Nov 17 2021

Ahead of Magnuson-Stevens Act Hearing, Studies Question Need for Additional Forage Fish Restrictions

November 16, 2021 — Editor’s note: The following was released ahead of today’s House subcommittee hearing on the Forage Fish Conservation Act. Watch the full hearing here.


Today, the House Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Water Oceans and Wildlife will hold a hearing on H.R. 5770, the Forage Fish Conservation Act, which would impose new rules on how fisheries managers regulate certain small, schooling, short-lived, pelagic fish and invertebrates that serve as food sources for larger predator species. Two recent studies have raised questions about the need for additional restrictions, and point to existing provisions in the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) that are already ensuring the sustainability of “forage fish” and the species that depend on them.

In addition to the Forage Fish Conservation Act, the subcommittee will consider two bills that would reauthorize and amend the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA).  H.R. 4690 is the Democratic Majority’s re-authorization of MSA, sponsored by Subcommittee Chair Jared Huffman (D-California) and H.R. 59, sponsored by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska).

Proponents of the Forage Fish Act point to the need to keep forage fish populations at extra-precautionary levels, above existing overfishing limits, so that they can better provide for the needs of predator species. But a study released this summer in the journal Conservation Biology, and funded by the Science Center for Marine Fisheries (SCEMFIS), found that, for many predator species, managing forage species at these levels are unlikely to bring additional conservation or environmental benefits. This is especially true in already well-managed and well-monitored fisheries, such as those in the U.S. managed under the existing Magnuson-Stevens Act.

“Management of forage fish populations should be based on data that are specific to that forage fish, and to their predators,” said Dr. Olaf Jensen of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the study’s authors. “When there aren’t sufficient data to conduct a population-specific analysis, it’s reasonable to manage forage fish populations for maximum sustainable yield, as we would other fish populations under the Magnuson-Stevens Act.”

Dr. Jensen and his co-author Dr. Chris Free of the University of California Santa Barbara discuss the results of the paper at greater length in a video released earlier this year. They are joined by scientists Dr. Doug Butterworthof the University of Cape Town, and Dr. Éva Plagányi of CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, who offer their independent assessment of the study and their own conclusions on its findings.

To reach these conclusions, the study examined decades worth of abundance data for 45 different predator species and their prey, and found that only 13 percent of them showed any positive impact from having additional, higher levels of forage. Instead, it found that other environmental factors have a far greater influence.

The results of the study reinforce the conclusions of an earlier 2017 study published in Fisheries Research, which found that the fishing of forage fish species had a much smaller impact than previous studies had indicated, and that forage fish were best managed on a case-by-case basis, rather than on broad rules applied across species.

Original post:

Jul 22 2021

California Current Fish Surveys Resume with 3-Month Assessment of Sardine, Anchovy, and Mackerel

NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker, a fisheries survey vessel, departed San DIego in early July to assess coastal pelagic species such as sardine and anchovy. Credit: Paul Hillman/NOAA Fisheries


NOAA Fisheries has begun an ambitious assessment of small pelagic fish reaching from the Canadian border to the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, in cooperation with Mexico, which will help determine how many fish can be caught off the West Coast.

The COVID-19 pandemic had idled surveys for sardine, anchovy, and other species of small coastal pelagic species (CPS) off the West Coast since 2019. Small pelagic species are important ecologically and provide food for larger fish, such as tunas. The new assessment resumes regular CPS  surveys by collecting data from NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker, commercial fishing vessels equipped with acoustic technology, and autonomous Saildrones.

The Lasker left San Diego on July 6, becoming the centerpiece of the 3-month survey. It will cover thousands of miles in U.S., and Mexican waters. NOAA Fisheries scientists are coordinating efforts with federal fisheries agencies in Mexico and Canada, providing a science foundation for future decisions on fishing levels and seasons.

“Organizing and coordinating this survey was a tremendous feat of collaboration,” said Kristen Koch, Director of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, which is leading the survey. “Collecting data across all three countries will provide a valuable foundation for management of these important transboundary species.”

The Lasker will survey coastal pelagic fish along transects in the California Current, quantifying the fish with echosounders. These instruments include an advanced new model that can for the first time also measure the velocities of fish as they swim relative to the ship. The measurements will help to understand whether and how fish respond to survey vessels and if those reactions affect the quality of data on the numbers and distributions of fish.

Combined Vessels Extend Reach

The fishing industry vessels Lisa Marie and Long Beach Carnage will join the survey effort in waters closer to shore and shallower than Lasker can sample. This collaboration with the fishing industry expands sampling nearer the shore, more fully capturing the fish present in shallower waters. Meanwhile, autonomous Saildrones will improve the survey precision and accuracy by increasing sampling in areas with higher fish abundance and allow Lasker to cover a larger area.

“We’re making use of a combination of resources in ways that should yield complementary data and increase the information about seven populations of five fish species,” said David Demer, Advanced Survey Technology Program Lead at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center and Chief Scientist of the survey.

Anchovy are among the pelagic fish species the survey is assessing off the West Coast. Credit: Shutterstock

After surveying U.S. waters, Lasker for the first time will continue south to cover waters around the Baja California Peninsula in Mexico. Where Lasker concludes sampling, the Mexican research vessel Dr. Jorge Carranza Fraser will sample the Pacific and Gulf of California coasts of the Baja Peninsula. The two ships will use the same protocols so their data can be combined into more comprehensive analyses. Scientists from Mexico’s national fishery agency, the National Institute of Fisheries and Aquaculture, or INAPESCA, will join Lasker to foster cross-training and collaborations.

Dr. Pablo Roberto Arenas Fuentes, General Director of INAPESCA, highlighted that not since the late 1980s has such a combined international effort been assembled. He said this joint survey, using the same methodologies and data analysis between nations, truly represents something never done before on the scale of the California Current.

“The historic collaboration between INAPESCA and NOAA Fisheries represents the first time we will combine research methods to focus acoustic evaluation on the biomass of small pelagic fish,” he said. “This will generate continuous biological and environmental data along one of the most important coastal ecosystems of the North American continent.”

The survey will examine the abundance and distribution of the three subpopulations of Pacific sardine in the California Current, two of which are potentially fished by the United States and Mexico. The northern subpopulation historically occurred largely in Canadian and U.S. waters but declined to such low levels in recent years that the fisheries have been closed since 2015.

Less is known about another subpopulation that principally occupies waters off Mexico and Southern California. U.S. fishermen have shown interest in recent reports of increases in the proportion of the subpopulation in U.S. waters. The survey’s new reach into Mexico and the advanced acoustic technology aboard the vessels should provide more complete information on the distribution of the subpopulation, Koch said.

“The joint analysis will improve our knowledge of the distribution and abundance of these species at the regional level, which will support important fisheries,” said Dr. Pablo Arenas.

Survey Also Includes Anchovy and Mackerel

Additional information will also serve to assess the total abundance and extent of northern anchovy, and the jack and Pacific mackerel populations in the survey area. Anchovy have been extremely abundant in the California Current in recent years. Pelagic fish are known for boom-bust fluctuations in their populations.

A map outlines the survey transects for the vessels surveying small coastal pelagic species. Some of the northernmost transects were canceled but otherwise the solid lines show the course of the survey, with the magenta lines showing nearshore transects and blue lines showing the course of Saildrones. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

“Integrated surveys, such as this one, are essential in helping us understand how these populations change and shift over time so we can ensure that fisheries are sustainable,” said Josh Lindsay, fisheries biologist with NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region.

The Lasker, the Fraser, Saildrones, and the industry vessels all use advanced echosounders emitting sound waves to detect and map fish schools. Each of the crewed vessels then deploy either trawl or purse-seine nets to catch samples of the fish. The net catches identify the species of fish that reflect sound in each area, and their lengths, ages, and reproductive status.

In 2020, NOAA Fisheries’ Saltonstall-Kennedy Competitive Grants Program awarded funding to Ocean Gold Seafoods to help pay for the Lisa Marie to participate in the survey and provide more complete data. “The Coastal Pelagic Species industry feels strongly that it has a stake in robust fisheries management of this complex and dynamic assemblage, which can only be achieved with extensive data collection efforts,” industry supporters wrote in their application for the funding.

The cooperative research that combines NOAA Fisheries science and insight from fishermen provides long-term benefits for both. It is an area of increasing focus for NOAA Fisheries.

“The immense scale and scope of the survey is really significant,” said Joel Van Noord, a biologist with the California Wetfish Producers Association who will join the survey aboard Long Beach Carnage. He said the fishing fleet benefits from high-quality data on fish populations that help ensure they are managed sustainably, providing continuing benefits to fishing communities and the marine ecosystem.

Original post:

Jul 22 2021

Oceana sues NMFS over California sardine management

Alleging that U.S. West Coast fisheries managers are repeating mistakes of the past half-century, the environmental group Oceana is suing NMFS over its approval of the latest sardine management plan and demanding more action to rebuild the stock.

“Despite these hard lessons, NMFS repeats these management failures in Amendment 18,” states the group’s complaint, filed by the legal group Earthjustice on 14 July in the U.S. District Court for Northern California, naming U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, NOAA, and the fisheries agency.

Oceana claims NMFS should not have approved the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s amendment to the coastal pelagic species management plan, allowing managers to “chose a suite of already disproven, status-quo management measures that will keep this population at levels too low to support either the ecosystem or the primary fishery that relies on sardine for half a century or more.”

“Basically, we’re dealing with a rebuilding plan that’s not designed to rebuild,” said Geoff Shester, senior scientist and California campaign director for Oceana.

Environmental activists, managers, and fishermen have long been at odds over the U.S. sardine fishery, foundation of the historic California cannery industry that collapsed in the 1950s and stayed closed until 1974. Sardines were found in 2019 to be overfished, but fishing advocates say offshore surveys are missing large amounts of fish.

Managers now recognize that the sardine stock size is primarily driven by environmental factors, and that there is inadequacy of surveys used in assessments, according to Diane Pleschner-Steele, executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association.

“Oceana just refuses to acknowledge the reality,” Pleschner-Steele said. “We’ve been arguing for years that the surveys don’t capture the [accurate number] of fish.”

The accusation of “status quo is misrepresenting management,” Pleschner-Steele said. The council and NMFS need flexibility to improve surveys and assessments, monitor environmental factors, and consider the fishing community needs with “the only reasonable rebuilding plan,” she said.

“It’s a balancing act between the biology of the fish and the well-being of the fishing community,” she said.

Managers have been using models based on northern and southern sardine stocks and linking most of the allowable biological catch to the northern stock, said Pleschner-Steele. But she said newer analysis has shown virtually all catches come from the southern stock, which also fuels a robust live-bait fishery supplying the recreational sector.

Shester said the fishery may account for 50 percent or more of the catch and needs a closer look, too. Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, fisheries managers trying to guide a recovery gave wide allowances to the bait fishery, and “that was recognized as a big mistake,” he said.

There’s no question that sardine levels are driven by environmental conditions, but “the question is what does fishing do on top of that?” Shester said. “When the [sardines] move into these low levels, that’s not sustainable.”

Efforts to build cooperative surveys were sidetracked in 2020 with COVID-19, but work is underway again with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on acoustic trawl and aerial surveys, said Pleschner-Steele. Work so far this year has found large numbers of fish, she said.

“I’m hoping we’ll be coming to an update of the stock assessment by the end of the year,” she said, that could get the fishery “out of overfished jail.”

Original post:

Reporting by Kirk Moore

Photo courtesy of NOAA

Jul 7 2021

New Study: Precautionary Catch Limits on Forage Fish Unlikely to Benefit Predators


July 6, 2021 — The following was released by the Science Center for Marine Fisheries:

A newly released study finds that, for many predator species, extra-precautionary management of forage fish is unlikely to bring additional benefits. How to manage forage fish sustainably, both by themselves and for the rest of the ecosystem, has become a much-discussed topic in fisheries management, with regulators of several forage fisheries beginning to adopt precautionary strategies on the premise that they will better provide for the needs of predator species including seabirds, marine mammals, and fish.

The study, from Drs. Chris Free of the University of California-Santa Barbara, Olaf Jensen of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Ray Hilborn of the University of Washington, examines decades of historical abundance data of both forage species and their predators, and uses mathematical models to determine to what extent predator populations benefited from increasing abundance of their forage fish prey. Of the 45 predator populations examined, only 6, or 13 percent, were positively influenced by extra forage.

“Our work suggests that the sustainable limits that we already employ are sufficient for maintaining forage fish abundance above the thresholds that are necessary for their predators,” said Dr. Free. “Predators are highly mobile, they have high diet flexibility, and they can go and look for forage fish in places where they’re doing well, switch species for species that are doing well, and have often evolved to breed in places where there’s high and stable forage fish abundance.”

The results have important implications for how strictly to manage forage fisheries. The study finds that, at least in forage fisheries that are already being well managed and are closely monitored, adopting additional precautionary measures will “rarely” provide any additional benefits to predator population growth. However, fishery managers who deal with less well-monitored fisheries may consider more precautionary strategies.

“In places of the world where we already have really strong, very effective fisheries management, additional limitations on forage fish catch are not likely to benefit their predators,” said Dr. Free.

“Management of forage fish populations should be based on data that are specific to that forage fish, and to their predators,” said Dr. Jensen. “When there aren’t sufficient data to conduct a population-specific analysis, it’s reasonable to manage forage fish populations for maximum sustainable yield, as we would other fish populations under the Magnuson-Stevens Act.”

According to the models used in the study, other environmental factors, such as water temperature, are more likely to influence predator populations. These results are consistent with previous efforts to examine the relationship between predator and prey populations.

“What we’ve done here that’s different from previous analyses is try to control for some of the other factors that influence predator population dynamics,” said Dr. Jensen. “In this case, we included in the models a covariate representing ocean temperature.”

SCEMFIS produced a video of the authors and independent experts discussing the results of the paper. Watch it here.

SCEMFIS utilizes academic and fisheries resources to address urgent scientific problems limiting sustainable fisheries. SCEMFIS develops methods, analytical and survey tools, datasets, and analytical approaches to improve sustainability of fisheries and reduce uncertainty in biomass estimates. SCEMFIS university partners, University of Southern Mississippi (lead institution), and Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary, are the academic sites. Collaborating scientists who provide specific expertise in finfish, shellfish, and marine mammal research, come from a wide range of academic institutions including Old Dominion University, Rutgers University, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, University of Maryland, and University of Rhode Island.

The need for the diverse services that SCEMFIS can provide to industry continues to grow, which has prompted a steady increase in the number of fishing industry partners. These services include immediate access to science expertise for stock assessment issues, rapid response to research priorities, and representation on stock assessment working groups. Targeted research leads to improvements in data collection, survey design, analytical tools, assessment models, and other needs to reduce uncertainty in stock status and improve reference point goals.

Original post: Saving Seafood | Sign up for our Daily News Updates from Saving Seafood.

Jun 6 2021

Impacts of fishing forage fish on the fish that feed on forage fish

Small pelagic fish that school in open water—think sardines or anchovies, are eaten by all kinds of predators. Seabirds, marine mammals, and bigger fish feed on these small pelagics giving them the moniker “forage fish.”

Forage fish support several fisheries, particularly “reduction fisheries,” where fish are caught and reduced into fishmeal and fish oil for livestock and aquaculture. The anchoveta fishery off the coast of South America is the largest in the world, and nearly all catch is reduced. From a food production perspective, reduction fisheries turn fish that humans don’t like to eat into other kinds of meat that humans do. That isn’t to say forage fish aren’t fished for human consumption—they are and have one of the lowest carbon footprints of any food, but the majority of catch is reduced. Eat more anchovies and sardines, people!

However, forage fish also play a foundational role in many ocean ecosystems. They buoy the diets of marine birds and mammals like whales, puffins, albatross, and other vulnerable species while also indirectly supporting valuable fisheries, e.g., salmon and tuna feed on forage fish. Their role in the food chain has led to some calls to limit forage fish fisheries to boost the populations of their higher-value predators. This makes intuitive sense, but new research out this week by Free et al. shows it’s more complicated than simply “more prey, more predators.”


Forage fish and a predator | Shutterstock


A brief history of forage fish population modeling

In 2012, a prominent forage fish paper was published that advised a highly precautionary approach to commercial fishing of forage fish. They suggested that to be as conservative as possible, even fisheries currently considered well-managed should be reduced by 50% to enhance and maintain predator populations. It kicked off a decade of forage fish population modeling and scientific discussion. The major criticism of the 2012 paper was that the ecosystem model used in the paper assumed that commercial fishing had an outsized impact on forage fish populations and did not account for ocean conditions. However, forage fish populations are highly sensitive to environmental conditions. For example, long before humans were fishing them, the Pacific Sardine went through periods of significant population boom and bust. This environmental sensitivity complicates the understanding of fishing impact, especially because the predators eat far more forage fish than are taken via fishing. Surly overfishing is bad, but would further reducing fishing below sustainable levels benefit the broader ecosystem?

Scientists did more research. In 2017, a paper by Hilborn et al. showed little correlation between forage fish populations and their predators. The authors argued that if forage fish have natural boom and bust cycles, their predators should have the resilience to find other kinds of prey in times of bust (and indeed, most marine predators that forage on small pelagic fish have a broad diet and are highly mobile). Hilborn et al. challenged the 2012 paper’s recommendations for a highly precautionary approach to forage fish fisheries. However, it was still a relatively simple analysis—the authors used population data to show correlations (or the lack thereof) between the abundance of forage fish and changes in their predator populations. They found that just 5 of the 50 predators examined in that study showed a positive correlation to forage fish population.

The 2017 paper showed correlation but not causality—the paper published this week gets closer to causality by controlling for possible confounding factors, namely by using a predator dynamics model that accounted for forage fish boom and bust cycles. This hadn’t been in previous models. Further, the 2017 paper only looked at U.S. ecosystems; this paper included ecosystems in Europe, South Africa, and the Humboldt Current off South America, giving a more global view of forage fish ecosystem dynamics.

The updated model, results, and management suggestions

The Free et al. paper used a model of intermediate complexity, a step up from single-species correlational models, but not quite on the level of a highly complex ecosystem model. There’s good reason for that—the highly complex ecosystem models are too broad to look at specific predator/prey dynamics and seldom include enough taxonomic resolution. The intermediate complexity was about as advanced as they could go to look at particular predator/prey interactions.

The researchers state in the paper that the model “had high power to detect influence of forage fish on predators.“

They ran the model to examine 45 different predators that relied on forage fish for at least 20% of their diet and had similar findings to the 2017 paper—few significant relationships between forage fish abundance and predator abundance.

Our results indicate that forage fish abundance rarely impacts predator productivity, which suggests that the extra-precautionary management of forage fish would rarely achieve the intended benefits for marine predator populations.

The authors gave several real-life case studies of resilient marine predators that support their results. For example, great skuas in the North Sea have switched prey in response to the overfishing of sand eel and have not seen population declines. Little penguins in southeast Australia also adapt well. They will change forage locations based on previous years’ catch rates and communicate to other penguins about it. However, compared to marine mammals and predatory fish, seabirds were less resilient overall.

Though the analysis showed few cases of forage fish abundance affecting predator abundance, there are some important exceptions to note: Local populations can matter, especially around breeding grounds. Though animals generally choose breeding grounds because of their resilience—overfishing in those areas was shown to have the most harmful effects on predator abundance.

There was one other finding worthy of pause: in some cases, when forage fish populations went up, predatory fish populations went down. A strange result for sure—extra protection of forage fish could reduce predatory fish populations. It is thought that forage fish feed on the planktonic juveniles of the predatory fish, reducing the amount that make it to adulthood.

Marine predators need protection, but reducing forage fish fishing isn’t the answer

Fishing can undoubtedly impact high-trophic level animals, but fishing less low-trophic level fish doesn’t seem to have the intended conservation effect. Instead, the authors offer three better suggestions to protect marine predators:

  1. Reduce bycatch and incidental mortality, a serious threat to both seabirds and marine mammals, through modifications to fishing gear or dynamic ocean management.
  2. Protect breeding sites by restoring habitat, removing invasives, and reducing human disturbance.
  3. Restrict fishing close to breeding sites.

Original post:

Jun 1 2021

Ray Hilborn: MPAs aren’t the answer to ocean biodiversity, sustainability efforts

A global movement to create additional marine protected areas (MPAs) has been steadily gaining traction in recent years, with the initiative picking up milestone victories in the past few months.

In January, newly inaugurated U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order committing to a “30 by 30” goal, whereby the United States would designated 30 percent of its land and territorial waters to conservation by the year 2030. The move heightened the potential that MPAs will be used as a tool to tackle climate change.

A recent study supports the hypothesis that MPAs could be beneficial for climate change, maintaining biodiversity, and boosting the yield of fisheries. According to the study, strongly protecting at least 30 percent of the ocean – primarily in the 200-mile exclusive economic zones of coastal nations – would result in substantial environmental and commercial benefits.

But University of Washington Professor of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences Ray Hilborn told SeafoodSource that the study – and the concept of MPAs – are both flawed. The study, he said, made some assumptions and contains inconsistencies that effectively invalidate the conclusions it reached.

“It’s a classic example of where the peer-review process totally failed to identify inconsistencies, bizarre assumptions, and improper conclusions,” Hilborn said.

The study, he said, made different assumptions on different types of fishing effort.

“It happens that each of the assumptions they made about fishing effort is the one that makes MPAs look better,” he said.

A key example, Hilborn said, is how the study approaches trawling. The study made biodiversity calculations based on fishing effort shifting in geography as MPAs are put in place – which itself poses problems, he said. However, the study assumed that an MPA ban on trawling wouldn’t result in increased fishing effort in other areas.

“When it comes to the impact of trawling and the impacts on biodiversity, they assume when you close an area, the effort disappears,” Hilborn said.

The study found a ban on trawling in designated MPAs would have a carbon benefit – but that is true only if that trawling effort doesn’t move holds, Hilborn said.

“If you move the effort, the carbon benefit disappears,” Hilborn said.

Hilborn said the study also assumes an “instantaneous connection” between different species around the world – when in reality, species in separate oceans aren’t going to interact. And the analysis wasn’t actually global, as South Asia and Southeast Asia were not accounted for in the study.

“This isn’t a global analysis, because they don’t have trawl effort in Southeast Asia,” Hilborn said.

Protecting biodiversity is a key issue that needs to be tackled, and the core motivation behind MPAs and Biden’s 30 by 30 plan are sound, Hilborn said.

“[The] 30 by 30 [movement] is not ambitious enough,” Hilborn said. “We need to protect the biodiversity of 100 percent of our [exclusive economic zone].”

Protecting biodiversity in the oceans is not best accomplished via MPAs, especially in light of climate change, Hilborn said. In fact, while advocates have touted MPAs as a means to fight climate change, in reality, they do little to help, he said.

“They want to see 30 percent of the oceans permanently closed,” Hilborn said. “That’s absolutely the wrong thing to do. With climate change, things are shifting.”

Hilborn used the interactions between fisheries and the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale as an example of how a proposed MPA might not work as intended. In recent years, the species has been the center of an ongoing push for increased protections, and recently NOAA outlined new regulations to protect the species.

Climate change has forced the 400 or so remaining North Atlantic right whales to chase food sources that are now located in parts of the ocean with more fishing effort, primarily in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. That movement highlights how MPAs would struggle to protect species in the ocean, Hilborn said.

“If you had closed areas to protect northern right whales 20 years ago, they’d be in all the wrong areas,” he said.

Protected areas on land, he added, make sense because of the nature of human interaction with the land.

“The reason you want parks on land is that human use is transformative. If you put a city on it, or you farm it, it’s gone,” Hilborn said. “In the ocean, fishing doesn’t really change the structure of the ecosystem. We don’t kill the plants which is what farming does, we don’t harvest the second trophic level, we just harvest the top of the food chain.”

Plus, many of the actual threats to the ocean aren’t coming from the ocean itself, or from fishing.

“If you look at what the threats to the oceans are, they’re ocean acidification, climate change, invasive species, various kinds of pollution, land runoff, and none of those are impacted by MPAs,” Hilborn said.

A great example is the large dead zone that forms in the Gulf of Mexico every year.  The dead zone is created by excess nutrient pollution from agricultural areas – mainly related to fertilizers washed into the gulf through the Mississippi River and other inland waterways. NOAA makes annual predictions for how large the dead zone will be, based on things like rainfall. An MPA in the area to protect that environment, Hilborn pointed out, would have no effect on the biodiversity of the ocean in the region.

“You could make it an MPA and ban everything, you could ban shipping, you could ban mining, you could ban fishing, and you’d have no effect on the dead zone,” he said.

Protecting biodiversity is possible, but MPAs are the wrong tool for the job, Hilborn said.

“You don’t need no-take in order to protect the biodiversity. Again, high profile things, marine birds, marine mammals, turtles, sharks, those are things where there’s very specific – gear specific – things that impact them,” he said. “Closed areas aren’t going to help, because they’re all so mobile.”

The solution for those species, he said, is simple.

“Take sharks or turtles – all you have to do is stop killing them,” he said.

Current fisheries management agencies already serve as a tool for protecting biodiversity, and Hilborn said additional effort can be made using those existing agencies.

“What I would like to see is very explicit targets in what are we trying to achieve in biodiversity, and for each one of those targets, what’s the best tool to achieve it,” Hilborn said. “In almost every case, you’re going to be modifying fishing gear, and how fishing takes place, rather than closing areas to all fishing gears.”

MPAs, he said, are essentially just regulating a few activities in an area, without addressing wider issues.

“Fundamentally, all MPAs are doing is regulating fishing, and maybe oil exploration and mining,” he said. “It’s just the wrong tool. The illusion that you’re protecting the ocean by putting in MPAs, it’s a big lie.”

Original post:

May 27 2021

Biden Administration Sees Victory in CA Offshore Wind; Fishermen See Deception

Windmill park green energy during sunset in the ocean, offshore wind mill turbines Netherlands

Photo Credit: fokkebok/iStock/Getty Images Plus


The White House announcement Tuesday of fast-tracking large areas in California to offshore wind brought with it the sharp-edged blade of betrayal to fishermen trying to work with federal agencies to retain their livelihoods.

In Washington, D.C., far away from the areas being discussed, the White House convened National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Under Secretary for Defense for Policy Dr. Colin Kahl for the announcement of the first commercial scale offshore wind energy areas off the Pacific Coast. The Biden administration hailed it as a significant milestone to achieving the goal of creating good-paying, union jobs through the deployment of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030, the administration said in a press release. These initial areas for offshore wind development in the Pacific Ocean could bring up to 4.6 GW of clean energy to the grid, enough to power 1.6 million American homes, according to the White House.

Specifically, the Department of the Interior, in coordination with the Department of Defense, identified an area (“the Morro Bay 399 Area”) that will support three gigawatts of offshore wind on roughly 399 square miles northwest of Morro Bay, the White House said. The Department of the Interior is also advancing the Humboldt Call Area as a potential Wind Energy Area, located off northern California.

The White House said the Department of Defense played a critical role in identifying the areas because it engages in testing, training and operations essential to national security off the California coast. The DoD objected to some of proposed areas in the past but was working with the state and Interior in the past.

“Tacking the climate crisis is a national security imperative and the Defense Department is proud to have played a role in this important effort,” Under Secretary for Defense Policy Dr. Colin Kahl said in the press release. “… Throughout this effort, the Defense Department has worked tirelessly with the White House, the Department of the Interior, and the state of California to find solutions that enable offshore wind development while ensuring long-term protection for testing, training, and operations critical to our military readiness.”

But the announcement shocked the seafood industry. The area is larger than expected and effectively negates good-faith efforts to work with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and state agencies. The seafood industry has tried to elevate the importance tof fishing and processing and the need to identify important harvesting and natural resource areas prior to establishing an area for wind turbines.

“The fishing industry has been told these areas work best for offshore wind developers, but no one has asked us what areas would work best for us,” Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations Executive Director Mike Conroy said. “There has been no effort to engage with or partner with fishermen, no planning process to evaluate fisheries data and spatial needs to inform this development, nor is there a clear process for how to do that through permitting now that we have missed the opportunity to plan effectively. The areas announced today are large areas; and with additional Call Areas likely to be identified off California and Oregon later this year, a comprehensive, upfront, cumulative effects analysis should be required.”

The administration’s move mirrors those by BOEM on the East Coast with the recent approval of the Vineyard Wind offshore wind project. The pattern of excluding the seafood industry is not new. Fishermen and processors on the West Coast have seen similar BOEM patterns.

Another case in point: BOEM announced this week it would hold a California Renewable Energy Intergovernmental Task Force meeting on June 24 and sent a notice to the seafood industry to join. The public is invited to “listen and attend on June 24, 2021, to discuss both central and northern California offshore wind planning areas considered for future leasing and next steps in the BOEM leasing process moving forward,” the notice said.

However, that’s also the first day of the Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting.

“It is inexcusable that BOEM, who has claimed to engage closely with the Council, would schedule a Task Force meeting during the Council’s meeting,” the PCFFA said. “The fishing community will now have to choose between attending the Council meeting and participating in discussions fostering our sustainable fisheries or attending a meeting where they will be told that dire consequences are possible for the fisheries the Council manages.”

Morro Bay fishermen were particularly angry.

“We’re totally against this,” Tom Hafer, president of the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization, was quoted as saying in a New York Times story. “We’ve been consulting with the Castle Wind people for a long time, and we helped pick the spot and developed a memorandum of understanding on an area that we thought would be sustainable for us. That was about 120 square miles. This is 399 square miles. We’re going to lose a whole bunch of fishing grounds. There will be cables in the water. We don’t know how the whales will react. There are a lot of unknowns. People don’t realize how massive this project will be.”

The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance noted the seafood industry’s efforts.

“The California and broader Pacific fishing communities have raised multiple direct requests and concerns to BOEM, the Pacific Fishery Management Council, and others that merit prompt attention,” RODA said in a press release.

These include:

  • Expanded fisheries representation on BOEM Intergovernmental Task Forces;
  • Greater opportunities for public input;
  • Additional resources for fisheries-related research and environmental review;
  • Performance of full environmental analyses at the onset of project siting;
  • Enhanced interstate coordination;
  • Implementation of an inclusive marine spatial planning process prior to lease decisions;
  • Advancement of science processes and products that include fishermen’s traditional knowledge; and
  • Decisions based on appropriate time series and data sets with sufficient timelines to gather such data, which is largely unavailable at present.

The Pacific Council will likely discuss meaningful engagement with BOEM again at its June Council meeting.

Susan Chambers

Posted with permission from SeafoodNews

May 14 2021

It’s squid season on Monterey Bay

The sight of dozens of squid fishing boats on Monterey Bay is enough to make even longtime locals do a double take. But squid fishing is nothing new — it’s been a part of Monterey’s vibrant history for well over a century. Discover why this slippery — and sustainable — cephalopod is a local legend.

Typically, when you look out across Monterey Bay, you’ll see a few sailboats or fishing vessels. But come springtime, residents of the Monterey area – and some viewers tuning in to our Monterey Bay Live Cam — may see a veritable fleet of fishing boats crisscrossing the bay, their nets dragging behind them. That’s because spring is squid season here on the Central Coast.

Springtime is squid time

The common or California market squid, Doryteuthis opalescens, is one of California’s biggest commercial fisheries. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, landings from California market squid can be worth as much as $70 million per year.

California market squid spawn along the Central Coast each spring.

Each spring, squid show up in large groups along the Central Coast to reproduce. Squid mature quickly and live a short life – soon after spawning, the squid will die. Fishermen take advantage of the squid’s lifestyle. The fishery targets the large aggregations of spawning squid, ideally catching them after they lay their eggs. Squid boats shine bright lights at night – often visible from shore — to attract the squid towards their purse seine nets.

The abundance of squid varies from year to year, often in response to the water temperature and available food supply. El Niño years, when the water temperature is warmer, are notoriously bad for squid fishermen. Other years, upwelling in the Monterey Bay provides the perfect combination of cold water and bountiful krill and other prey items that squid need.


Squid fishing gets its start

In the late 1800s, as Monterey’s fishing industry grew, different groups of fishermen began to compete for access to the bay’s prime fishing grounds. Chinese migrant fishermen found themselves being pushed out of the profitable fishing grounds by other families.

In his book, The Death and Life of Monterey Bay, Steve Palumbi recounts how these fishermen changed their strategy — and subsequently changed California’s fishing industry.

Instead of competing with other fishermen for salmon and other finfish, the Chinese fishermen began to fish for squid – a popular dried product in Asia, but as of yet untapped in California. They fished at night, avoiding direct conflict with other fishermen. The bright torches they burned brought the squid to the surface — the likely predecessor of modern-day squid lights visible on the bay at night.

China still plays a large role in the California market squid fishery today. Most of the squid caught locally is shipped to Asia for processing, before being shipped around the world to be sold — even back to Monterey where it was first caught.

A squid fishing boat sailing in Monterey Bay.

Squid fishing boats are visible on Monterey Bay in spring as fishermen target large groups of spawning California market squid (Doryteuthis opalescens).

California squid is a sustainable seafood choice

Dine at one of the many restaurants along Cannery Row or Fisherman’s Wharf, and you’re sure to find calamari or squid steak on the menu. If you’re tempted by one of these squid dishes, ask if it’s California market squid. If so, go ahead and order it – it’s rated a green Best Choice by the Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program.

One reason for the Best Choice rating is the health of the California market squid stock. Squid grow up fast, reproduce and die – all within a year. Fishermen target the mature spawners, ideally catching them after they spawn, but before they would have died naturally. This allows the squid population to maintain healthy levels and support a thriving fishery.

Also, because squid gather close together, fishermen can set their purse seine nets around the group of squid, limiting the number of other species caught as bycatch.

The California Department of Fish and Game manages the squid fishery with a permit system that limits access to fishing, seasonal catch limits and weekend closures to give the squid time to reproduce.

If you happen to see the parade of squid boats on Monterey Bay one day, take a moment to celebrate the success of federal and state agencies in sustainably managing the California market squid fishery. Their work means we’ll be able to preserve our ocean backyard, support California fishermen, and enjoy locally caught calamari for the foreseeable future.

Learn more about sustainable seafood — including what you can do to make good seafood choices.

Stay connected

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Originally posted:

Apr 28 2021

California Market Squid – What to know, when & where to get it

California Market Squid

(year-round in California – late spring through early fall in Monterey Bay)

If you see boats lighting up Monterey Bay at night, it’s likely squid vessels at work. Market squid is one of the most important fisheries in Monterey Bay. It’s also one of the highest-grossing fisheries in the state, regularly switching positions with Dungeness crab for the most valuable annual catch. These sustainably harvested and versatile cephalopods are great battered and fried, grilled, sautéed, simmered in a marinara sauce, or cooked on top of bomba rice for paella.

Fishermen catch market squid using large seine nets that can scoop up more than 50 tons at a time, with very low bycatch. Squid fishing is typically done at night with light boats partnering with seine boats to find the squid, but you may also see them active in the daylight. Light boats shine up to 30,000 watts of light into the water, attracting spawning squid to the surface. Seine boats (with the help of a small skiff) then set their nets around the light boats in a large circle before hauling the net back. Smaller squid operations use dips nets to harvest squid.

Purse seining at work, with seine skiff, purse seiner and light boat. Photo by David Hills of @FishyPictures

Chinese immigrants established the first market squid fishery on the West Coast right here in Monterey in 1863. They were the first to develop the practice of using light to attract schools of spawning squid. They would hang torches and wire baskets burning wood at night from the sides of their rowboats and would drop nets into the water to bring up squid. Over the years, immigrants continuously enhanced the fishery with new adaptations. In the early twentieth century, Sicilians brought the lampara net to Monterey Bay, followed by the introduction of the purse seine by Yugoslavian and Italian immigrants in southern California.

California market squid is rated as “Best Choice” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. While most market squid caught in California is exported to overseas markets, ask your local fishmonger about its availability. Whole market squid can be time-intensive to clean but well worth the work. Pre-cleaned market squid takes little effort and cooks in minutes.

• Ask for fresh, local market squid from your fishmonger or Community Supported Fishery (CSF).
• Be adventurous and try cleaning your own market squid when available.
• California market squid won’t be found as calamari steaks, so don’t be deceived.
Seafood Illustration courtesy of “Monterey Bay Aquarium®

More about California Market Squid:

Market Squid: life, habitat, and management

Market squid, Doryteuthis (Loligo) opalescens, are small, reaching lengths of 12-inches, but typically average around 8 inches. Their geographic range is from Baja California, Mexico to Southeast Alaska, but they are most prominent in Monterey Bay and Punta Eugenia, Baja California.

They are iridescent white with some purple but will often change color to blend in with their environment. Market squid have very short life cycles — with an average lifespan of 180 days or 300 days at most — and die shortly after they spawn. They spend most of their short life in deep, offshore waters but come nearshore to spawn.

Market squid typically spawn in the Monterey Bay area from April to November and from October to May in Southern California, which keeps squid fishermen on the move between both regions throughout the year. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife manages the market squid fishery in California.

The fishery is open year-round, with the season lasting from April 1 to March 31, but is limited to 118,000 tons per year, weekend closures (to allow for periods of uninterrupted spawning), and a permit system that limits access to the fishery.

Where & When to Find California Market Squid

California Market Squid are accessible year-round, but as most are for export markets they’re not always easy to find.

You can buy market squid directly from local restaurants, grocery stores, and fish markets —check out our Local Catch page for more information, or check out our recipes page for tips on how to store, prepare, and cook market squid and other seafood.

Want a fun calendar to remind you of what is in season here in Monterey Bay? Download + print our seafood seasonality guide (downloadable pdf).

Original post:

Apr 13 2021

PFMC Approves Pacific Sardine Fishing Levels for 2021

Conducting its April meeting via webinar, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) approved management measures for the ‘northern’ stock of Pacific sardines for the season July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022. The conflict over sardine fishery management became painfully apparent after the Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) rejected the catch-only sardine biomass projection, which was the only estimate available because NOAA field surveys were cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The catch for the Mex-Cal fishery (33,000 tons with only about 700 tons from California) was nearly three times larger than the sardine model’s northern sardine catch estimate for the Mex-Cal fishery in 2020. The Mexican catch was actually higher than the entire 2020 biomass estimate. This discrepancy illuminated serious problems with current assessment methods and assumptions.

The SSC recommended several urgent research priorities, including reconsideration of the model and assumptions used to assign sardines to northern vs. southern stocks. The CPS Management Team and Advisory Subpanel also supported the SSC’s recommendation to fall back to the 2020 assessment, and add another layer of precaution to account for the uncertainty, until problems can be addressed in a full stock assessment with independent scientific review. The approved management measures reduced the already low allowable catch by another 25 percent.

“We greatly appreciate the expressions of concern from the SSC, management team and advisory subpanel, and the Council’s action based on those concerns,” said Diane Pleschner-Steele, Executive Director of the California Wetfish Producers Association (CWPA). “This conflict is between what fishermen say is out there, based on what they see, and what biologists say, based on insufficient science.”

Both fishermen and independent scientific surveys have documented sardine recruitment and increasing abundance. But assumptions of continued decline and low recruitment caused the directed sardine fishery to be closed in 2015, and ‘northern’ sardines to be declared ‘overfished’ in 2019, which reduced the incidental take of sardine in other fisheries to 20 percent. The Council also was required to develop a rebuilding plan.

The directed fishery has been closed for nearly 7 years, and the model used to predict biomass has not updated the age data from the fishery since 2015. Stock assessment scientists prefer only age data from ‘directed’ fishing, and have not used age data from incidental catches or the live bait fishery, which have both seen an increase in small fish in recent years. The problem is that NOAA’s sardine acoustic trawl surveys, conducted primarily offshore, have not seen it, and those surveys, coupled with assumptions made regarding ‘northern’ and ‘southern’ sardines, have largely driven stock assessments in recent years.

To resolve this Catch-22, CWPA requested and received an Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) in 2020 and coordinated a closely-controlled directed fishing effort to capture sardine schools throughout the year. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) sampled and aged all the landings. Age data shared with the Council during the meeting showed a spike in young sardines, virtually all captured in water temperatures under about 62 degrees F, assumed to be ‘northern’ sardines.

CWPA is also conducting a nearshore acoustic survey in California this year, in cooperation with the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC), and has been cooperating with CDFW since 2012 in the Department’s nearshore aerial survey. “There’s a substantial body of sardines (and anchovy) in nearshore waters inshore of NOAA surveys in California. These fish need to be included in stock assessments, and we’re cooperating with the SWFSC and Department to collect the data needed,” Pleschner-Steele commented.

Another frustrating problem that California fishermen continue to face is the current scientific assumption that all sardines above 62 degrees F are assumed to be ‘southern’ stock sardines that have migrated up from Mexico. Those fish are subtracted from the ‘northern’ sardine stock assessment. But for management, all catches are deducted from the ‘northern’ sardine harvest limit, regardless of water temperature. This is a big problem, particularly in summertime in southern California, when the live bait fishery is active. All California coastal pelagic (CPS) fisheries have been impacted by current sardine management policies that restrict the incidental catch of sardine to only 20 percent. This has sharply reduced landings for CPS finfish like anchovy and mackerel, because fishermen must try to find pure schools with no or few sardines. Even the squid fishery has had problems avoiding sardines.

“We strongly support the SSC’s urgent research priorities,” Diane Pleschner-Steele said. “We need to fix the problems with sardine assessments and management as soon as possible.” She added, “we are committed to conduct the research necessary to improve the sardine stock assessment. If the ‘northern’ sardine stock assessment accurately reflected the abundance of sardines reported by fishermen virtually yearlong (in water temperatures below 62 degrees F), northern sardines would not be considered ‘overfished.’”

California fishermen and processors are grateful that the Council considered the issues and uncertainties raised and combined scientific underpinning with practicality and common sense. Balance is a key mandate of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The Council and NMFS are required to consider the needs of fishing communities, not just biology, in developing rebuilding plans. The future of California’s historic wetfish industry hangs in the balance.