Sep 23 2020

US panel votes to keep options open in Pacific sardine fishery rebuild plan

At least 100 commercial harvesters of sardines on the US west coast as well as lots of processors and many others that count on their landings appear to have escaped last week what could’ve been a painful blow.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) voted unanimously, 14-0, to support a rebuilding plan for northern Pacific sardines that gives it the option to keep the maximum quota at 4,000 metric tons per year or to move it up or down depending on the biomass. It was one of three alternatives recommended by the council’s Coastal Pelagic Species (CPS) Management Team.

One of the other two alternatives, which was favored by conservationists, would’ve instead limited the acceptable catch limit (ACL) to 5% of the biomass, while a third option would’ve allowed zero harvests of the species, essentially shutting down the fishery.

Based on the CPS management team’s estimates, the 5% methodology would’ve resulted in an ACL of just 1,414t during the current fishing season, about a third as much as is currently allowed. However, it’s worth noting that actual landings of northern Pacific sardines off the US West Coast have ranged between 2,063t and 2,505t over the last five years.

Pacific sardines. Photo: NOAA Fishwatch

As many as 63 harvesters are active CPS federal entry permittees and another 40 are state-authorized limited entry permittees in Oregon and Washington, according to Diane Pleschner-Steele, executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association (CWPA).

Also, because sardines are commonly landed as bycatch, following the conservationist’s preferred approach could’ve resulted in sardines becoming much more of a choke species and interrupting the harvests of Pacific mackerel, market squid, northern anchovy, pink shrimp and Pacific whiting. Such harvesters now have a 20% per weight incidental catch rate, which was dropped last year from a rate of 45%, Pleschner-Steele noted in a recent email exchange with Undercurrent News.

But most imperiled by the prospect of the 5% approach, she said, would be the west coast live bait industry. It supplies recreational harvesters, accounts for $602 million in annual sales and is credited for providing 5,000 jobs.

What comes next

The move by the PFMC has been anticipated since July 2019. That’s when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) notified the council that the biomass of sardines’ northern subpopulation was found to have fallen below the 50,000t threshold that — under the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) — triggers the creation of a rebuilding plan within 15 months.

Now that the council has voted, a hew fishery management plan must be implemented within two years and the rebuilding plan must take less than 10 years to reach its goal unless environmental conditions interfere. Shortly after the PFMC sends its recommendations to NMFS, the agency can be expected to publish them in the Federal Register and take comments. It’s rare for NMFS to not follow a council’s advice.

Regardless, harvesters need not worry about the catch limit being changed for the current Pacific sardine season, which began July 1, 2020, and runs until June 30, 2021. Nor is it likely the 2021-2022 ACL will be reduced as a result of the latest action, though the council might be more conservative when that’s set as expected in April 2021, a PFMC staffer advised.

Cannery Row in Monterey, California. The area was renamed after the setting in John Steinbeck’s famous 1945 novel. Photograph on Shutterstock.

CWPA’s Pleschner-Steele, whose group represents both harvesters and processors, was among those pleased with the outcome. She was one of about 17 witnesses to testify in favor of the first alternative during the council meeting, held online because of pandemic concerns.

“The council’s unanimous decision to support the management team’s recommendations shows that they understand reality, the big picture. Our sardine harvest policy already has a built-in rebuilding plan,” said Pleschner-Steele in an opinion article published after the vote, noting how the PFMC closed the main directed fishery in 2015 and sharply reduced incidental harvest rates in 2019.

“Further cuts would drive many fishing businesses out of business, and we appreciate the council’s acknowledgment of that prospect,” she said.

Still from the video “Sardines in California: Fishery in Crisis” by Saving Seafood

The northern Pacific sardines occupy the US Pacific Coast from Southeast Alaska to the northern portion of the Baja Peninsula and are distinguished from two other groups: sardines from the southern Baja Peninsula to southern California and those in Mexico’s Gulf of California. However, Pleschner-Steele argued that many of the sardines being caught are really sardines from Mexico that have migrated north and shouldn’t be counted against the northern sardine cap.

The CPS management team had advised the council also that overfishing was not what was reducing the sardines biomass, putting more of the blame on recruitment.

“Falling below [minimum stock size threshold] triggered an overfished designation; however, overfishing has not been occurring for this stock, as Pacific sardine catch has been well below both the [acceptable biological catch] and the [annual overfishing limit],” the team said.

Learning from the decline of Cannery Row

Three conservation groups testified in favor of the more stringent alternative, including Oceana, Wild Oceans and the Pew Oceans Campaign.  They disagreed with the harvesters, as might have been expected, saying the council has ignored a 2020 study by federal fishery scientists that determined the sardine population has declined 98% since 2006 to instead take a “status quo management” approach.

Credit: Perla Berant Wilder/

They noted how the small, oily fish are an important food source for humpback whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, brown pelicans and larger fish like tunas and sharks. They suggested the council pay more heed to the conservation actions that contributed to the infamous sardine crash that ended the iconic Cannery Row era more than 60 years ago.

“Fishery managers have failed to learn from the mistakes of history, and if they don’t act soon, we’ll be doomed to repeat them and continue on an irresponsible pathway that will devastate the sardine population and its prospects for recovery,” said Geoff Shester, a senior scientist at Oceana, in a statement issued after the vote. “It is disappointing that again California wildlife officials, federal managers, and the fishing industry are disregarding the science in order to avoid making hard choices. Today’s decision is a failure of responsible fishery management.”

Pleschner-Steele countered that the great sardine decline of the late 1940s involved harvesters catching 50% or more of the standing stock, while today’s harvest amounts to only 0.6% of the population.

Also, she noted, NOAA research ships are too large to survey near shore, where most fishing occurs in California. For the past few years, fishermen have testified to a growing abundance of sardines on their fishing grounds yearlong, she said.

In fact, fishery representatives are asking the council for a review of the rebuilding plan in 2021 as soon as possible after the next coastwide sardine survey, which was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions. The next survey in 2021 will, for the first time, include nearshore waters, in a collaborative effort using fishing industry vessels, she noted.

Contact the author

Original post:

Sep 18 2020

Pacific Fishery Management Council Approves Pacific Sardine Rebuilding Plan

BUELLTON, CA / ACCESSWIRE / September 17, 2020 /

Thousands of fishermen, processors and allied fishing businesses along the west coast thank the Pacific Fishery Management Council for taking final action on a rebuilding plan for the “northern” stock of Pacific sardine that achieves the balance between conservation and fishing communities mandated by the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA).

This action was required by the MSA after the “northern” sardine stock was declared “overfished” in 2019, when the biomass estimate fell below 50,000 mt. The Council decision came after many months of hard work by stock assessment scientists, modelers, the Coastal Pelagic Species (CPS) Management Team and the Council’s Science and Statistical Committee (SSC), to build and analyze a Rebuilder model based on the 2020 “northern” sardine stock assessment, which covered a period of low recruitment. The herculean effort attempted to forecast future sardine population growth and rebuilding time scenarios under various harvest alternatives.

“The Council’s unanimous decision to support the Management Team’s recommendations shows that they understand reality, the big picture,” said Diane Pleschner-Steele, Executive Director of the California Wetfish Producers Association, representing California fishermen and processors. “Our sardine harvest policy already has a built-in rebuilding plan. The Council closed the main directed fishery in 2015, and sharply reduced incidental harvest rates last year. Further cuts would drive many fishing businesses out of business, and we appreciate the Council’s acknowledgement of that prospect.”

The environmental group Oceana immediately issued a press release decrying the Council action, accusing fishery managers of irresponsible mismanagement. Oceana and other environmental activists based their arguments on the Rebuilder model that scientists, the Management Team and the Council all acknowledged did not reflect reality because it could not model the environmental cycles driving sardine productivity, nor could it predict the future. Further, it assumed that the total harvest allowance was caught every year.

Oceana’s accusation, “fishery managers have failed to learn from the mistakes of history,” does not pass the straight face test when all the facts are presented. During the great sardine decline in the late 1940s, the historic sardine fishery harvested 50 percent or more of the standing stock. Today’s sardine fishery harvest amounts to only 0.6 percent of the northern sardine population — very close to 0 US harvest, which was modeled as Alternative 2, and showed disastrous economic impacts to fishing communities in California and the West Coast because it curtailed major fisheries. Commercial fisheries that take sardines incidentally include market squid, anchovy and mackerel in California and Pacific whiting, pink shrimp and groundfish along the entire West Coast. In addition, the live bait fishery relies on sardines and serves a billion-dollar recreational fishing enterprise.

The Council decision illuminates a dicey problem: sardine fishery management policy assumes that two sardine stocks exist along the west coast and Mexico, divided by a temperature barrier at about 62 degrees F. But the Council manages only the “northern” stock, and in recent years, stock assessments have subtracted thousands of tons of sardines found in waters warmer than 62 degrees on the assumption that those were “southern” sardines that migrated up from Mexico. Stock assessments also are now based on annual NOAA summer acoustic trawl (AT) surveys that begin in the Pacific Northwest and move south, not reaching California waters until late August, when water temperatures are typically above 62 degrees. Thus, most California sardines are now omitted from “northern” stock assessments on the assumption they are “southern” sardines. Also, NOAA research ships are too large to survey near shore, where most fishing occurs in California. For the past few years, fishermen have testified to a growing abundance of sardines on their fishing grounds yearlong. But complicating matters even further, for management purposes, all sardines landed are subtracted from the “northern” sardine harvest allowance, regardless of sea temperature. This catch-22 sets the backstory for the Council’s final decision.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions the Council meeting was conducted via webinar, and parade of fishermen, seafood processors and community representatives testified to the hardship they are already experiencing under current restrictions. They all voiced unanimous support for Alternative 1, “status quo” fishing regulations. The Management Team also recommended Alternative 1 as the most balanced and flexible choice. Environmental groups testified as well, and all supported Alternative 3, a static five percent harvest rate hard-wired for close to 20 years, based on Rebuilder model analysis, that would have cut current harvest levels nearly in half, precipitating harsh economic impacts.

In their deliberations, Council members highlighted the flexibility of the “status quo” sardine Harvest Control Rule (HCR) that sets harvest limits based on current environmental conditions. They concurred with scientists and the Management Team that the Rebuilder model does not reflect reality; it can’t model the natural high and low productivity cycles of sardines. Council members recognized that the HCR’s precautionary harvest limits are designed to provide forage for predators. Respecting both the need for conservation and the needs of fishing communities, Washington Councilmember Phil Anderson commented that he would rather provide a little more harvest now to keep fishing communities viable. Otherwise they might not survive into the future. Council chair Marc Gorelnik summarized discussion with his comment, “Mother Nature bats last.”

Scientists and Council members alike recognize that environmental conditions are key to stock rebuilding, as they have been for eons even without fishing. The Management Team pointed out that actual fishery catches in the past five years, since the main directed fishery was closed, have averaged only about 2,300 metric tons, far short of the allowed annual catch target, and most of the catch is “southern” stock sardines. The Council also recognized that the current HCR equates to a built-in rebuilding plan because it has flexibility to reduce catches in relation to the biomass, and also includes automatic actions to further restrict fishing in low abundance years. The Council has already reduced the fishery as far as feasibly possible. Now Mother Nature needs to do the rest.

All things considered, the Council made the proper rebuilding plan decision, following the MSA mandates to specify a time period for rebuilding that is as short as possible, taking into account the biology of the stock and needs of fishing communities. The MSA does allow directed fishing to continue when rebuilding an overfished stock, and does not require instant recovery or the most drastic action be taken. Optimum Yield is a long-term goal. The MSA also allows flexibility in developing a rebuilding plan. The plan will be updated when new information is available – nothing is cast in stone.

In light of evidence of recruitment and the abundance of sardines that California fishermen have been reporting inshore of AT surveys, fishery representatives are asking for a review of the rebuilding plan in 2021 as soon as possible after the next coastwide sardine survey, which was cancelled in 2020 due to Covid-19 restrictions, and will for the first time in 2021 include a survey of nearshore waters, in a collaborative effort using fishing industry vessels. The fishing industry is dedicated to help improve the science underpinning stock assessments. “If stock assessments were accurate,” said Corbin Hanson, a highline fisherman who has fished sardines as well as other CPS for more than a decade, “sardines would not be declared ‘overfished.'”


Diane Pleschner-Steele
(805) 693-5430

SOURCE: California Wetfish Producers Association

ReleaseID: 606630


Permalink | Categories Breaking News, Legislation, View from the Ocean on September 18, 2020 by DaveGogel | No Comments
Sep 10 2020

Editor’s Log: The other plague

A California fisherman works Dungeness crab pots. California Department of Fish and Wildlife photo.

The state of Alaska, known for its commitment to sustainable fisheries management, has a policy that fisheries allocations cannot be decided at the ballot box — meaning, they endeavor to let the experts decide.

Legislating fisheries by lawsuit is not that different. Surely, a federal judge should be an expert on the law. But they are not marine biologists; they are not community-based policy makers; they are not coastal economists. These are all the hats required of the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s National Standards. This is why federal fisheries policy is formed by councils and commissions after public input and approved by a federal agency — it requires a holistic perspective on the biomass, the working waterfront, the safety and efficiency of fishing gear and practices, and the best approaches to allocating access among all user groups.

Try to explain in a few sentences how federal fisheries are managed to someone who knows nothing about it. Anyone who has studied fishery science and policy will attest to its complexities. And those complexities change fishery by fishery and region by region — often within the same state.

I’m not necessarily advocating for a streamline of fisheries policy. It would be a lovely dream, but I fear the outcome would not work in any fleet’s favor. What I would like to see is any lawsuit attempting to change fishery policy through the backdoor of a federal bench be required to check off its adherence to every single National Standard under the Magnuson-Stevens Act — Optimum Yield, Scientific Information, Management Units, Allocations, Efficiency, Variations and Contingencies, Costs and Benefits, Communities, Bycatch, and Safety of Life at Sea. If you can show that your suit accounts for its effects on all of these factors (not just one or a handful) that federal managers are required to account for and does not sacrifice one for another, then carry on with your case.

Otherwise, anyone with enough money for a good lawyer can effectively cherry-pick the things they don’t like about a single policy. The result is that the fishermen who can muster the cash for their own lawyers must redirect funds and time to defending lawsuits instead of implementing innovations in gear, processing and products; and fishery managers are forced to twist and contort into impossible positions in order to try to please everyone (which I believe we all recognize is impossible).

As you can read in our news coverage of the Status of the Stocks, our federal management is superb and improving every year. The biggest deciding factor in whether or not a fishery is managed well should not be social pressure; it should be based in science. Money spent to halt a fishery would better serve the American public as an investment in better data, cooperative research and product innovation.

Without good data, we have no way of knowing what is happening in the ocean. Without good policy, we have no way of safely executing any fishery.

Original post:

Aug 31 2020

Fidelity of El Niño Models and Simulations Matter for Predicting Future Climate

A new study led by University of Hawai’i at Mānoa researchers and recently published in the Nature Communications journal revealed that correctly simulating ocean current variations hundreds of feet below the ocean surface – the so-called Pacific Equatorial Undercurrent – during El Niño events is key in reducing the uncertainty of predictions of future warming in the eastern tropical Pacific.

The issue of prediction is not so much one of timing, but of degree or severity.

Trade winds and the temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean experience large changes from year to year due to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO, affecting weather patterns across the globe. For instance, if the tropical Pacific is warmer and trade winds are weaker than usual – an El Niño event – flooding in California typically occurs and monsoon failures in India and East Asia are detrimental to local rice production. In contrast, during a La Niña the global weather patterns reverse with cooler temperatures and stronger trade winds in the tropical Pacific.

These natural climate swings affect ecosystems, fisheries, agriculture, and many other aspects of human society. Changes to pink shrimp production and the location of market squid on the West Coast are frequently related to El Ninos.

Computer models that are used for projecting future climate correctly predict global warming due to increasing greenhouse gas emissions as well as short-term year-to-year natural climate variations associated with El Niño and La Niña.

“There is, however, some model discrepancy on how much the tropical Pacific will warm,” Malte Stuecker, co-author and assistant professor in the Department of Oceanography and International Pacific Research Center at UH Mānoa said in a press release. “The largest differences are seen in the eastern part of the tropical Pacific, a region that is home to sensitive ecosystems such as the Galapagos Islands. How much the eastern tropical Pacific warms in the future will not only affect fish and wildlife locally but also future weather patterns in other parts of the world.”

Researchers have been working for decades to reduce the persistent model uncertainties in tropical Pacific warming projections.

Many climate models simulate El Niño and La Niña events of similar intensity. In nature, however, the warming associated with El Niño events tends to be stronger than the cooling associated with La Niña. In other words, while in most models El Niño and La Niña are symmetric, they are asymmetric in nature.

In this new study, the scientists analyzed observational data and numerous climate model simulations and found that when the models simulate the subsurface ocean current variations more accurately, the simulated asymmetry between El Niño and La Niña increases–becoming more like what is seen in nature.

“Identifying the models that simulate these processes associated with El Niño and La Niña correctly in the current climate can help us reduce the uncertainty of future climate projections,” corresponding lead author Michiya Hayashi, a research associate at the National Institute for Environmental Studies, Japan, and a former postdoctoral researcher at UH Mānoa said in the release. “Only one-third of all climate models can reproduce the strength of the subsurface current and associated ocean temperature variations realistically.”

“Remarkably, in these models we see a very close relationship between the change of future El Niño and La Niña intensity and the projected tropical warming pattern due to greenhouse warming,” Stuecker noted.

That is, the models within the group that simulate a future increase of El Niño and La Niña intensity also show an enhanced warming trend in the eastern tropical Pacific due to greenhouse warming. In contrast, the models that simulate a future decrease of El Niño and La Niña intensity show less greenhouse gas-induced warming in the eastern part of the basin. The presence of that relationship indicates those models are capturing a mechanism known to impact climate. In turn, that signifies those models are more reliable. This relationship totally disappears in the two-thirds of climate models that cannot simulate the subsurface ocean current variations correctly.

“Correctly simulating El Niño and La Niña is crucial for projecting climate change in the tropics and beyond. More research needs to be conducted to reduce the biases in the interactions between wind and ocean so that climate models can generate El Niño-La Niña asymmetry realistically,” added Fei-Fei Jin, co-author and professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at UH Mānoa.

“The high uncertainty in the intensity change of El Niño and La Niña in response to greenhouse warming is another remaining issue,” said Stuecker. “A better understanding of Earth’s natural climate swings such as El Niño and La Niña will result in reducing uncertainty in future climate change in the tropics and beyond.”

Graphic: Future increase of El Nino and La Nina intensity leads to enhanced warming in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, left. Future decrease of El Nino and La Nina Intensity leads to less warming in the eastern tropical Pacific, right. Credit: Data from NOAA.

Posted with permission of Seafood News

Susan Chambers

Jul 3 2020

Top 10 for ’20 | National Fisherman

The fishing industry responded to the presidential roundtable with gratitude for the spotlight and a push for help with other issues. Here’s our Top 10 as compiled from feedback around the country.


Pandemic Assistance

As of mid-June, fishermen had not seen funds filter down from the CARES Act through Commerce to their state agencies and their businesses. Though the act was passed in March, with guidelines for disbursement issued by Commerce in May, NMFS predicted a mid-July date for approval of state funding plans, which would predate any payments. Controversial allocations trough the Paycheck Protection Program and low caps on the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans also hampered relief to the industry, which is primarily comprised of small business owners, independent operators and contract workers.

Wind Power

“Offshore wind development has been fast-tracked at the peril of commercial fishermen,” said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. “The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has established a task force to facilitate and plan offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine. Although this will directly impact the livelihoods of commercial fishermen, they are not represented on the task force.”Fishermen can only make their living from the ocean, and the proposed development of floating turbines will result in the closure of fishing areas. In addition, the impacts of offshore wind development on ocean ecology and commercial fishing are poorly understood. Fishermen must be fairly represented in this fragmented process. Data must be improved to understand how these future developments will impact commercial fishing as well as the marine ecosystem.”

Deepwater Wind foundations at the Block Island wind farm site off Rhode Island. Deepwater Wind photo.Deepwater Wind foundations at the Block Island wind farm site off Rhode Island. Deepwater Wind photo.

Habitat Protection

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was nearing completion of its environmental review for the proposed Pebble Mine at the headwaters of Alaska’s Bristol Bay as we went to press on this issue in mid-June. At the same time, Bristol Bay’s commercial fishermen, seafood processors, and residents were preparing for the return of a forecasted 49 million sockeye salmon. A final permitting decision is expected to drop as soon as 30 days after the review, around the peak of the fishing season, when Bristol Bay’s fishermen and residents will be occupied with fishing and preoccupied by an added layer of covid-19 prevention practices.“It is unconscionable that, despite overwhelming comments and outcry requesting an extension and revision to the Pebble Mine permitting process, the Army Corps has continued to rush its environmental review and aims to release a final permitting decision while Bristol Bay grapples with the challenges of harvesting, processing and supplying half the world’s wild sockeye salmon during a global pandemic,” said Katherine Carscallen, Bristol Bay resident and executive director for Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay. “We look to Alaska’s senators for their leadership and implore the EPA to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to veto Pebble’s permit. The EPA’s own science and comment letters to the Army Corps show that this project poses an unacceptable risk to our country’s greatest remaining wild salmon runs.”


“If the U.S. government is going to support and fund a large, planned increase in domestic aquaculture production, there must be some sort of specific support for domestic wild seafood products that will come under increased competition from this new and expanded domestic aquaculture production,” said Bruce Schactler, a commercial fisherman, industry advocate and NF Highliner, based in Kodiak, Alaska, referring to the president’s executive order in May that promotes the production of offshore aquaculture.“The Farm Bill,” Schactler added, “provides hundreds of millions of dollars per year for the exclusive use of the U.S. Agriculture industry to subsidize technology, marketing, infrastructure, research, education, training, price supports of various kinds, and generous support for the young farmers and ranchers that will carry on this critical industry. The U.S. seafood industry has no such support program, although it is not for lack of trying.”

Offloading salmon in Petersburg, Alaska. Jessica Hathaway photo.
Offloading salmon in Petersburg, Alaska. Jessica Hathaway photo.

Trade Aid

Though the promise of a Seafood Trade Task Force and the implementation of the Seafood Import Monitoring Program offer some promise of relief for U.S. fisheries and dealers competing with cheap foreign imports in our own markets and looking for new opportunities overseas, the need for federal assistance with global trade restrictions through specific agreements is still paramount for many U.S. fisheries.“Tariffs do not come and go overnight,” said Annie Tselikis, executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association. “Many of us in the industry have been advocating for fair access to foreign markets for a long time. In order for tariffs to be reduced or eliminated, there is a process of negotiation and diplomacy, and each negotiating partner needs to be a willing and fair participant in that process.”

Marine Mammals

New England fishermen aren’t the only ones worried about whales and working to improve gear, fishing methods and management to avoid them. The West Coast Dungeness fleet has worked with other stakeholders for several years in a gear working group.But on the flipside, the Marine Mammal Protection Act establishes permanent protocol for species, like sea lions, that have rebounded to the point of creating a nuisance and preying excessively on critical species, like Pacific salmon.“Marine mammal stocks (California sea lions, in particular) should lose protections when their populations reach a certain level, whether that is carrying capacity or the Marine Mammal Protection Act’s Optimal Sustainable Population,” said Mike Conroy, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “They throw off ecosystem balance and are in direct competition with other ESA-listed species (Southern Resident killer whales, for example) for limited amounts of food.”

The Louisiana shrimp boat Miss Nan. Louisiana Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The Louisiana shrimp boat Miss Nan. Louisiana Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Recovery Response

This includes everything from disaster funds to increased flexibility, which would provide means for the industry to manage disaster recovery. Most fishermen will tell you: They don’t want handouts, they just want to work. Federal aid can be helpful, but it takes so long to reach the fleets that many businesses go bust waiting for relief.The state of Mississippi, for example, was awarded $11 million for a 2011 disaster declaration, but fishermen have seen very little of those funds so far.“It was probably about 2015-16 before we started seeing money from that disaster declaration. And they’re still spending that money, almost 10 years later,” said Ryan Bradley, executive director of Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United and a 2018 NF Highliner. “Oystermen and crab fishermen and seafood dealers have received about 15 percent” of that $11 million, so far.

Better Data

“Whether that means more funding for science center activities or closer coordination with fishermen or just listening to what they are reporting,” said Conroy. “Fishermen have knowledge, are on the water far more often than the science folks, observe changes related to ocean conditions and fish populations, assist in understanding fish movement by collaborating with different organizations (e.g., tagging programs).“One example out here is the stock assessments for Pacific sardine. They are based on surveys taken on large NOAA ships which can’t access the nearshore waters (typically those less than 25 fathoms). Coincidentally, that is prime habitat for sardine. So the stock assessments keep showing a decline in sardine biomass, while fishermen are reporting (with documentation) increasing numbers of sardine in the nearshore. Because the fishermen’s observations are anecdotal, they carry no weight.”

Homarus americanus. Doug Stewart photo.Homarus americanus. Doug Stewart photo.

Infrastructure and Access

“Feeding fish to the community requires a new commitment and approach to the food supply chain,” said Pete Halmay, commercial fisherman and president of the San Diego Fishermen’s Working Group. “Without improved infrastructure and better access to resources, the promise of fresh, sustainable , local fish cannot be fulfilled.”“This includes dredging, NOAA weather buoys that actually work, shoreside off-loading equipment and product storage, dockside land space for gear storage and/or office space, etc.,” said Conroy. “Ensure protections can be put in place to protect the future access to private unloading stations.”All of these (and more) add up to the culminating priority for the industry.

Recognition of the Value of U.S. Commercial Fisheries

Original post:

May 16 2020

Squid Fishing Season is Off to a Good Start in Monterey Bay, After a Dismal 2019

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

Copyright © 2020

Seafood News

Copyright © 2020 Milestone Communications,
By Parker Seibold
May 15, 2020

A good squid fishing season relies on a lot of factors, with water temperature, ocean currents and food source among the most important. Last year, for whatever combination of reasons, was a bad one.

The 2020-2021 commercial squid fishing season started on April 1 and dozens of boats can be seen dotting the horizon of Monterey Bay as the squid return, this year in better numbers.

“This has actually been one of the best Aprils we’ve had since 2010,” says Pete Guglielmo, a buyer and processor with Southern Cal Seafood, Inc. “Usually when the squid show up this early in the season, it’s proved to be a very good fishing season for the industry.”

As of May 8, 4,800 tons of the 118,000-ton seasonal catch limit had been landed in California, according to Katie Grady, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Around the same time last year, they’d brought in just over 1 ton. The preliminary total for 2019 shows the entire season’s catch was 15,000 tons.

The squid are also larger than they’ve been in the last several years, and in high demand. A majority of squid caught in Monterey Bay is exported. Because of shortages around the world last year, countries are buying what they can now that it’s available again. And with that, the price has gone from 50 cents per pound last year to 60 cents per pound.

It’s a good thing for local fishermen, says Anthony Russo, a skipper and owner of two fishing boats, because with the no commercial sardine fishing and tight restrictions elsewhere in the industry, many of them rely on squid.

“Sardines used to pull us through the bad years if the squid weren’t there,” he says. “If we wouldn’t have had a little bit of squid now it would have been really, really bad. Not just for the fishermen, but for the workers in the canneries and the markets. If they close, we don’t have anywhere to sell our fish.”



May 5 2020

Monterey Bay: Squid are back in abundance

Commercial fishing boats fish for squid off Lovers Point in Pacific Grove in 2018. ( Monterey Herald archive)

MONTEREY — Squid boats dotting the Central California coastline have been joined by salmon fishermen and women as both seasons are now underway. While the salmon fishery is just getting started up, the squid fishery is already showing signs of a promising season.

“I can tell you that the squid seems to be going really well,” said Moss Landing Harbormaster Tommy Razzeca, “we have a bunch of vessels working out of the harbor.”

The squid fishery is among the most lucrative and productive in the state, frequently valued in the double-digit millions. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, landings from California market squid (Doryteuthis opalescens) were over 34,000 short tons in the 2018-2019 season, generating more than $33 million in revenue.

But according to Diane Pleschner-Steele, the executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association, these charming and elusive animals can be difficult to pin down. The statement has proven true in the last couple of years.

“We had a disastrous season last year,” Pleschner-Steele said, “they [the squid] took a hike.” Despite last year’s abundance in the Pacific Northwest, squid are sensitive to water temperature and California’s fishermen and women suffered the impact.

Katie O’Grady with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife says “the main factors driving squid availability to the fishery are likely prey abundance (krill and zooplankton) and water temperature,” but there are still many unknown factors that make the behaviors of these slippery sea-creatures hard to predict. Despite last year being a bad squid season, preliminary totals indicate more than $15 million in revenue came from the fishery.

According to NOAA’s Supervisory Research Fish Biologist John Field, the “most useful source of information on squid would usually come from our May-June midwater trawl survey…but we’ve not yet had that survey and in fact may not have it at all this year.” California SeaGrant reports that the squid catch generally decreases during El Niño years, but increases with cooler waters during La Niña, but numbers vary widely year to year.

“When the water is right, the squid will come here to the Monterey area,” according to Pleschner-Steel. Fortunately for calamari connoisseurs, “the water temperatures are colder, and that tends to encourage the productivity of squid.” Or rather, their reproductivity.

Spawning squid are targeted because they die shortly after they reproduce, and so fishing season — though technically open all year round — coincides with the spawning season. The catch is historically best in Southern California in fall and Central California in spring-summer.

Pete Guglielmo of Southern Cal Seafood says his five boats, split between Monterey Bay and Half Moon Bay, are doing well since they started up a few weeks ago.“It’s much better than the last two seasons, and it’s definitely on an increase,” he said. “It’s better and the size of the squid is bigger.”

Like any other business, there are a couple of new challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic which the fishery needs to adjust to. “It’s a condition that it’s really hard to maintain social distancing on the boat,” said Pleschner-Steele.

To account for safety concerns during the CODID-19 pandemic, Guglielmo says the boats are keeping the crews onboard. It’s not uncommon to work long days for squid fishing   “They’re not coming ashore,” he said, while, “at the loading docks, all our workers are wearing masks and keeping their distance.” Truck drivers are also staying in their trucks so the squid gets loaded directly on and doors closed, limiting the number of people who come in contact with the seafood.

At the plant where fresh squid is packaged and frozen for shipping, the workers are also wearing gloves and masks, and Guglielmo says the nature of the way they package means they are already normally more than 6 feet apart. Then it gets shipped to Asia.

“There is still use for the product,” said Pleschner-Steele. “But a lot of our squid in the past — the volume has gone to China.”

Despite fewer ships making the international voyages between Asia and the western United States, there seems to still be enough demand for California market squid, thanks to those less successful prior seasons.

“There’s been a shortage for a couple of years so the buyers are there to buy, “ said Guglielmo, “It’s nice to have demand for our product right now.” Some of that squid makes its way back to the Monterey Bay area, though it can be exported all over the world.

According to Seafood Watch, California market squid caught with purse seines is a “Best Choice” seafood option because of its healthy stock and sustainable fishing practice. Purse seines are nets that hang vertically in the water, held open by weights and buoys. With the spawning squid congregated in large groups, instances of bycatch are few, and the entire population can replace itself every few months.

Even so, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife limits seasonal catch to 118,000 tonnes and requires weekend closures for periods of uninterrupted spawning. If the tonnage is met, the season comes to an end.

Until then, the boats in the water are a sign that Monterey is not ready to surrender its title as “Calamari Capital of the World” even when the world looks much different.

“We definitely understand the severity of COVID 19,” said Guglielmo. “We are making sure that we are working safely for our employees and the community.”

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Apr 23 2020

Controversy descends on Pacific sardine fishery over stock surveys

The Pacific sardine fishery on the U.S. West Coast appears to be headed for another year of being shut down after a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) assessment showed a low biomass.

The NOAA assessment estimated the Pacific sardine biomass will be at 27,547 metric tons by the summer – significantly less than the 150,000 metric tons needed to reopen the fishery to commercial fishing. Any fishery at less than 50,000 metric tons is considered to be overfished. The assessment estimates the sardine biomass was around 1.8 million metric tons in 2006.

In response, the Pacific Fishery Management Council has approved an annual catch target of 4,000 metric tons for all uses this year, a move which comes at a time the fishery has been suspended for five years due to overfishing concerns. The council relied on reports from its own scientific and statistical committee, its coastal pelagic species management team, and the public.

While the council heard testimony from environmental advocates who believe the stock has dwindled to a level that cannot sustain a commercial fishery, fishermen believe that the NOAA stock assessment neglects to account for the inshore sardine biomass which is not recorded by federal radar surveys because the research ships don’t operate in such shallow waters.

According to California Wetfish Producers Association Executive Director Diane Pleschner-Steele, the migration of sardines inshore became pronounced five years ago – the same year the fishery was last active – due to changing ocean conditions. The California Wetfish Producers Association has hired helicopter pilots to capture aerial photographs of the biomass to show the abundance of the species inshore, and its fishermen have reported seeing large schools of sardines.

“The big problem is NOAA’s acoustic surveys aren’t seeing the fish and we are. But we’re not allowed to fish. If the stock assessment was accurate, sardines would not be declared overfished,” Pleschner-Steele told SeafoodSource. “The stock assessments haven’t included any biological composition data so none of the young fish that we’re seeing have been introduced into the model and the model continues to predict that there’s no recruitment.”

Marc Gorelnik, vice chair of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, told SeafoodSource the council had listened to the association’s argument, and agreed more accurate data could help the council make a more informed decision on the eventual reopening of the sardine fishery.

“One thing everyone agrees on is the need to improve the sardine stock assessment,” Gorelnik said.

Pleschner-Steele said that the majority of the 4,000-metric-ton catch will be used by the live-bait fishery, which is entitled to target sardines. However, the association has also proposed a research project that would use some 700 metric tons of the 4,000 for sampling to help better determine the age of the stock. The research project has not yet been approved.

“We will have designated vessels enabled to go out once or twice a month and actually catch a school of sardines. The Department [of Fish and Wildlife] will be at the docks to do the sampling. That’s the age data that we need so that we can update the age data in the [NOAA] model,” Pleschner-Steele said. “They’ll have another update [of the model] at the end of this year and our hope is that they will have the age data they need to recognize that we have pretty substantial recruitment.”

Pleschner-Steele said the situation has echoes of previous crises in the U.S. West Coast sardine fishery.

“In California, sardines are the foundation of our historic wetfish industry, which has endured for more than a century. Veteran fishermen who lived through the last sardine recovery in the early 1990s see ironic parallels today, with sardines abundant on the fishing grounds but the fishery closed because government stock assessment surveys didn’t see the fish,” Pleschner-Steele said.

Last year, an assessment on the Pacific sardine by NOAA Fisheries showed the stock remained low enough to be classified by the agency as overfished. In response, non-governmental organizations including Oceana have pushed for the council to create a rebuilding plan.

“We’ve been urging for an overhaul to the way sardine are managed for the last seven years,” Oceana California Campaign Director Geoff Shester told SeafoodSource in April 2019. “It is critical to hold fishery managers accountable for exacerbating this modern-day sardine collapse and seek management changes to use best available science to learn from our mistakes.”

Fishermen and managers are also at odds over the definition of the California sardine stocks, where fish found in ocean temperatures are identified as a southern stock extending from waters off Mexico, according to National Fisherman. If the northern sardine stock assessment was reflective of sardine abundance reported by fishermen in year-round waters the species would not be considered overfish, the wetfish group said.

Pleschner-Steele said her organization would abide by the decision of the council, but that it believed the designation of the fishery as overfished was flawed as the data used in the decision is not accurately counting inshore sardines.

“The end goal of the California Wetfish Producers Association is to be allowed to target sardines under closely controlled circumstances,” she said. “We’re thankful that the fishermen’s testimony seemed to resonate with the council … Our main focus now is collaborating with state and federal fishery managers to document the abundance of sardines inshore of federal acoustic surveys. Our research is the key to the future.”

Original post:

Apr 10 2020

Pacific Fishery Management Council Approves Pacific Sardine Fishing Levels for 2020

“One thing everyone agrees on is the need to improve the sardine stock assessment,” stated Marc Gorelnik, vice chair of the Pacific Fishery Management Council. Conducting the meeting via webinar due to COVID-19 concerns, the Council approved management measures for Pacific sardines for the season July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021, after considering reports from its Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC), CPS Management Team and Advisory Subpanel and the public. Environmental groups pleaded for more precaution and much lower harvest limits, arguing that the stock assessment indicates that the stock is at low and declining levels, and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) declared the northern sardine subpopulation as ‘overfished’ in 2019, so the Council must develop a rebuilding plan. However, the Council supported the recommendations of the SSC, management team and advisory subpanel, in light of the fact that the biomass estimate remained essentially the same as last year. So, they approved an Annual Catch Target of 4,000 metric tons for all uses, as in 2019.

“We greatly appreciate the expressions of concern from the 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). “We thank the Council for hearing us,” she continued, adding, “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 growing abundance since 2015. The problem is that NOAA’s sardine acoustic trawl surveys have not seen it, and those surveys have largely driven the stock assessments in recent years.

The 2020 stock assessment reported no evidence of recruitment, but the model used to predict biomass has not updated the age data from the fishery since 2015, because the directed fishery has been closed since that time. To resolve this Catch-22, CWPA submitted an application for an Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The Council unanimously supported this effort, along with the 2020 management measures.

If approved by NMFS, this EFP will allow CWPA to coordinate a closely controlled directed fishing effort to capture sardine schools throughout the year. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has agreed to sample and age all the landings and provide that data for the next stock assessment.

Another thorny problem that California fishermen are facing is the current scientific assumption that all sardines found in water temperatures above about 62 degrees F are deemed to be ‘southern’ stock sardines that have migrated up from Mexico. Thus, these fish are subtracted from the ‘northern’ sardine stock assessment. This assumption and current management policy have frustrated fishermen, especially in Southern California, because all catches are deducted from the ‘northern’ sardine harvest limit.

This issue, and many more, arose during the Council’s sardine discussion. Environmental groups are now asking the Council to revise the entire management structure to provide more forage for other species. These groups discount the mounting evidence of recruitment and abundance, and ignore the fact that the fishery for the entire CPS complex, including sardine, amounts to less than two percent of the key forage pool, which also includes other forage species. Moreover, scientists widely acknowledge that environmental forcing drives the abundance of sardines and other CPS; these stocks rise and fall based on Mother Nature’s whims, with negligible impact from fishing.

This discussion will likely continue at future Council meetings, as environmental groups campaign to further reduce fishery catches for sardines and other CPS. Meanwhile, CWPA and California sardine fishermen, as well as sardine fishermen in the Pacific Northwest, 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.

Original post:

Apr 10 2020

Pacific council votes for status quo on California sardine fishery

A purse seiner off the California coast. California Wetfish Producers Association video image.


Regional managers are sticking with a 4,000 metric ton catch target for the 2020-2021 Pacific sardine fishery, after hearing from environmental groups who wanted a lower catch limit, and fishermen who say stock assessments discount inshore biomass.

“One thing everyone agrees on is the need to improve the sardine stock assessment,” said Marc Gorelnik, vice chair of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which voted on sardine management measures during an April 6 council session – conducted remotely online in accordance with state coronavirus public health restrictions.

The upcoming season starting July 1 will have the same 4,000-ton target as the 2019-2020 season, after the council weighed reports from its scientific and statistical committee, sardine management team and advisors, and comments from the public.

Environmental groups wanted the council to lower the catch target to “buffer” the sardine stock and its role as a forage species for other marine life. The California Wetfish Producers Association has pressed its case that the stock assessment – based largely on NOAA surveys – is inadequate because it fails to account for fish inshore, where the group has advocated doing a new survey.

“We greatly appreciate the expressions of concern from the management team and advisory subpanel, and the council’s action based on those concerns,” said Diane Pleschner-Steele, the association’s executive director, in a statement after the council meeting. “This conflict is between what fishermen say is out there, based on what they see, and what biologists say, based on insufficient science.”

Fishermen contend their observations and independent scientific surveys have documented sardine recruitment and growing abundance since 2015, while the 2020 stock assessment reported no evidence of recruitment.

“The model used to predict biomass has not updated the age data from the fishery since 2015, because the directed fishery has been closed since that time,” according to the association. The council also voted this week to support the group’s application to NMFS for an exempted fishing permit, to allow on a closely controlled directed fishing effort to capture sardine schools throughout the year.

As proposed the cooperative project would use the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to sample and age all the landings and provide that data for the next stock assessment.

Fishermen and managers are also at odds over the definition of the California sardine stocks, where fish found in ocean temperatures are identified as a southern stock extending from waters off Mexico.

“These fish are subtracted from the ‘northern’ sardine stock assessment,” according to the association. “This assumption and current management policy have frustrated fishermen, especially in Southern California, because all catches are deducted from the ‘northern’ sardine harvest limit.”

If the northern sardine stock assessment was reflective of sardine abundance reported by fishermen in year-round waters the species would not be considered overfish, the group says.

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