similar uses of underutilized, abundant fish in east coast schools. “In a lot of ways, schools turning to local seafood today is where we were with land-based agriculture about 10 years ago.”

While all three boat-to-school programs have received strong enthusiasm from students, cost and distribution issues often stress the programs. On the supply side, Real Good Fish now uses a third-party distributor so schools don’t have to coordinate with multiple vendors. But this makes the program almost cost-prohibitive for the company. To help fund the effort, Real Good Fish’s CSF members now have the option to add $1.25 per week to support a school lunch.

Food Services Director Deborah Jeffers in Salem also confirms her costs per portion are higher when she serves fish, but she uses the commodities provided by four U.S. Department of Agriculture lunch programs to supplement the effort.

In a similar strategy, the Oakland Unified School District’s farm-to-school supervisor Alexandra Emmott supplements some of the meal’s protein requirement—a standard of the National School Lunch Program—with a side of rice and beans—in order to serve small portions of fish.

Both Jeffers and Emmott have had to train cooks and cope with the under-resourced kitchens in their districts as well. The entire district serves over 30,000 lunches per day, and many of the kitchens aren’t equipped to prepare food from scratch, let alone de-bone hundreds of pounds of fish.

The question of location is another big one. “I’m lucky, right down the road, we have Gloucester fishermen!” explains Jeffers. “But anyone who is in the center of the state, maybe they have it easier for farms, but where are they going to get their fish? It’s going to have to be delivered to them and maybe frozen.”

Brett Tolley of NAMA has a more optimistic viewpoint. It makes sense boat-to-school programs are piloted near the coast because it’s such a new model, he says. But there’s also a tremendous opportunity to match institutions’ need for healthy proteins with domestically caught fish.

NAMA collaborates with organizations like the Real Food Challenge, Sea to Table, and Health Care Without Harm, which are pioneering the way for institutions to buy large amounts of seafood while still holding suppliers accountable for ecologically sustainable practices.

“Institutions that are more inland and landlocked have been, in many ways, the most vulnerable to being exploited by the industrial seafood system,” Tolley adds. “They only get the fish that has been frozen three times over and traveled thousands and thousands of miles. It’s especially important that we can focus on those institutions.”

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Nov 1 2016

Omega 3 Health Benefits, Nutrition Facts And Sources

October 31st, 2016 — According to a lot of research, omega 3 benefits each of the body’s systems in its own way. The greatest benefits can be found in the heart and the brain.

In places where other fats clog the arteries and contribute to heart disease, the omega 3 fatty acids helps to fight off the heart disease in many ways.

Here I have contributed a list of the things that omega 3 can do for your heart:

  • Anti-Coagulant Activity – helps prevent the formation of clots in the blood
  • Antioxidant Activity – they help to prevent oxidation of the fats that are found in the bloodstream. When the fats become oxidized, they can stick to the artery walls and harden atherosclerosis
  • Relax Smooth Muscles – the help reduce the blood pressure, which can reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack
  • Improves The Levels Of Cholesterol – Cholesterol isn’t all bad. Most individuals who have problems with cholesterol have high levels of LDL and low levels of HDL. The particles of LDL are most
  • likely to stick to the walls of the arteries and create clots. HDL is what helps remove the particles of LDL from the blood. Omega 3 supplements have been known to increase the amount of HDL.
  • Lowers The Amount of Blood Triglycerides – triglycerides are the fats found in the blood. The more fats that are found in your blood, the more likely you are to develop blood clots, have a stroke, or develop heart disease. The prescription medication LOVAX used for high levels of triglycerides is really nothing but omega 3 fish oil
  • Anti-Inflammatory Activity – when the oxidized fats get stuck to the artery walls, they create swelling or inflammation, which makes the arteries even narrower


Read the full report at Cooking Detective 

Read the original post:

Nov 1 2016

Biased Tide Gauges Mean We’ve Been Systematically Underestimating Sea Level Rise

An early 20th-century tide gauge in Venice, Italy. Photo by Stock Italia/Alamy Stock Photo

Most historical tide gauges were installed in the northern hemisphere, a legacy that has been skewing scientists’ modern interpretations of sea level rise. 


In harbors and ports around the world, tide gauges bob up and down with the sea, recording its height over time. In some places, these instruments—through various iterations—have been recording continuously since 1700. Originally installed to help fishing and merchant vessels plan when to enter and leave harbors, the data produced by these old-school gauges has been co-opted by scientists, and now forms the basis of climatologists’ understanding of long-term sea level rise. But as a new study shows, because the majority of these tide gauges were located in North Atlantic port cities, scientists have been systematically underestimating the rate of global sea level rise.

“The gauges are concentrated in the northern hemisphere, in Europe and North America, where traditionally we’ve had a lot of shipping and commerce,” says Phil Thompson, an oceanographer at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. “That’s contributing to why we don’t get really good spatial coverage over the globe.”

Sea level rise is not occurring evenly across the planet. Tides, currents, and weather systems constantly alter sea levels, while tectonic forces move the land. Changes in Earth’s gravity and rotation also affect sea level, and melting ice caps cause a host of complex effects.

The northern hemispheric concentration of historical tide gauges caused researchers to misrepresent the effects of melting glaciers on global sea level rise. Photo by EyeEm/Alamy Stock Photo

The result of this northern hemispheric concentration in tide gauges, then, is that long-term records have provided data that has led scientists to underestimate the rate of 20th-century sea level rise by as much as 0.2 millimeters per year, says Thompson. This is a fairly large amount, as the average rate of sea level rise over the past century is thought to be around 1.7 millimeters per year.

People have measured the rise and fall of the tides for millennia. In the 3rd-century BCE, Greek explorer Pytheas of Massalia reportedly took note of the tides of Great Britain, and he was the first to notice a correlation between tides and the Moon. But the oldest tide gauge records still in existence date from the 18th century, and are centered in the port cities of Europe and North America. The oldest tide gauges were simple structures, consisting of a long metal tube with an opening under the water which minimized the effects of waves or passing ships. At regular intervals, an observer would record the water level relative to a fixed point on the land.

In the United States, the government started surveying coastlines in 1807, at the behest of Thomas Jefferson, who saw the measurements as valuable for exploration, commerce, and safety. According to the US Congress, accurate charts of the coastline and tides would help naval forces and merchants alike.

In 1851, the US Coast and National Geodetic Survey installed the first self-recording gauge in San Francisco. It contained a pen resting on a scroll that rotated at a constant rate, and when the pen moved up and down with the tides, it traced a graph of water levels.

Over time more tide gauges were installed, and these long-running records became vital to science in a way Jefferson would never have anticipated, says John Fasullo, a sea level rise expert at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

“You have this problem a lot in climate science,” Fasullo says. “You have some record that exists that was installed with a different intent, and then it’s the only data you have for understanding climate, so you use it any way you can.

“The kind of work [Thompson] is doing is very important for understanding the biases in this data set, which was never designed originally to monitor global mean sea level.”

Specifically, the main source of bias that Thompson found stems from how ice sheets affect regional sea level.

Ice is heavy, so enormous sheets create a subtle gravitational pull, and affect the Earth’s rotation. The result is that ice sheets attract water toward themselves. As these ice sheets melt into the sea, this gravitational pull relaxes. Water slowly moves away from them, and is redistributed toward areas with stronger gravitational pulls, explains Fasullo. Initially, cities near the site of melting ice might see localized sea level rise, but over time they will experience less.

This redistribution of water means tide gauge records of average sea levels in northern hemisphere cities are artificially low, because the northern hemisphere’s ice sheets are thought to be the largest sources of melt. Since tide gauges were predominantly installed in northern hemisphere cities, this is the source of the systemic bias.

The result adds to a growing body of research that suggests the sea level can change dramatically over shorter time periods than expected, says geoscientist Ben Horton of Rutgers University, who measures past sea levels using core samples. He says the result suggests climate models might not be calibrated correctly, which raises questions about their predictions for future sea level rise.

“This is not a feel-good moment. Showing that it is rising faster is not a good answer,” he says. “That indicates that our oceans are even more sensitive to climate change than we previously thought.”

The good news is, now that scientists are aware of this source of bias, they can take it into account in future climate models, Thompson says. The bad news is sea level rise may be happening more quickly than scientists thought.

Read the original article: Rebecca Boyle, “Biased Tide Gauges Mean We’ve Been Systematically Underestimating Sea Level Rise,” Hakai Magazine, November 1, 2016, accessed November 1, 2016,

Nov 1 2016

‘The Blob’ Is Back: What Warm Ocean Mass Means for Weather, Wildlife

This illustration of temperature in the northeast Pacific shows the status of the “Blob,” a warm-water phenomenon, as of September 2016.

The blob is back.

Since 2014, a mass of unusually warm water has hovered and swelled in the Pacific Ocean off the West Coast of North America, playing havoc with marine wildlife, water quality and the regional weather.

Earlier this year, weather and oceanography experts thought it was waning. But no: The Blob came back, and it is again in position off the coast, threatening to smother normal coastal weather and ecosystem behavior.

The Blob isn’t exactly to blame for California’s drought, though it certainly aggravated the problem. But it is to blame for seriously disrupting the ocean food chain and for creating conditions that fed unprecedented algal blooms in the coastal Pacific.

With the Blob back in play again, what does it mean for the winter ahead? To find out, Water Deeply spoke with Nicholas Bond, a research meteorologist at the University of Washington in Seattle and Washington’s state climatologist. In June 2014, Bond named this persistent weather phenomenon, and later wrote the first scientific paper characterizing it.

Water Deeply: What exactly is the Blob?

Washington’s state climatologist Nicholas Bond named the warm ocean mass now commonly known as “the Blob.”

Washington’s state climatologist Nicholas Bond named the warm ocean mass now commonly known as “the Blob.” (Nicholas Bond)


Nicholas Bond: It’s a large mass of water in the northeast Pacific Ocean that’s considerably warmer than usual. It doesn’t have any real sharply defined boundaries, but it’s an area that, at times, has stretched from Baja California up to the Bering Sea. At other times, it’s kinda shrunk back down. It’s been at least 1,000 miles (1,600km) across and, recently, quite deep.

Typically, it’s been something like2.7–3.6F (1.5–2C) warmer than normal. But there have been places where it’s been as much as 9F (5C) warmer. It’s waxed and waned, but it’s been that way since early 2014. The warmer-than-normal water extends down to something like 300m (1,000ft) below the surface. So that’s a huge volume of considerably warmer-than-normal water.

Water Deeply: Is it still out there?

Bond: Yeah. There was sort of a reinvigoration this past summer. The temperatures were moderating early in 2016, and then, at least in a large area south of Alaska and off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, it really warmed up again this past summer.

Water Deeply: What causes it?

Bond: A lot of it, almost all of it, is due to just the unusual weather patterns that have been occurring over the northeast Pacific during the past few years. They haven’t been the same patterns, but what really got it started was when a ridge of higher-than-normal sea-level pressure set up during the winter of 2013–14 over the northeast Pacific.

That was a very persistent and strong ridge of higher-than-normal pressure that kind of blocked the usual parade of storms across the Pacific. That meant less heat was drawn out of the ocean into the atmosphere than usual. It meant there was less cold water (from the deeper ocean) mixing near the surface part of the ocean. And also the unusual winds meant the upper-level currents in the ocean were a little bit different from usual.

Water Deeply: Is it unprecedented?

Bond: Yeah, certainly. In terms of the magnitude of anomalies in a lot of locations, we haven’t seen anything quite like this. I did a fairly careful study using the data that’s available, going back decades. There have been other periods with considerably warmer-than-normal ocean temperatures in the region. But they were never of the kind of geographic extent and magnitude we’ve seen with this recent event.

Emaciated juvenile sea lions undergoing rehabilitation at the Marine Mammal Center in California. Their plight is thought to have been triggered by the unusually warm water conditions that persist in the coastal Pacific Ocean, upsetting the usual food web upon which sea lions and other wildlife depend.

Emaciated juvenile sea lions undergoing rehabilitation at the Marine Mammal Center in California. Their plight is thought to have been triggered by the unusually warm water conditions that persist in the coastal Pacific Ocean, upsetting the usual food web upon which sea lions and other wildlife depend. (NOAA Fisheries)

Water Deeply: What caused that persistent high pressure?

Bond: It became known as the “ridiculously resilient ridge.” There’s been a number of independent studies that have basically shown that much warmer than normal waters in the far western tropical Pacific, in the vicinity of New Guinea – and thunderstorms that those warm waters helped spawn – had this kind of ripple effect on the atmospheric-circulation weather patterns over much of the globe.

It set up this series of very large-scale high- and low-pressure centers, with the ridge over the coast of western North America, and then a trough of lower pressure over the northeastern part of North America.

Water Deeply: How did the Blob affect the drought in California?

Bond: That same ridge of high pressure basically blocked the storms. There was just a real lack of those regular storms. The warm water didn’t cause the unusual weather patterns. But those unusual weather patterns that brought the warm water also were a large cause of the drought in California.

It turned out that was the same case in the Pacific Northwest. Not quite the same extent, but we were looking at very low snowpack in mid-February 2014. Then there was enough of a shift that we actually had a pretty wet period there at the end of winter and got enough rain and snow to kind of tide us through the summer of 2014. But there weren’t enough (storms), and those didn’t extend far enough south for California to get relief.

But it gets kind of complicated. Once that warm water formed out there in a big way, it does tend to warm the air that’s passing over it. Once that water was warmed, it did help warm the air coming off the ocean. This was especially the case in the winter of 2014–15. It led to warmer air temperatures and higher snow levels. The freezing level was 1,000–2,000ft (300–600m) higher than usual in the mountains. So that certainly ended up being a real problem. We count on that snowpack coming out of winter to get us through the summer. But it fell as rain rather than snow during that 2014–15 winter.

Water Deeply: Is there a climate change connection here?

Bond: This is sometimes called a marine heat wave, and it’s a short-term kind of event. There is some evidence that long-term trends are favoring the patterns we’ve had over the past few years. But that’s a very small effect.

So it’s not due to global warming. But it does provide some hint, at least, of what it’s going to be like in future decades, in particular, with some of the impacts we’ve seen in the marine ecosystem. What we’ve had the past few years is something that is liable to be more the rule rather than the exception toward the middle of the century. So maybe this is kind of a little preview or something. So we’re trying to learn from it.

Water Deeply: How has the Blob affected ocean life?

Bond: The impacts were quite a few and widespread. At the bottom of the food chain, we saw a higher preponderance at the plankton level of subtropical species versus ones that are more adapted to cooler water.

That had repercussions all the way up the food chain – everything from the kind of suitable prey for salmon that was present and whether they were getting the food they need, to some real problems with fur seals and sea lions in California in particular. In the Gulf of Alaska we had what National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has called a marine mammalmortality event last year. Seabirds are another one: There were some species with some very large mortalities, with lots more dead seabirdswashing up on the beaches.

One of the more alarming things is the harmful algal blooms. That was sort of way out there in terms of how far along the coast it stretched, how long it lasted, how high the toxin levels got. That was something that was really scary.

Water Deeply: How long will the Blob be with us?

Bond: That’s kind of the $64,000 question. We thought this whole event was winding down earlier this year, and then we’ve seen it rear its ugly head again in some locations.

Water Deeply: How will this affect our weather this coming winter?

Bond: The more prominent temperature anomalies are a little north of California. It’s all going to depend on the weather patterns. There are kind of borderline La Niña conditions now, which doesn’t tend to imply too much one way or another for Northern California. In the past, it probably has meant somewhat less precipitation than normal for Southern California. But we see a lot of exceptions there.

It’s kind of an admission of defeat, but it’s basically a crapshoot in terms of how much rain you get.

I think in terms of temperature, it’s not liable to be quite as warm as the past two winters, so that’s good, at least for the winter-sports folks. What falls in the mountains should be snow at the higher elevations. I think Northern California is liable to do OK. Southern California? Wow, that’s a tough one.

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Oct 30 2016

Seafood’s new normal


Hog Island Oyster Co. employee Wilber Mejia pushes a bag of farmed oysters onto a boat during harvesting on Oct. 12. The bags are taken back to the company’s Marshall headquarters, where the bivalves are prepared for sale.

California’s coastal ecosystem — and the fisheries that depend on it — are in the grip of a huge disruption

In the shallow waters off Elk, in Mendocino County, a crew from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife dived recently to survey the area’s urchin and abalone populations. Instead of slipping beneath a canopy of leafy bull kelp, which normally darkens the ocean floor like a forest, they found a barren landscape like something out of “The Lorax.”

A single large abalone scaled a bare kelp stalk, hunting a scrap to eat, while urchins clustered atop stark gray stone that is normally striped in colorful seaweed.

“When the urchins are starving and are desperate, they will the leave the reef as bare rock,” said Cynthia Catton, an environmental scientist with Fish and Wildlife. Warm seawater has prevented the growth of kelp, the invertebrates’ main food source, so the urchins aren’t developing normally; the spiky shells of many are nearly empty. As a result, North Coast sea urchin divers have brought in only one-tenth of their normal haul this year.

The plight of urchins, abalones and the kelp forest is just one example of an extensive ongoing disruption of California’s coastal ecosystem — and the fisheries that depend on it — after several years of unusually warm ocean conditions and drought. Earlier this month, The Chronicle reported that scientists have discovered evidence in San Francisco Bay and its estuary of what is being called the planet’s sixth mass extinction, affecting species including chinook salmon and delta smelt.

Baby salmon are dying by the millions in drought-warmed rivers while en route to the ocean. Young oysters are being deformed or killed by ocean acidification. The Pacific sardine population has crashed, and both sardines and squid are migrating to unusual new places. And Dungeness crab was devastated last year by an unprecedented toxic algal bloom that delayed the opening of its season for four months.

The collapses are taking a financial toll on the state’s seafood industry. A report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released Wednesday showed the California fishing harvest decreased in value by $109 million between 2014 and 2015, or by 43 percent.

The impact has already been felt in Bay Area homes. This summer, chinook salmon sold for more than $35 per pound in some markets, about 50 percent higher than in previous years. The absence of Dungeness crab during the 2015 holidays jarred many locals, though the Bay Area’s favorite crustacean is still slated to return to tables on Nov. 15, when the 2016 commercial season is scheduled to begin.

More disturbing are signs that the recent changes to the Pacific Ocean could represent the new normal.

Six distressed seafood species in Northern California
Here is a look at how six Pacific fisheries have been affected by recent unusual weather patterns and what we can expect in the future.
Chinook Salmon
The issues:
Drought and warm river conditions impede reproduction and salmon’s ability to make the journey from river to ocean and back again. Some runs of salmon face extinction.
Commercial season:
May through September and part of October

The five-year drought has had a dramatic impact on this already challenged population of native fish. Salmon caught by local fishers outside of the Golden Gate are part of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta system, which has four different seasonal spawning runs. The salmon that reach our markets are the fall and late-fall run, migrating from July to December and mid-October to December.

Most native salmon’s original spawning grounds have been disrupted by dams in the river system, so they are dependent on two factors: how much it rains and/or the amount of water that state officials decide to release into the river during drought. When the river water was too warm in 2014 and 2015, 95 percent of winter-run baby and juvenile salmon died.

Salmon take several years to mature, which means that during the last few salmon seasons the fish were born under traumatic conditions. The 2016 season, which just ended, was also hampered by the late crab season, which kept gear and crabbers out in the water later.

The Bay Institute, along with Natural Resources Defense Council and other organizations, has been working since 1998 to reconnect part of the San Joaquin River to San Francisco Bay that had been disconnected since the 1950s. When the restoration is complete, it could restore the runs of 30,000 spring and fall-run salmon every year.

Loss of salmon habitat in the Central Valley
Historic salmon spawning grounds in the Central Valley have been cut off by dams and other impassable barriers, making it difficult for adult salmon to lay eggs and for the babies to make their way to the ocean.

“Weather and climate are two very closely related things that are difficult to tease apart. What is short-term variable weather versus long-term climate change?” said Toby Garfield, director of the Environmental Research Division at San Diego’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Southwest Fisheries Science Lab. “Almost any scientist you talk to would say, ‘Yes, the climate is changing, and we’re seeing a lot of variability.’”

But, Garfield added, “Most agencies are working very hard to understand what these changes are.”

Not hard to understand is the financial hit the state’s fisheries have taken. Last year’s Dungeness crab season, normally one of the most lucrative fisheries in the state, brought in $37 million, far less than the average $68 million over the previous five years. The chinook salmon harvest dropped by two-thirds between 2013 and 2015, cutting fishers’ earnings to $8 million from $22.7 million. Many in the industry think this year’s numbers will be worse.

John Eiserich closes up the boat he has docked at Pier 45 in San Francisco after his last chinook salmon trip of the season on Oct. 7.

The causes of these dramatic changes are complex and loosely interrelated. The combination of a strong El Niño weather pattern, which warmed ocean waters last year, and a persistent patch of warm water near Alaska, colloquially known as the Warm Blob, caused toxic algal blooms to spike and fish to migrate erratically.

The Blob — Garfield prefers “North Pacific Marine Heat Wave” — is in a zone of atmospheric high pressure that diverts the winter storms that normally help cool down the ocean. While it first appeared in 2014 and is not influencing California coastal water temperatures the way it did last year, it’s still an unusual phenomenon that can be self-perpetuating. The Blob’s staying power and the gradual rise of global ocean temperatures fuel concerns that there could be an eventual repeat of last year’s crab disaster.

“Temperature really impacts the growth of many of these species. They’ve evolved in a very specific temperature range and suddenly that’s getting out of whack,” said Garfield. “It’s really impacting their growth and development in ways that we’re just beginning to understand.”

Sardines and squid, two hallmarks of local seafood, usually spawn off of California, but as warm water pushed them north last year, both sardines and squid laid eggs near Oregon and even Alaska. In 2015, almost 3 million pounds of squid were harvested off Oregon, which hadn’t seen a big catch since the 1980s. Meanwhile, California’s squid harvest, normally the largest in the country and worth $73 million, dropped by 64 percent between 2014 and 2015.

John Blanchard •

Pacific sardines are in even greater decline. The population, which naturally fluctuates a great deal, is estimated at one-tenth of what it was in 2007, when the fishery was worth $8.2 million. Because of the decline, that fishery has been closed for the past two years, though the recent warm ocean temperatures have had an impact, too.

The overall situation is dire, so many scientists and fishers are taking aggressive steps to deal with the changes.

Hog Island Oyster Co. in Tomales Bay has been plagued by ocean acidification, caused as carbon is absorbed by the ocean — a result of climate change. This has limited the supply of seed stock the company needs to grow oysters.

“To us what’s scary is not just the change in ocean chemistry, it’s the rate of change,” said co-owner John Finger.

Because the problem will only worsen as more carbon is absorbed, Hog Island is building a hatchery to produce its own seed and breed oysters that Finger hopes can better withstand acidification.

“Unless you have your head in the sand, you realize this is going to get drastically worse,” said Finger. “We need to have more seed production in various places because we don’t know what the patterns are for this.”

The Golden Gate Salmon Association has been trucking baby salmon to the ocean rather than risk the fish dying on the perilous trip from their birthplace in the Sacramento River down to San Francisco Bay. A new study from the Bay Institute concluded that so little water is flowing through the bay and its estuary — because of diversions for urban and Central Valley farm use — that some salmon and other native species are facing extinction. By some estimates, 80 percent of California’s native freshwater fish species could be gone by 2100.

Salmon fishers and crabbers, meanwhile, are trying to adjust to the new seascape. Some are chartering their boats for recreational fishing while they wait for things to improve.

Somewhat ironically, with more squid moving north from its normal Southern California environs lately, Northern California has had some banner squid years. Earlier this month, Larry Collins of the San Francisco Community Fishing Association at Pier 45 had to show up at midnight several times to receive ton after ton of squid caught near the Farallon Islands or off Ocean Beach.

“There’s just miles of squid out there,” he said at the time.

Kelp loss in Northern California
Based on aerial photos taken at different sites on the North Coast, these images show a dramatic decrease in kelp forests, which sustain red urchin, abalone and thousands of other species. While 2008 was a good kelp year, the images from 2014 show effects of the Warm Blob, warm water conditions that caused a severe reduction in kelp.
Graphic artist: John Blanchard •
Developer: Emma O’Neill •
Source: California Department of Fish and Wildlife

The California coast is part of what is normally one of the most productive fisheries in the world. Winds that run southward down the West Coast push surface water offshore, allowing deeper, nutrient-rich water to come up and feed seaweed and phytoplankton. That sets the food chain in motion for zooplankton, including krill, which in turn nourish an incredibly diverse ecosystem of marine mammals and larger fish like the chinook.

“Our salmon have some of the highest omega-3 content and best flavor of any salmon in the world,” said John McManus of the Golden Gate Salmon Association. “There’s a section of the population that recognizes that and is willing to pay for real, honest-to-god king salmon.”

In an opinion page article in The Chronicle in August, Alice Waters of Chez Panisse and Patricia Unterman of Hayes Street Grill argued for better protection of chinook salmon and rebuilding of its runs, citing its importance in the region’s culture.

“Every year, the return of salmon is eagerly anticipated by California fishermen, restaurants and the public,” they wrote.

Catton, the Fish and Wildlife scientist, is concerned both about the sustainability of local marine species like salmon and urchin, and the entire state fishery. Urchin divers usually augment their income with crabbing and salmon fishing, but as those are no longer lucrative, many divers are working construction instead, she said.

“Many of them have weathered a lot of these good times and bad times,” she said. “They say it’s a cycle. Kelp comes and kelp goes.”

What’s different this time, she said, is the kelp forests have never been quite this bare.

Oct 27 2016

In the shadow of Seaport

After three hours and three unsuccessful trips to reputable yet barren fishing spots near the mouth of San Diego Bay, Phil Harris had finally nabbed a worthwhile bite. Now his line — wiggling with potential sales — was stuck on the ocean floor, 300 feet straight down.

“Hooked on the bottom,” Harris said. “God dammit.”

At 75, Harris deftly maneuvered between the throttle and his fishing pole, trying every which way to free up the line. Forward. Reverse. Curse. Repeat.

Ten minutes later, he dislodged the hook and welcomed aboard the Sea Nag one dead rockfish, its eyes and stomach bulging from the decompression accompanying such a rapid ascent. The line’s lead weight, lost to the deep, was worth about the same price as the fish would be at Saturday’s market. Harris replaced the lead weight with a scrap-iron chain, drove to a new location, dropped the line again, and pulled it up.

“One little dab,” he said, looking at the small, flounder-like fish that was once a staple in San Diego. Then, he noticed he had lost the chain weight — the final straw.

“I can’t hit my ass with both hands today,” he said.

There are no metaphors here: The boat isn’t life, the fish aren’t dreams and no deep truths lie hidden among the worn creases and fresh scars on Harris’ hands. His voice, a blend of sea salt and gargled pebbles, isn’t a reflection on the primal nature of man. He’s just a fisherman, having a rough day, and will try again tomorrow.

It’s the tomorrow that holds all the meaning.

In the city once hailed as the Tuna Capital of the World, Harris and roughly 150 other local commercial fishermen have seen their numbers dwindle against ever constricting catch laws and the crush of foreign competition. Today, in a turnaround, this aging generation finds itself in a position of power: Able to make or break a billion-dollar development proposal called Seaport that seeks to radically redefine San Diego’s waterfront.

“There’s a 50-50 chance that we could kill it,” Harris said.

But killing it won’t solve their problems.

Like every real-life situation, the fishermen’s tale is not black and white. Reality is a complicated web of not just one developer’s vision, but a port’s priorities, state and federal restrictions, generations of family drama, international competition, and a somewhat-sordid history of waterfront development in America’s Finest City.

Ironically, one of their biggest hurdles lies in what drove fishermen to the water in the first place — a yearning for solitude and independence, and an aversion to working together.

“Most fishermen didn’t go into fishing because they wanted to work with others,” an industry consultant told inewsource.

History hasn’t always been kind to the men and women whose livelihoods depend on what lies beneath San Diego waters, and what happens next is anyone’s guess. But it’s safe to say that today is a critical juncture.

Peter Halmay, a veteran sea urchin diver and president of the San Diego Fishermen’s Working Group, has an optimistic side.

“There’s a fantastic future coming up and it shouldn’t be disregarded. You shouldn’t allow old fishermen to say, ‘Ahh the best days are over.’ They’re not over! They’re way ahead of us.”

“The fish are there, and the demand is there,” local fisherman John Law added, then paused.

“It’s a question of whether we’re still going to be here.”


Yehudi Gaffen’s nightmares are different from yours.

In a recent dream, the South African expat discovered an earthquake fault running through 40 acres of land in downtown San Diego — the land he and partners Jeff Jacobs and Jeff Essakow hope to transform into “one of the most hotly anticipated destination waterfront sites in the nation.” A game-changing fault could sink Seaport before it even begins.

But he’s getting ahead of himself.

At a public meeting one month prior, Gaffen and his partners had leap-frogged over five competitors to steer a future for this section of the waterfront called the Central Embarcadero, long home to a quaint cluster of shops and restaurants and a marina known respectively as Seaport Village and Tuna Harbor.

Gaffen’s vision would replace most of what stands today at the Central Embarcadero with parks, an aquarium, retail space, a charter school, a 480-foot spire, thousands of underground parking spaces, two hotels and a hostel.  It’s estimated to cost more than $1.2 billion.

Port Commissioner Bob Nelson called the plan “breathtaking.”

“We would have never been that imaginative,” Nelson said of Seaport. “None of us have that talent.”

It also doesn’t hurt that Seaport is projecting to earn the port more than $20 million a year — seven times what the current leaseholders pay.

The plan would keep intact Tuna Harbor, which is situated between Ruocco Park and the Fish Market restaurant next to the USS Midway. But it would change the focus of the harbor — one of the city’s two commercial fishing marinas on the bay — to mixed use “to create a one-of-a-kind, internationally recognized” destination.

Driscoll’s Wharf, the other commercial marina, is a few miles north of Seaport on the bayfront next to Shelter Island. It is also a part of Gaffen’s plan — yet Driscoll’s current owner told inewsource he has no intention of leaving or selling (a hiccup for Gaffen).

These bayfront lands are hallowed ground in San Diego. For nearly all of the 20th century, they were home to America’s tuna fleet and hundreds of Portuguese, Italian, Japanese and Mexican fishermen who helped settle waterfront neighborhoods such as Point Loma, Barrio Logan and Little Italy.

Nearly a dozen canneries opened between the 1910s and mid-1920s, employing thousands of men and women and earning San Diego a reputation as “The Tuna Capital of the World.” The glut ended some 50 years later when a mix of foreign competition, rising costs and a nascent environmental movement “forced cannery operations to go abroad,” according to historian Richard Crawford. It nearly decimated the fleet.

Today, the marinas service dozens rather than hundreds of commercial fishing boats, while the surrounding land hosts hotels and tourist attractions.

“Our working waterfronts are undersung heroes of the national economic landscape,” said Henry Pontarelli, vice president and co-owner of Lisa Wise Consulting, an economics and urban planning firm with a focus on commercial fishing communities. “There’s a lot of value and people don’t know about it.”

Who knew that California ports offloaded more than 350 million pounds of fish in 2014? That the state’s living resources sector accounted for nearly $340 million in 2013 gross domestic product — and that same sector, that same year, accounted for $2.4 trillion in wages across all coastal states?

And who knew those numbers are tiny compared to what they were 20, 30 and 40 years ago?

The point being: There’s a lot of money and a lot at stake when it comes to fish, and San Diego’s past and future economies are tied into all of that.

“The fishing side of this is very much part of the ethos of our project,” Gaffen said in August, seated at a picnic table along the base of Seaport’s future “Spire” — a 44-story tall observation tower, restaurant and gift shop.

“People love to see fish processing, they love to see boats coming in with fish being off loaded. It’s theater, it’s a spectacle,” he said. “It makes the site different from any other site.”

The Seaport project is slated for a green light at next month’s public meeting of the Port of San Diego, a powerful agency that’s intricately involved in everything waterfront related in town.

Led by a board of appointed commissioners representing five waterfront cities — Imperial Beach, Chula Vista, National City, Coronado and San Diego — the port is responsible for managing thousands of acres around the bay. But unlike most public agencies, the port isn’t funded by taxpayers. Instead, it earns revenue mainly through leases: Around 600 tenants are projected to pay the port more than $94 million this year. But the land occupied by these hotels, bars, marinas and other — mainly maritime-based — companies is in fact owned by the public. The land is “held in trust” by the port for the people.

Though for some reason, Harris said aboard his half-century-old boat, “the people of San Diego don’t realize that they own the port.”

In an ideal world, all the port’s actions are guided by its master plan, a document that sets out development guidelines and core principles — though that hasn’t always been the case.

In fact, Gaffen’s main construction management firm, Gafcon, was the project manager in the early 2000s for the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan. That redevelopment covered more than a mile’s worth of bayfront property, just north of the Central Embarcadero between the USS Midway and the San Diego International Airport.

As inewsource recently documented, powerful interests ended up shaping that plan into something so divorced from its original vision that it drew three lawsuits and several reprimands from the California Coastal Commission, a state agency with some control over the port’s actions.

Now, instead of a promised 10-acre park along the North Embarcadero, there are hotels. Instead of a public park on Navy Pier, there is a parking lot. Instead of a public park on Broadway Pier, there’s a lonely $28 million cruise ship terminal that earns the port next to nothing.

To its credit, the port has made several improvements to the North Embarcadero: some shops, an observation deck, landscaping, an esplanade and public restrooms. But the port still owes San Diegans, and the Coastal Commission, acres of public park space as “mitigation” for the major changes.

“I know what a scandal it is,” Harris said about the North Embarcadero in August. “This is shaping up to be the same situation — this development. They’ll say one thing, and come up with a big plan, and then it’ll gradually get changed. It’ll take several years to implement and they’ll have all kinds of reasons for changing it. And the Coastal Commission will go along with it.”

In Ruocco Park, Gaffen spoke with inewsource about his working relationship with, and respect for, commercial fishermen.

“When you think about their work ethic, and the risks they take, and the hard work that they have to put in, it’s pretty amazing,” Gaffen said. “But they’re also a very suspicious group.”

With good reason.

For decades, San Diego’s fishermen have been beset by space reduction, lease violations and false promises from developers and government agencies alike. Gaffen is well aware that Seaport is “dealing with the echoes” of that history, and cited a recent workshop — where he shared preliminary plans with the fishermen’s steering committee — as an example:

“They called one plan HS1,” Gaffen said. “Which is Horseshit 1.”

Harris has been at these meetings. In fact, he’s been involved with waterfront matters as far back as the 1970s when, he said, he first organized a class action lawsuit against the port over commercial fishing space. A lifetime in San Diego has left him suspicious of any government or developer that wants to change the marinas.

“Gaf says he’ll agree to anything, but we’ll see,” he said, then laughed. “Words are cheap.”

Phil Harris

Originally from Point Loma, Harris grew up working construction in the winter and scouring the seafloor in the summer. “I had a reputation for quitting,” he said of his construction jobs, though he stuck with fishing because it never bored him.

His father was a fisherman. His two brothers were fishermen. He once survived a boat wreck harvesting sea snails off Catalina, but you really have to hear him tell it.

It’s clear that despite having spent so much of his life on the water, Harris is acutely aware of how things work on the mainland, and has met with Gaffen several times this year.

“The air won’t be cleared,” Harris said, until the port gives Gaffen “the final OK, and we sit down with him and tell him exactly what we need — and not want.”

Gaffen dismisses the idea that the fishermen and his vision can’t find a balance.

“If it doesn’t work for them, it isn’t going to work for us,” Gaffen said, “and if we can’t create that win-win that they are comfortable with, this project isn’t going to move.”

To the fishermen, it’s as if a contractor showed up at their house offering a remodel, but with grander designs on the whole block. They’re suspicious of any outsider who claims to understand their needs, or their history.

Take Driscoll’s Wharf, for example.


A death in the family

At 9:45 p.m. on June 6, 2013, Holly Vernon kissed her love goodbye, and left for work.

Two hours later, she returned home to find Catherine Driscoll — her life-partner and daughter of yachting legend Gerry Driscoll — unconscious on the bedroom floor, still breathing, with a gunshot wound to her head. As Catherine’s airway filled with blood, Vernon called 911, then ran to a neighbor’s house for help. The two turned Catherine on her side and tried to clear her airway. She died at Scripps Mercy Hospital at 1:10 a.m. The medical examiner ruled it a suicide.

“With many causes, you need a champion,” said Henry Pontarelli of Lisa Wise Consulting. “It’s like a parent with a child — if the kid falls down or gets beat up at school, the parent picks the kid up and keeps it going.”

“Cathy was one of those people,” he said.

Catherine “Cathy” Driscoll was a friend to Pontarelli, Harris, Halmay and many others in the industry as the manager of Driscoll’s Wharf near San Diego’s Shelter Island.

The Driscoll family’s roots trace back to the Mayflower and the founding of the first California mission, according to Tom Driscoll — Cathy’s brother and owner of Driscoll Inc. Each generation, he said, has maintained a relationship with the waterfront in one way or another — whether it was through repairing ships, building boatyards or, in recent history, growing the Driscoll business “from about 50-60 thousand square feet of land and water” to “about a million square feet” at five sites along San Diego Bay and Mission Bay.

Part of that business is managing Driscoll’s Wharf, tucked within America’s Cup Harbor across from Shelter Island.

In 1992, Cathy and Tom’s father, Gerry, saw opportunity in the space, and leased the nine acres of land from the port for the next 31 years.

It hasn’t changed much since.

A state-funded study in 2009 found many aspects of Driscoll’s Wharf inadequate: channel depth, wake management, offloading facility, electricity, water distribution, dock size and conditions, gear, equipment and live fish storage. Talk to the commercial fishermen who use the wharf and they’ll add ice and other complaints to the mix.

“Some of those docks are just not safe,” Gaffen said of Driscoll’s in August, “the handrails are falling off, the buildings — I think if we had a strong wind, would fall down.”

Cathy managed the wharf, meaning she collected rent from the fishermen, listened to their concerns, and lobbied her brother Tom for money to fix up the place. The fishermen loved her, and she loved the fishermen.

“Not saying the commercial fishermen took advantage of that,” Tom told inewsource in October. “They had — not free reign — but certainly control. She was just a different type of style.”

Pontarelli recalled that it was Cathy who loaded fresh fish from the docks into her Lexus for sale at Whole Foods; it was Cathy who worked with a state agency to help fishermen implement direct marketing; it was Cathy who volunteered to serve on steering committees.

She was a champion, according to Pontarelli. A free spirit, according to Harris.

“We had a lot of things going for us,” Harris said of the time. “And Cathy was behind it all.”

Tom said that in 2013, after Gerry Driscoll died, he stepped in at Driscoll’s Wharf to get things “organized.” From all accounts, things quickly went downhill between the siblings.

What allegedly happened next is the stuff of John Grisham novels. inewsource pulled the story together from Harris and Kelly Falk, a former port staffer, two attorneys, police reports and the county Medical Examiner’s Office.

Tom’s presence at the wharf disrupted the longstanding relationship between Cathy and the fishermen. “Tom started putting the screws to Cathy as soon as Gerry was gone,” Harris said.

The tension between the two concerned the future of commercial fishing at Driscoll docks. Tom wanted the fishermen out while Cathy wanted to protect them. Tom told inewsource he simply wanted to clean up the business side and hold fishermen accountable for things like making sure all their boats were insured and that they paid their bills.

Either way, Cathy allegedly began gathering evidence that Tom was keeping two sets of books — “what she said was enough evidence to put Tom in jail,” Harris said — and she handed that evidence over to Kelly Falk, a friend and asset manager in the Port of San Diego’s real estate department, in a box. Falk confirmed all of this.

inewsource asked Tom about the situation in October.

“I knew there was certainly some animosity there,” he said about his late sister. “But this thing about a box, it’s the first I’ve heard of a box.” He denied any improprieties.

Cathy begged Falk to do something about her brother. She faxed him tax returns and called repeatedly. Falk said he relayed the information to attorneys at the port, but was told to steer clear of the whole mess.

A port attorney confirmed to inewsource that he had “heard about” the box, but never saw it. Falk returned the papers and the box to Cathy.

In May, a month before her suicide, Cathy accused her brother of fiscal mismanagement in person. Tom asked her to leave the business. She began seeing a psychologist and resorted to sleep medications, and kept a Bersa Thunder .380 handgun in her desk drawer.

She called Harris a few hours before pulling the trigger.

“She made me promise to keep up the fight,” Harris said. “I thought she was going to leave town or something like that. I didn’t think she was going to kill herself.”

A memorial to Cathy stands at Driscoll’s, her framed photo nestled among foliage. It’s called “Cathy’s Garden.”

The fishermen hold Tom accountable for Cathy’s death, and have railed against his handling of the wharf. Tom, in return, has held them accountable by enforcing lease terms and evicting several long-term residents, like Harris, who said he was tossed for a minor infraction. “The guy threw me out of my hometown,” he said.

In the process, the wharf fell into even worse shape, and in 2014, the fishermen hired a lawyer to petition the port to force Tom to provide them with adequate storage, parking, maintenance, bathrooms, walkways, tanks, floating docks, affordable ice and other facilities.

Tom mostly obliged, but port Commissioner Nelson said it hasn’t been easy.

“We’ve had our rounds in the rodeo with him,” Nelson said. “There’ve been a lot of delays in him fulfilling his obligations for improvements to the property.”

The reality, according to Tom, is more complicated: He’s expected to pour money into things like new docks, an ice machine, or a storage area in a marina that generates very little revenue. “People don’t understand how difficult that is,” he said.

Why, as CEO of a company with thriving businesses all over San Diego, would Tom opt to deal with all the hatred and all the upkeep at the wharf?

“A lot of people ask that, and I think it’s finishing something that you started,” he said while walking the docks with his son in October. “I want to see it through. It’s not a financial… there’s no goldmine at the end of the rainbow.”

But there is a goldmine.

Gaffen, both in words and on paper, has made no secret that he intends to take over Driscoll’s Wharf, either when Tom’s lease expires in 2023 or sooner. Three pages detail his intentions in the Seaport plan: Draft designs show new docks, processing facilities and a small retail fish market.

A comprehensive study from 2010 showed Driscoll’s Wharf needed at least $18 million to revitalize itself as a viable commercial fishing operation. Gaffen said some of that money could come from the more lucrative elements of Seaport, as well as grants and “some sort of public-private joint partnership,” possibly involving the port.

“Tom is in a situation where his lease has got only a few more years to go,” Gaffen said, “so to spend a lot of money without him knowing what’s going to happen doesn’t make sense.”

The fishermen believe Gaffen’s plan would likely be better than anything Tom might do. Tom, said just about everyone interviewed for this story, wants what’s best for Tom.

Not so, Tom says.

“We’re not a developer that comes in and builds something and then sells it and moves on,” he said. “Absolutely we want to extend the lease. We want to put in improvements to help the fishermen and we want to be here for the next generation.”

He walked back and forth along the Driscoll esplanade, talking for more than an hour.

“We like the idea that the Driscoll name is going to carry on with the maritime industry,” he said. “We think that’s important.”

Each lap took him past his sister’s garden.

The urchin diver’s secrets

Still wearing his wetsuit, breathing hard and dripping salt water aboard the Erin B, 76-year-old Pete Halmay used what looked like the world’s rustiest knife to break apart the shell of a sea urchin. He pointed out the gonads, known as uni, a popular dish among sushi lovers, then pulled a hellish contraption from the echinoderm.

“It’s called Aristotle’s Lantern,” Halmay said. A sea urchin mouth.

Growing up, Halmay’s kids didn’t play cowboys and indians. They played diver and processor. Their mother told them to put “sea urchin” into a sentence if they truly wanted their father’s attention; otherwise, dad would drift off. He has been diving since 1970 — right around when the urchin industry emerged in San Diego — through its peak in the ’90s and into today, when the fishery only supports a handful of divers like him. As a result, he’s now focusing on the next generation.

“I used to go to high schools, and say, ‘Uh, do you have any drunks or alcoholics? I’m looking for fishermen,’” he said. “And I’m tired of doing that.”

He hopes that not every young adult is interested in a four-year university program — that instead, some may have a passion for the outdoors and a salty soul.

“We gotta start training, teaching and mentoring the young people, and keep them coming in, otherwise the fishing part is not sustainable,” he said.

He’s working with friends at the University of California San Diego to develop an apprenticeship program, and they recently received a $100,000 grant to get it started.

“If we can institute that program and open up some of these fisheries so that the old guys can step aside and make room for young guys, we’ll have a better fishery,” Halmay said.

But it’s an uphill battle. Secrecy is a way of life for Halmay and his colleagues and sharing insider knowledge — even for the greater good — is a tough sell, he admits. The logbook above his steering wheel is a secret. His collaborative work with scientists to make a little extra money, evidenced by certain tools on board, is a secret. Where he will sell the glistening, crackling catch — and who he sells it to — is sometimes a secret.

Seaport San Diego Peter Halmay

“Fishermen are their own worst enemy,” said Peter Flournoy, a local attorney who has represented fishermen and fishing associations for decades, “in the sense that they are an independent lot and it is very difficult to get them together.”

Pontarelli referred to the same thing as a “fractured voice,” which has evidenced itself in the meetings between Gaffen and the fishermen.

“There’s so many different types of fishermen,” Gaffen said, whether they’re longline or lobster or urchin fishermen, “they all have different opinions on what their needs are.”

“The other challenge is just getting them to work together,” he said.

Yet when they do come together as one voice, the fishermen wield far more power than their numbers would suggest.

“If push comes to shove,” Harris said, “we could align with the opposition to the project and make things so difficult that the Coastal Commission would have no choice but to deny the development permit.”

But, he added, “we don’t want to go that route if Gaf will let us have what we need to keep Tuna Harbor and Driscoll’s as a working waterfront.”

Little by little, progress has been made. Harris, Halmay and some of their colleagues are devoting more time away from the water and back “on the beach” — as they call land and civilization — to work with each other and people like Gaffen.

It has paid off:

The first organized fisherman’s market in decades opened at Tuna Harbor two years ago, with Halmay and several others working for a year behind the scenes to get it started. Now, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday, the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market sees hundreds of visitors looking to buy crabs, urchin, tuna, shark, octopus, mackerel, halibut, snails and dozens more fresh catches.

One hot July morning, a fisherman who would normally be out to sea spent the day manning a booth, holding out rock crabs for children to touch. Another spent time relaying a secret halibut recipe to eager tourists. It’s an attempt to assign value and spread awareness — “You shouldn’t ask why local fish is so expensive,” Pontarelli said, “You should ask why imported fish is so cheap.”

Halmay spent the morning walking the dock, taking notes. He views the market as a necessary fabric of the embarcadero.

“The beauty is that we put out the fish where people can see it,” Halmay said. “It’s a visual thing. It’s not wrapped in cellophane.”

Though the market is a success in the eyes of the fishermen, it’s not guaranteed to them. Neither is the harbor. Statewide, the California Coastal Act recognizes and protects the importance of commercial fishing activities and dissuades a port from eliminating or reducing its space. But the act proceeds with a catch — “unless the demand for those facilities no longer exists or adequate alternative space has been provided.”

San Diego Tuna Harbor Dockside Market

Locally, the Port Master Plan allocates 14 acres for commercial fishing and an additional 61 water-acres for commercial fishing berthing. It also mimics the Coastal Act concerning space, and adds “berthing, fresh market fish unloading and net mending activities are encouraged to be exposed to public view and to be a part of the working port identity.”

But as history has shown, the Port Master Plan is easily skirted, and as far as the Port of San Diego is concerned, the California Coastal Commission — which enforces the state act — has no teeth.

“Our enforcement department goes more after violations that are blocking public access …,” said California Coastal Commission planner and supervisor Kanani Brown, “versus going after the port itself for not enforcing or not having delivered on some of these commitments.”

Case in point: the commission is still waiting for updates and mitigation concerning the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan — a development project that broke ground nearly five years ago.

David Haworth, a second generation fishermen with 40 years experience, worked the Saturday fish market, but found time to talk about his fears for the future.

“We need to keep this area — I’m talking about this harbor right here,” Haworth said. “We’re not asking to expand it, but we don’t want to lose it.

“If they’re going to come and put in ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds and swimming pools and all that … We’re not sure how that’s gonna work … We need to have parking — as you can see parking is a disaster for us — and we need to have a place to put our boats, and we need to have a place to unload our fish. Also, to get it to the public if we can.”

“We’re still surviving,” Haworth said, “but it’s scary. We have a gun to our head all the time.”

The halls of power

Over oysters (from British Columbia, Washington and Oregon) in Los Angeles’  Grand Central Market, Henry Pontarelli — of Lisa Wise Consulting — talked for hours about the global fishing market, his working relationship with the San Diego fleet, port staff and other fish-related topics. Such as how — with the exception of tuna — it’s illegal to serve sushi in the U.S. that hasn’t been frozen first. Because freezing kills parasites.

He took a deep breath before asking what — in his opinion — is the big question surrounding commercial fishing’s decline in America.

“Why are we where we are now?” Pontarelli asked. “What is the disconnect between what’s going on in the water, what’s going on in the halls of Washington and Sacramento, and what’s going on in ports and harbor districts that have led to this disconnect?”

The consensus, according to Pontarelli and other experts interviewed, is over-regulation.  After federal law extended control of U.S. waters in 1976, several things happened in quick succession: fishermen fished, some fishing stocks showed a decline and that birthed regulation upon regulation. Combined with a growing environmental movement, Pontarelli said, that wreaked havoc on small fishing communities like San Diego.

He rattled off examples of regulations: The size of the pane of the net. The size of the twine. Where fishermen can fish. When they can fish. What time they can deploy their net. The need for federally trained observers to accompany certain fleets. The number of sanctuaries where fishing is prohibited. Gear restrictions on boats.

As a result, the number of employees in the commercial fishing industry in San Diego County declined from 232 in 1997 to 102 less than a decade later.

While the rules certainly struck a blow to communities like San Diego, they also worked: A 2009 study found California had one of the world’s “most spectacular rebuilding efforts” of fish stocks after establishing the restrictions, which have been in place for decades.

“They told us ‘take the short-term pain for the long-term gain,’” Halmay said. “Well, we’ve done the short term. Now we’re ready for the long-term gain.” Which, to him, means loosening the state and federal restrictions that have for so long hamstrung his industry.

Flournoy, who has represented Halmay and his colleagues in the past, agreed.

“What I don’t see happening yet,” Flournoy said, “is any desire on the part of either the state Fish and Wildlife Department or National Marine Fisheries Service to allow fishermen back into [certain] fisheries that have been rebuilt.”

Another major problem referenced by Pontarelli, Halmay and Flournoy is the lack of cooperation between regulators and fishermen: Government scientists analyze fish stocks from behind a desk without taking advantage of, or information from, guys like Halmay, who call fishing for urchin “weeding their garden.”

“Fisheries science is way, way away from being an exact science,” said Flournoy. And a big problem, he said, is a notion among researchers and agencies that data supplied by commercial fishermen has no veracity.

“My wife tells me all the time: I should look at the bright side and I should be a nicer person, and I tried,” Flournoy said. “But I get so frustrated by what I see happening.”

One thing Flournoy didn’t mention is there appear to be very few Flournoys left. Meaning, maritime attorneys who both understand and side with the fishermen’s plight enough to take on cheap or pro-bono legal work. Without them, the fishermen — who earned an average annual salary of around $40,000 in 2008 — lose a major ally in asserting their rights against landlords, developers, government agencies and each other.

Phil Harris fishing

Gathering dust

About eight years ago, the state and port contributed more than $550,000 to study the opportunities and constraints facing San Diego’s commercial fishing industry. The result identified 27 courses of action, included a step-by-step implementation plan and called for between $20 million to $32 million to be invested in Driscoll’s Wharf and Tuna Harbor by way of building demolitions, new floating docks, wave studies and more.

“You mean the study that sat on the shelf ever since it was finished?” said Flournoy, who was a part of the steering committee for the Commercial Fisheries Revitalization Plan published in 2010. “It was a good study,” he said.

The board of port commissioners officially adopted the plan in December of that year, much to the delight of Halmay, Falk, Flournoy, Pontarelli, and Tom and Cathy Driscoll — who worked together on the plan.

“But a plan is just a plan,” said Pontarelli, whose firm created it. “It takes people to mobilize it.”

Gaffen found the study during the course of his research for Seaport. He folded one of its main conclusions — that both Tuna Harbor and Driscoll’s Wharf must be maintained and upgraded to revive the commercial fishing industry — into his proposal. He called the revitalization plan’s findings “a goldmine.”

“In my 30 years of building things,” Gaffen said, “I can’t tell you how many projects are on the shelf collecting dust because the original sponsors or the group that maybe had the passion for moving it forward either moved on or got voted out of office or were replaced as commissioners. And I think it’s a tremendous waste.”

In October, Gaffen told inewsource he and the fishermen have agreed to update the plan, and have asked the port to be a part of that process.

Gaffen also confirmed he has dropped his plans for “mixed-use” at Tuna Harbor — meaning yachts and pleasure boats mixing with commercial fishing operations — at the insistence of the fishermen.

“As long as it’s not sitting empty,” Gaffen said of the harbor.

The old men got their way.

Phil Harris San Diego fisherman

More power than you would think

Randa Coniglio’s seventh-floor corner office at the Port of San Diego headquarters affords a commanding view of nearly everything under the agency’s jurisdiction — the South, Central and North embarcaderos, the shipyards in National City, the boats moored at Shelter and Harbor islands, and, on a clear day (maybe), Chula Vista and Imperial Beach. It’s a lot to take in.

Coniglio started at the port 16 years ago. She began inside the real estate department and rose to become the agency’s first female CEO. In October, she told inewsource she distinctly remembers piling on a bus as an elementary school student in San Diego to take yearly field trips to a downtown tuna cannery.

“And we always came home with a free can of tuna for mom,” Coniglio said.

Her agency lives by several core tenets, one of which is to promote commerce, navigation, recreation and fisheries. Despite that industry’s decline over recent years, Coniglio said, it’s still “very much part of the fabric of why we exist and what we do.”

It’s not difficult to find people who disagree with that statement: Flournoy, Falk, Halmay, Harris and former California state Sen. Denise Ducheny spoke to inewsource about decades of tussling with the port over the land and water relegated to the commercial fishing fleet. But Coniglio said the fishermen have more sway than “you would think.”

“They’re a really important stakeholder,” Coniglio said. “And when they show up at a Coastal Commission hearing, they’re listened to. So it’s really important to try to get their buy-in in any kind of big, comprehensive plans that we have and to make sure that they’re accommodated.”

Coniglio remembers a process she had to go through many years ago to accommodate the fishermen’s insistence on keeping a fish processing facility next to Ruocco Park, instead of demolishing it — which, according to Coniglio, “is why that building still stands.”

Halmay was one of those insisting.

A week prior to inewsource’s interview with Coniglio, Harris stood outside that same building clad in jeans and a ballcap. He had just left a public meeting of the Board of Port Commissioners inside.

Mega-developers, still technically in the running for the Central Embarcadero redevelopment, approached Harris to ask: Is he happy with Gaffen’s proposal? Does he have any concerns? How are the negotiations going?

Harris just smiled, stared off into the distance and muttered something vague.

A few minutes later, Flournoy showed up, throwing on his suit jacket as he walked from his car toward the entrance.

Harris told him the board pushed back the Seaport approval — a wasted trip.

“Figures,” Flournoy said, “Halmay’s out diving.”

“He’s got a sixth-sense about these things.”

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Oct 27 2016

Antarctica’s Ice Sheets Are Melting Faster — And From Beneath

This image taken in 2012 shows part of the Crosson Ice Shelf (center left) and Mount Murphy (foreground) in western Antarctica. Thwaites Ice Shelf lies beyond the highly fractured expanse of ice (center).This image taken in 2012 shows part of the Crosson Ice Shelf (center left) and Mount Murphy (foreground) on the western edge of Antarctica. Thwaites Ice Shelf lies beyond the highly fractured expanse of ice (center).


Antarctica’s ice has been melting, most likely because of a warming climate. Now, newly published research shows the rate of melting appears to be accelerating.

Antarctica is bigger than the U.S. and Mexico combined, and it’s covered in deep ice — more than a mile deep in some places. Most of the ice sits on bedrock, but it slowly flows off the continent’s edges. Along the western edge, giant glaciers creep down toward the sea. Where they meet the ocean, they form ice shelves.

The shelves are the specialty of Ala Khazendar, a geophysicist and polar expert at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

“You have this floating plate of ice being fed by the glaciers flowing from the interior of the continent,” he says, “while having ocean water underneath it.” He calls the shelves “the gates of Antarctica.”

Although the shelves float, they’re still connected to the mainland. The point at which the ice shelf is no longer supported by bedrock is called the “grounding line.”

A team from JPL has been studying that grounding line in several places along the edge of the West Antarctic ice sheet. They used radar to look beneath the ice. In particular, overflights have targeted ice shelves along the West Antarctic ice sheet known as the Amundsen Sea Embayment.

They’ve found that the ice is melting faster than they’ve ever seen. The researchers believe the cause is warm water circulating beneath the ice shelf. The melting was most pronounced from 2002 to 2009. (The influx of warmer water to the region stalled recently, and the rate of melting seems to have slowed somewhat.)

Khazendar says the more the bottom of the shelves melt, the more ice is exposed to warm water. “It becomes a runaway process,” he explains, “which makes it unstable.”

Where’s the warmer water coming from? The team, whose findings appear in the journal Nature Communications, points to global warming that’s heating up the oceans. There’s been a spate of research lately showing that Antarctic ice is melting faster than previously thought — and raising global sea levels.

Khazendar says the melting process appears to be irreversible. Polar scientists fear that at some point, the shelves will collapse and Antarctica’s glaciers will flow into the sea. As to whether and when that might happen?

“The simple answer is we don’t know. And that’s the scary part,” Khazendar says.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.

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