Mar 12 2018

West Coast waters returning to normal but salmon catches lagging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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


Originally posted: https://phys.org/news/2018-03-west-coast-salmon-lagging.html

Jan 31 2018

Washington Gov Urges Support for Sea Lion Control Bill in Congress

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

Copyright © 2018 Seafoodnews.com

Seafood News


SEAFOODNEWS.COM [TDN.COM] by Katy Sword – January 31, 2018

 

Gov. Jay Inslee is urging U.S. House representatives from Washington, Oregon and Idaho to support a bill penned by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, that seeks to reduce sea lion predation on at-risk fish populations, including salmon and steelhead.

Inslee sent a letter to the Northwest delegation asking for support Friday with the support of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter.

“Although several hundred million dollars are invested annually to rebuild these native fish runs, their health and sustainability is threatened unless Congress acts to enhance protection from increasing sea lion predation,” the letter reads. “It’s hard to imagine successful recovery of threatened and endangered fish populations with these high levels of interception by sea lions.”

Researchers estimate sea lions consume nearly 20 percent of the spring Chinook run, and a study by NOAA Fisheries found up to 45 percent of adult Chinook salmon disappear between Bonneville Dam and the estuary. Those loses are attributed to sea lion predation.

The bill, HR 2083, allows state, federal and tribal authorities to respond faster and more efficiently. Lethal removal is still limited in the bill.

“I am pleased to see bipartisan support for my bill continue to grow,” Herrera Beutler said in a statement. “As the governors stated in their letter, we must act to protect our native Columbia River salmon and steelhead. I am hopeful that the senators from Oregon and Washington will also join in supporting this bill to successfully move it through Congress.”

Inslee, Brown and Otter wrote that they hope the two chambers can come to an agreement on the bill and implement it with bipartisan support.

“No one wants to harm these great marine mammals, but effectively dealing with a small fraction of the healthy sea lion population is preferable to losing unique and irreplaceable species of salmon,” the letter concludes.


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Jan 24 2018

California Sea Lion Population Rebounded to New Highs

Sea lion numbers reflect conditions in California Current through the decades.
California Sea Lion Population Rebounded, Photo credit: Jeff Harris

California sea lions have fully rebounded under the protection of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), with their population on the West Coast reaching carrying capacity in 2008 before unusually warm ocean conditions reduced their numbers, according to the first comprehensive population assessment of the species.

The sea lion population is healthy and robust, the new research found, and its recovery over the past several decades reflects an important success for the MMPA. The landmark 1972 legislation recognized marine mammals as a central element of their ocean ecosystems, setting population goals based on levels that would contribute to the health and stability of those ecosystems.

The MMPA calls those levels the Optimum Sustainable Population (OSP), and provides options for states to take over management of species that have reached their OSP.

California Sea Lion Rookery, Photo credit: Sharon Melin
Adult male California sea lions are identified by their large size, dark brown fur and conspicuous crest on their forehead. Adult females are blonde to light brown and are smaller than the adult males. Pups are dark brown to black.

 

California sea lions have now reached those levels, according to the new assessment by scientists from NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Fisheries Science Center and Southwest Fisheries Science Center. They published the results of the long-term collaborative study today in the Journal of Wildlife Management.

“The population has basically come into balance with its environment,” said coauthor Sharon Melin, a research biologist at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center who has tracked sea lion numbers in Southern California’s Channel Islands for years. “The marine environment is always changing, and their population is at a point where it responds very quickly to changes in the environment.”

California Sea Lion Rookery, Photo credit: Jeff Harris
California sea lion frolicking near the rookery at San Miguel Island, California.

Scientists combined the results of sea lion pup counts in the Channel Islands, aerial surveys of sea lion rookeries, survival rates and other information to reconstruct the growth of the sea lion population from 1975 to 2014. They gained enough insight into the dynamics of the population to fill in gaps from a few years with little data.

Video: California Sea Lion Rookery on San Miguel Island

Market hunting, bounties, pollutants such as DDT and other forces depressed sea lion numbers in the middle of the last century. The new study found that the species then rose from less than 90,000 animals in 1975 to an estimated 281,450 in 2008, which was roughly the carrying capacity for sea lions in the California Current Ecosystem at that time. It then fluctuated around that level, reaching a high of 306,220 in 2012 before declining below the carrying capacity in the years since as ocean conditions changed.

Such a long-term reconstruction of the sea lion population has never been done before, said Robert DeLong, leader of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s California Current Ecosystems Program and a coauthor of the new research.

California Sea Lion Graphic

California Sea Lion Graphic

The researchers found sea lion numbers very sensitive to environmental changes, especially changes in ocean temperatures that affect their prey. Their models based on past population shifts predict that an increase of 1 degree C in sea surface temperature off the West Coast will reduce sea lion population growth to zero, while an increase of 2 degrees will lead to a 7 percent decline in the population.
“When the California Current is not productive, they respond pretty fast and dramatically,” Melin said. “They’re out there in the ocean sampling it all the time. That makes them a very powerful indicator of what’s happening in the marine environment.”

Marine conditions since 2012 have illustrated that. An unusual marine heat wave off the West Coast known as “the blob” combined with an El Niño climate pattern reduced pup production and survival, with thousands of malnourished pups stranding on Southern California beaches. NOAA Fisheries declared the elevated number of deaths an Unusual Mortality Event in 2013.

The sea lion population dropped to just over 250,000 in 2013 and 2014.

“This is not just a story about continued growth of the population,” DeLong said. “These last several years have brought new environmental stresses to the California Current, and we’ve seen that reflected by the sea lions.”

Understanding the relationship between sea lion numbers and the environment can help scientists detect signals of coming change. Wildlife managers can then use that information to anticipate and prepare for shifts in the ecosystem and its inhabitants.

“It helps us to understand the factors driving this population, because we can incorporate them into management decisions,” said Chris Yates, Assistant Regional Administrator for Protected Resources in NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region.

The general recovery of sea lion numbers has had other consequences on the West Coast, including conflicts with people over beach access where sea lions haul out and concern about sea lion predation on threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead in the Northwest. NOAA Fisheries has authorized Oregon, Washington and Idaho to remove individually identifiable sea lions near the Columbia River’s Bonneville Dam that have been spotted repeatedly preying on fish protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The species maintained OSP levels even when small numbers of adult males were being removed to protect salmon runs in the Columbia River and climate events were depressing growth. That suggests that the removal of a limited number of sea lions in such programs is unlikely to affect the population as a whole, Melin said.

She stressed the value of long-term data in understanding the dynamics of the population. “If we had looked only at the last five years, we would have thought sea lions were in a tailspin,” she said. “Because we know the history of the population, we can put the recent decline in perspective.”

Breeding group with branded females, Photo credit: Sharon Melin
Territorial adult male California sea lion (large dark brown animal) with his group of adult females (large blonde animals) and their newborn pups (small black animals) at San Miguel Island, California. Five of the females with brands are part of the survival and reproductive studies.


Read the original post: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/

Jan 24 2018

A quarter million?! California sea lion population has tripled, new study finds

Sea lions bask in the winter sun Monday afternoon, Dec. 14, 2015, at Pier 39 in San Francisco, Calif. A research study published in this week’s issue of the journal Science reports an increase in the number of the mammals sickened by domoic acid, a toxin produced by naturally occurring marine algae. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

The West Coast’s population of California sea lions — the playful marine animals that delight tourists on the Santa Cruz waterfront and San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf while competing with salmon fishermen for valuable catches — has tripled in the past 40 years to more than 250,000.

In a study released Wednesday, federal biologists say strict environmental laws to protect marine mammals have worked so well that California sea lions have become the first marine mammal that lives along the entire West Coast to recover to its natural carrying capacity. That’s the maximum population size a species can reach based on an area’s available food.

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“There have been ups and downs, but generally the trend has been upward,” said Sharon Melin, a biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle.

In 1972, with the public alarmed that the hunting of whales and other animals was threatening to drive some species to extinction, President Richard Nixon signed the Marine Mammal Protection Act. One of the landmark environmental laws of the 20th century, the law cleared Congress on an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote that would likely be impossible today. The U.S. Senate passed it 88-2 and the House of Representatives 362-10. The law brought sweeping changes, making it illegal to hunt, kill, injure or harass any marine mammal, including whales, seals, dolphins and sea otters.

No longer hunted for their dense fur, sea otters have risen in number, and California gray whales — which were being killed from a whaling station in Richmond for Kal-Kan dog food as recently as 1972 — have bounced back so much that they have been removed from the federal Endangered Species list.

But California sea lions — which range from Mexico to Alaska — have exploded the most in number, jumping from an estimated 88,924 in 1975 to 257,606 in 2014, according to the new NOAA study.

But all the sea lions have caused problems.

They have broken docks and sunk boats at marinas. They have vexed salmon fishermen, following their boats and eating valuable fish off their lines.

“With some fishing days seeing as few as five to 10 fish, a commercial fisherman can still make money with 10 fish if they are $10 per pound, but if you’re losing them to sea lions that can have a major effect,” said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association in San Francisco.

The water boils with activity as sea lions, birds, dolphins and humpback whales feed on schools of anchovies less than a mile outside of the Moss Landing, Calif., in the Monterey Bay on Aug. 10, 2014. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

In December, three swimmers at Aquatic Park Cove in San Francisco suffered sea lion bites, causing puncture wounds on their legs and arms that sent them to the hospital. The National Park Service closed the cove for a week, then reopened it Dec. 20, only to have another swimmer bitten last week. The area, popular with distance swimmers in San Francisco Bay, is now open, but posted with warning signs.

“Biting is an unusual activity,” said Lynn Cullivan, a spokesman for the National Park Service. “Swimmers are still seeing animals out there, but they aren’t being aggressive. We are telling people to stay toward the shore and swim with a buddy.”

Sea lions were once shot in large numbers. From 1900 until the early 1930s, Oregon paid a bounty of up to $10 per dead sea lion to make it harder for them to compete with commercial fishermen. Washington state paid $5 per dead sea lion in the 1950s, causing thousands to be killed. Until the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972, fishermen regularly shot them off the California coast.

NOAA’s Melin noted that federal lawmakers have amended the act to allow the killing of a few California sea lions that have eaten large numbers of endangered salmon. In 2008, federal officials gave a permit to Washington, Oregon and Idaho to kill about 80 sea lions a year that were congregating at the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, eating large numbers of endangered spring run chinook salmon. The permit, which caused an outcry among animal welfare groups, calls for sea lions that are repeat offenders to be branded with a mark. Then, if they continue to eat the fish, they’re trapped and euthanized.

“It is kind of a garbage-can bear situation where animals learn the behavior,” Melin said. “If you can keep animals from learning it, then they don’t go in there. It’s not a population level problem; it’s an individual problem.”

The reason that California sea lions have rebounded faster than other West Coast species is that they have a wide variety of prey they eat, including squid, herring, sardines, mackerel and salmon, she said.

But the sea lions are vulnerable to changing water temperatures. During recent El Niño winters, when warm water caused some fish species to move hundreds of miles from their normal habitats, California sea lion populations dipped, and coastal residents reported malnourished pups along the shoreline.

The population peaked in 2012 at 306,000. If climate change causes the ocean to warm another 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, that could cause their population growth to stop. And if the temperatures rise at twice that amount, the population would fall by up to 7 percent a year, the NOAA study found.

For now, experts say, the sea lion rebound is a good sign that the Pacific Ocean is fairly healthy.

“This is the day that people who wrote these laws really envisioned,” said Jerry Moxley, a research scientist with the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “It’s a grand success. It’s something we can all celebrate as part of our shared heritage.”


Read the original post: https://www.mercurynews.com/

Nov 25 2017

Pacific Council Gives Preliminary Nod to Two Coastal Sardine and Other Pelagic Species Projects

November 22, 2017 — SEAFOOD NEWS — The Pacific Fishery Management Council last week approved for public review two exempted fishing permits that should help improve coastal pelagic species stock assessments.

Both projects would add more survey work to nearshore areas. Fishermen have identified schools of sardines, in particular, close to shore but accessing them for survey work has been a problem because the sardine season has been closed and NOAA ships cannot access shallow areas. Additionally, both proposals would build on the use of industry knowledge.

The California Wetfish Producers Association research project intends to sample CPS schools in the southern California Bight using aerial spotter pilots with camera systems to fly surveys close to shore and photo-document schools. At the same time, qualified purse seine vessels would capture a subset of the schools identified in the photographs as “point sets.” This would provide a way to address issues identified in the aerial survey methodology review. The survey period is scheduled for late August 2018.

According to the CWPA application, all fish captured, including sardines, would be processed and sold by participating processors, and fishermen will be paid for their catches at the usual rates. Aside from the sale of fish, processors would not be compensated for the extra labor they will incur in weighing and fully sorting each school individually and documenting species composition by school, rather than the normal procedure of offloading the entire catch and documenting by load.

“We strongly support these EFP projects to improve the accuracy of stock assessments. It should be noted that 70 percent or more of the CPS harvest in California occurs in the area inshore of NOAA acoustic surveys,” CWPA Executive Director Diane Pleschner-Steele said. “We are grateful to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Southwest Fishery Science Center for their help and recognition that surveying the nearshore is a high priority research and data need.”

Pacific Seafood’s Mike Okoniewski presented the Westport, Wash.-based West Coast Pelagic Conservation Group project to both the Council and the Scientific and Statistical Committee. The project is designed to provide supplementary data collection and additional sampling techniques for areas nearshore of the proposed 2018 NOAA/Southwest Fisheries Science Center acoustic-trawl survey, according to the group’s application. This research off of Washington and Oregon would continue and expand the 2017 collaborative effort in 2018 so that samples of CPS for species composition and individual fish metrics may be obtained through purse seine operations, according to Council documents.

Sampling would be done at the same general time and nearshore areas as the NOAA survey, the applicants stated. The coastal pelagic species (CPS) that will be retained in small amounts (e.g. 5kg to 25kg) for sampling will be dip-netted sardines, anchovies, and mackerel(s). The sample fish will be frozen and retained for identification and biological measurements to be performed by NOAA.

But unlike the southern EFP, no fish will be harvested for commercial purposes. Wrapped schools would be released alive, the applicants said.

“This collaboration will continue to support the already commendable efforts of the scientists, balancing it with industry knowledge of the fishing grounds,” Okoniewski said.

Both EFPs will add to current survey and stock assessment work, providing more robust data for the fisheries in the future. The Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee and Coastal Pelagics Species Management Team supported the EFPs and suggested minor technical changes to each; both applicants plan to incorporate those suggestions prior to the Council’s and NMFS’ final approval in early 2018.

“The CPSMT recognizes the value of the EFP research proposed by both groups to improve CPS stock assessments by obtaining data that has not been attainable by other means,” the CPS Management Team said in its statement.

The Coastal Pelagic Species Advisory Subpanel also supported the projects. “[We are] encouraged that forward progress is now being made to develop effective survey methods for the nearshore area,” the panel said in its statement. “The CPSAS thanks CWPA, WCPCG and especially the SWFSC for acknowledging the data gaps in current surveys and helping to provide support and funding for cooperative surveys that will hopefully improve the accuracy of future CPS stock assessments.”


This story originally appeared on Seafoodnews.com, a subscription site. It is reprinted with permission.

Nov 25 2017

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Originally published: http://www.opb.org/news/article/salmon-haul-seals-sea-lions-killer-whales/

Nov 20 2017

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

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

By Alastair Bland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Originally published: http://e360.yale.edu/

Nov 9 2017

Several hundred tons of squid offloaded in Ventura

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Read original post: http://www.vcstar.com/

Nov 3 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Originally posted: https://www.washingtonpost.com/

Oct 31 2017

‘Rule of Thumb’ Management Approach Is Wrong For Forage Fish, Dr. Ray Hilborn Tells U.S. Senate

Saving Seafood interviews Dr. Ray Hilborn about forage fish management ahead of his testimony before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard.

 

WASHINGTON (Saving Seafood) – October 31, 2017 – At a hearing of the U.S. Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard last week, respected fisheries scientist Dr. Ray Hilborn testified that fisheries managers “can do better than a one-size-fits-all” approach to managing forage fish. He also said there was “no empirical evidence to support the idea that the abundance of forage fish affects their predators.”

Dr. Hilborn’s comments came in response to questioning from Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) about whether fisheries managers should manage forage fish according to a “rule of thumb” approach, where fisheries are managed according to a set of broad ecological and management principals, or a “case-by-case” approach, where management is guided by more species-specific information.

Dr. Hilborn, a professor at the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, was part of a team of top fisheries scientists that recently examined these issues, as well as what effects fishing for forage fish species had on predator species. Their research indicated that previous studies, like a 2012 report from the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force, may have overestimated the strength of the predator-prey relationship.

Before the hearing, Dr. Hilborn spoke with Saving Seafood about his research and his message for lawmakers.

“It’s very clear that there really are no applicable rules of thumb, that every system is independent [and] behaves differently, and we need to have the rules for each individual forage fish fishery determined by looking at the specifics of that case,” Dr. Hilborn told Saving Seafood.

He also discussed his team’s finding that forage fish abundance has little impact on their predators. They looked at nearly all U.S. forage fish fisheries, including the California Current system and Atlantic menhaden, and concluded that predator species generally pursue other food sources when the abundance of any one forage species is low.

“The predators seem to go up or down largely independent of the abundance of forage fish,” Dr. Hilborn said, adding, “For Atlantic menhaden, for their major predators, the fishery has reasonably little impact on the food that’s available to them.”

Another key message Dr. Hilborn had for the Subcommittee was that fisheries managers must determine what they want to accomplish so that scientists can advise them accordingly.

“The time has come to refocus our fisheries policy on what we actually want to achieve because rebuilding is only a means to an end,” Dr. Hilborn told Saving Seafood. “Do we want to maximize the economic value of our fisheries? Do we want to maximize jobs? Do we want to maximize food production?”

In his testimony, Dr. Hilborn praised U.S. fisheries policy that has “led to rebuilding of fish stocks and some of the most successful fisheries in the world.” He attributed this success to a variety of factors, including funding of NOAA, regionalizing fisheries management decisions, and requiring managers to follow science advice. As a result, overfishing should no longer be the top priority for fisheries managers, he testified.

“The major threats to U.S. fish stock and marine ecosystem biodiversity are now ocean acidification, warming temperatures, degraded coastal habitats, exotic species, land based run off, and pollution,” Dr. Hilborn testified. “Overfishing remains a concern for a limited number of stocks but should not continue to be the most important concern for U.S. federal fisheries policy.”

The hearing was the latest in a series examining reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the nation’s supreme fisheries law. It was organized by subcommittee chairman Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and focused on fisheries science.


Originally posted: Saving Seafood Inc.