Nov 11 2018

Major Disease Outbreak Strikes California Sea Lions

preamble —

This article stated:  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced in January that California sea lions had reached carrying capacity—the number of individuals their environment can sustainably support—in 2008.

The expected symptoms of a population of mammals at carrying capacity include reduced reproductive output, decreased growth and survival of young animals, delayed sexual maturity, increases in disease or parasites and decreased size and survival of adults.   There have beenrecent increases in California sea lion pup mortality and reduced pup growth rates, as well as increased incidence of leptospirosis observed in central California and Oregon, leading to the suggestion that the population is approaching carrying capacity (McClatchieet al. 2016).


Leptospirosis afflicts sea lions on a semi-regular cycle, but warming waters and migrating fish could make the marine mammals more susceptible

Princepajaro, a male California sea lion, swims in a pool during treatment for leptospirosis at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, CA. When a leptospirosis outbreak occurs, the Center’s scientists study the disease to learn more about what causes an outbreak and how we can improve treatment for infected animals. (Bill Hunnewell / The Marine Mammal Center)

Shawn Johnson knew it was coming.

“Last fall, we saw a few cases,” he said. “And that was a warning signal, so we were prepared—well, we weren’t prepared for this level of an outbreak.”

Over the past month, Johnson, director of veterinary science at the Marine Mammal Center, just north of San Francisco, and his team have been getting an average of five sick California sea lions a day. The animals have leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that affects their kidneys, causing fatigue, abdominal pain and, more often than not, death.

As of October 16, Johnson’s team had seen 220 sea lions with the disease, which made it the center’s second largest outbreak. Since then, the center reported 29 more sea lions have been rescued and 10 of those died due to leptospirosis. More than a dozen animals are still awaiting diagnosis. The number of cases has started to slow, but if historical trends hold up, Johnson expects this outbreak to eventually surpass 2004’s record of 304 cases of sea lion leptospirosis.

The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, CA, is responding to an outbreak of a potentially fatal bacterial infection called leptospirosis in California sea lions. The pictured sea lion, Glazer, is seen curled up with his flippers folded tightly over his abdomen prior to his rescue by trained Center responders in Monterey. The posture exhibited is known as “lepto pose,” and is often an indication the sea lion is suffering the effects of the disease. (The Marine Mammal Center)

 

All told, about 70 percent of the sea lions the team tried to save have died.

Leptospirosis outbreaks among sea lions occur at fairly regular intervals, but changing ocean conditions—warmer waters and relocating fish—are affecting how the disease strikes populations along the Pacific Coast. The threats aren’t new, but they’re threatening in slightly new ways. Changes in marine conditions appear to be affecting the population’s resiliency to this disease and others. While researchers scramble to save sick sea lions today, they are also studying what this year’s outbreak can tell us about how sea lions will fare down the line.

The good news is that sea lions are fairly mobile and resilient animals. And until recently, their populations were booming. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced in January that California sea lions had reached carrying capacity—the number of individuals their environment can sustainably support—in 2008.

Since then, though, their numbers have fluctuated. A “blob” of unusually warm and long-lasting water moved in along the West Coast from 2013 to 2015, causing widespread algal blooms that spread a neurotoxin called domoic acid throughout the marine food chain. Sea lions with elevated levels of the toxin suffered brain damage, resulting in strokes and an impaired ability to navigate, ultimately killing most of the afflicted individuals.

The warm water also sent fish and smaller marine life out to search for cooler environments, meaning the sea lions had to travel farther to find food. The combination of more distant hunting and impaired navigation led to record numbers of stranded pups—many taken in by the Marine Mammal Center—as well as a dip in the sea lion population during those years.

California sea lion Yakshack is one of 220 patients at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, CA, that has been rescued so far this year impacted by a bacterial disease known as leptospirosis. The Center has been at the forefront of research on leptospirosis in marine mammals and has published a number of scientific papers on the disease dating back to 1985. (Bill Hunnewell / The Marine Mammal Center)

 

But the warm water conditions also led, ironically, to a decline in cases of leptospirosis during that time. Over the past decade, scientists have determined that the disease, which spreads via a parasite, is endemic to the population. Some animals carry the disease and don’t get sick, but they do excrete the parasites in their urine, which is how it spreads to other individuals. When sea lions haul out on a pier or beach, they freely roll around in each other’s pee.

When the blob of warm water appeared, sea lions had to swim farther to find food and had less time to haul out and be social, Johnson says, meaning less time sitting around in each other’s pee and parasites—and fewer cases of leptospirosis. But the lack of the disease a few years ago led to consequences today. Sea lions that get leptospirosis and survive develop antibodies that fend off the parasite in the future, says Katie Prager, a veterinarian researcher at UCLA’s Lloyd-Smith Laboratory who collaborates with the Marine Mammal Center. These antibodies, however, cannot be inherited by offspring.

“It’s not something that can be passed on,” Prager says. “Antibodies are something that the pup has to develop on its own.”

The warm waters meant fewer sick sea lions, but it left the population very vulnerable. Now the disease is back with a vengeance.

“A lot of the animals are now naive to that bacteria and their immune systems haven’t been exposed to that,” says Alissa Deming, a veterinarian researcher at Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama who previously studied sea lion diseases at the Marine Mammal Research Center. “There is a group of animals that haven’t seen this before.”

The risk, according to the researchers, is that continued domoic acid outbreaks could result in a vicious cycle—fewer cases of leptospirosis produce unexposed populations, and then major outbreaks flare up like we are seeing this year.

“This is a great example of how environmental change has so much impact on a wild species—all the way from where they eat, where they migrate and how their diseases change over time, just based on a few degrees’ increase,” Johnson says.

California sea lion Herbie lays on his pen floor during treatment for leptospirosis at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, CA. Veterinarians can usually identify leptospirosis in a patient even before laboratory tests confirm a diagnosis because of the infection’s distinctive symptoms in California sea lions, which include drinking water and folding the flippers over the abdomen. (Bill Hunnewell / The Marine Mammal Center)

 

The first documented case of a marine mammal suffering from the domoic acid toxin was in 1998, and the events are now increasing in frequency—so much so that the spread of domoic acid has become a yearly sign of the changing seasons around San Francisco Bay. “The days are getting shorter, pumpkin spice lattes are here and once again, it’s time for that other Bay Area rite of fall: worrying about the levels of toxins in local Dungeness crabs,” begins a recent San Francisco Chronicle article on the influence of the toxin on the start of crabbing season.

Sea lions don’t wait for permission from the Department of Public Health before they start eating crabs, though.

To exacerbate the issue even more, an El Nino event is predicted over the coming months, meaning warmer ocean waters off the West Coast and possibly more algal blooms and toxins. Already, Southern California waters—where researchers have found some of the highest concentrations of diatoms that produce domoic acid—have had record high temperatures this year.

NOAA has even deemed the recent warm-water years a “climate change stress test” for West Coast oceans. The agency said the conditions “may offer previews of anthropogenic climate change impacts projected for the latter part of the 21st century.”

If this has been a test, sea lions might not have passed, says Robert DeLong, a scientist with NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center. DeLong has been studying California sea lions for decades at their breeding grounds, Channel Islands off Santa Barbara. He says the species should be pretty resilient in the face of climate change, but the rate of warming waters is proving a major challenge.

Volunteers from The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, CA, release California sea lions Bogo (left), Brielle (center), and Biggie (right) back to the wild near Bodega Bay. All three sea lions were treated for leptospirosis at the Center’s Sausalito hospital. Many different animal species, including humans and dogs, can become infected with Leptospira through contact with contaminated urine, water or soil. The Center has a number of safety protocols in place to prevent transmission to veterinarians and volunteers working with sea lion patients. (Bill Hunnewell / The Marine Mammal Center)

 

The center of the West Coast sea lion population is around Baja California, so the species has adapted to warmer water than is currently being seen farther north up the coast. “They have that capability to live in warmer water,” DeLong says. And unlike, say, coral reefs, sea lions are very mobile, able to swim long distances to find suitable habitats.

But while males can chase food far up north, during the breeding season females are tied to a small radius around the rookery. If there is less food available there because fish have moved to cooler waters, it could present a major problem for sea lion mothers and their pups.

“So if this is what climate change looks like, and this period is an adequate proxy, if that’s really the case, then sea lions may not do as well as we would think,” DeLong says.

There are still signs of hope. Sea lions are increasingly moving north to new breeding grounds off the San Francisco Bay, for instance. The limiting factor is time.

“If the environmental changes are slow enough to adapt, they’ll be able to move and will probably move farther up the coast,” Johnson said. “If changes are slow enough, I could see them being able to adapt.”


Original post: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/

 

Nov 8 2018

Quantifying sensitivity and adaptive capacity of shellfish in the Northern California Current Ecosystem to increasing prevalence of ocean acidification and hypoxia

The severity of carbonate chemistry changes from ocean acidification is predicted to increase greatly in the coming decades, with serious consequences for marine species-­ especially those reliant on calcium carbonate for structure and function (Fabry et al. 2008). The Northern California Current Ecosystem off the coast of US West Coast experiences seasonal variations in upwelling and downwelling patterns creating natural episodes of hypoxia and calcite/aragonite undersaturation, exacerbating global trends of increasing ocean acidification and hypoxia (OAH) (Chan et al. 2008) (Gruber et al. 2012). The goal of these experiments was to identify thresholds of tolerance and attempt to quantify a point at which variance in responses to stress collapses. This study focuses on two species: Cancer magister (Dungeness crab) and Haliotis rufescens (red abalone). These species were selected for this study based on their economic and ecological value, as well as their taxonomic differences. Respirometry was used as a proxy for metabolic activity at four different scenarios mimicking preindustrial, upwelling, contemporary upwelling, and distant future conditions by manipulating dissolved oxygen and inorganic carbon (DIC) concentrations. Both species showed a decrease in mean respiration rate as OAH stressors increase, including an effect in contemporary upwelling conditions. These results suggest that current exposure to ocean acidification (OA) and hypoxia do not confer resilience to these stressors for either taxa. In teasing apart the effects of OAH as multiple stressors, it was found that Dungeness crab response was more strongly driven by concentration of dissolved oxygen, while red abalone data suggested a strong interactive effect between OA and hypoxia. Not only did these two different taxa exhibit different responses to a multiple stressors, but the fact that the Dungeness crab were secondarily impacted by acidification could suggest that current management concerns may need to be focus more strongly on deoxygenation.

Gossner H. M., 2018. Quantifying sensitivity and adaptive capacity of shellfish in the northern California current ecosystem to increasing prevalence of ocean acidification and hypoxia. MSc thesis, Oregon State University, 104 p. Thesis.


Original post: https://news-oceanacidification-icc.org/

Nov 8 2018

Alterations to seabed raise fears for future

The ocean floor as we know it is dissolving rapidly as a result of human activity.

Normally the deep sea bottom is a chalky white. It’s composed, to a large extent, of the mineral calcite (CaCO3) formed from the skeletons and shells of many planktonic organisms and corals. The seafloor plays a crucial role in controlling the degree of ocean acidification. The dissolution of calcite neutralizes the acidity of the CO2, and in the process prevents seawater from becoming too acidic. But these days, at least in certain hotspots such as the Northern Atlantic and the southern Oceans, the ocean’s chalky bed is becoming more of a murky brown. As a result of human activities the level of CO2 in the water is so high, and the water is so acidic, that the calcite is simply being dissolved.

The McGill-led research team who published their results this week in a study in PNAS believe that what they are seeing today is only a foretaste of the way that the ocean floor will most likely be affected in future.

Long-lasting repercussions

“Because it takes decades or even centuries for CO2 to drop down to the bottom of the ocean, almost all the CO2 created through human activity is still at the surface. But in the future, it will invade the deep-ocean, spread above the ocean floor and cause even more calcite particles at the seafloor to dissolve,” says lead author Olivier Sulpis who is working on his PhD in McGill’s Dept. of Earth and Planetary Sciences. “The rate at which CO2 is currently being emitted into the atmosphere is exceptionally high in Earth’s history, faster than at any period since at least the extinction of the dinosaurs. And at a much faster rate than the natural mechanisms in the ocean can deal with, so it raises worries about the levels of ocean acidification in future.”

In future work, the researchers plan to look at how this deep ocean bed dissolution is likely to evolve over the coming centuries, under various potential future CO2 emission scenarios. They believe that it is critical for scientists and policy makers to develop accurate estimates of how marine ecosystems will be affected, over the long-term, by acidification caused by humans.

How the work was done

Because it is difficult and expensive to obtain measurements in the deep-sea, the researchers created a set of seafloor-like microenvironments in the laboratory, reproducing abyssal bottom currents, seawater temperature and chemistry as well as sediment compositions. These experiments helped them to understand what controls the dissolution of calcite in marine sediments and allowed them to quantify precisely its dissolution rate as a function of various environmental variables. By comparing pre-industrial and modern seafloor dissolution rates, they were able to extract the anthropogenic fraction of the total dissolution rates.

The speed estimates for ocean-bottom currents came from a high-resolution ocean model developed by University of Michigan physical oceanographer Brian Arbic and a former postdoctoral fellow in his laboratory, David Trossman, who is now a research associate at the University of Texas-Austin.

“When David and I developed these simulations, applications to the dissolution of geological material at the bottom of the oceans were far from our minds. It just goes to show you that scientific research can sometimes take unexpected detours and pay unexpected dividends,” said Arbic, an associate professor in the University of Michigan Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Trossman adds: “Just as climate change isn’t just about polar bears, ocean acidification isn’t just about coral reefs. Our study shows that the effects of human activities have become evident all the way down to the seafloor in many regions, and the resulting increased acidification in these regions may impact our ability to understand Earth’s climate history.”

“This study shows that human activities are dissolving the geological record at the bottom of the ocean,” says Arbic. “This is important because the geological record provides evidence for natural and anthropogenic changes.”

McGill University (via SienceDaily), 29 October 2018. Article.


Originally posted: https://news-oceanacidification-icc.org/

Nov 2 2018

Startling new research finds large buildup of heat in the oceans, suggesting a faster rate of global warming

The findings mean the world might have less time to curb carbon emissions.

 

A post-sunset swimmer at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, Calif., this month. (Mike Blake/Reuters) (MIKE BLAKE/Reuters)

The world’s oceans have been soaking up far more excess heat in recent decades than scientists realized, suggesting that Earth could be set to warm even faster than predicted in the years ahead, according to new research published Wednesday.

Over the past quarter-century, Earth’s oceans have retained 60 percent more heat each year than scientists previously had thought, said Laure Resplandy, a geoscientist at Princeton University who led the startling study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. The difference represents an enormous amount of additional energy, originating from the sun and trapped by Earth’s atmosphere — the yearly amount representing more than eight times the world’s annual energy consumption.

In the scientific realm, the new findings help resolve long-running doubts about the rate of the warming of the oceans before 2007, when reliable measurements from devices called “Argo floats” were put to use worldwide. Before that, differing types of temperature records — and an overall lack of them — contributed to murkiness about how quickly the oceans were heating up.

The higher-than-expected amount of heat in the oceans means more heat is being retained within Earth’s climate system each year, rather than escaping into space. In essence, more heat in the oceans signals that global warming is more advanced than scientists thought.

“We thought that we got away with not a lot of warming in both the ocean and the atmosphere for the amount of CO2 that we emitted,” said Resplandy, who published the work with experts from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and several other institutions in the United States, China, France and Germany. “But we were wrong. The planet warmed more than we thought. It was hidden from us just because we didn’t sample it right. But it was there. It was in the ocean already.”

The United Nations panel on climate issued a report warning of unprecedented temperature rise between 2030 and 2052 if global warming continues.

Wednesday’s study also could have important policy implications. If ocean temperatures are rising more rapidly than previously calculated, that could leave nations even less time to dramatically cut the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide, in the hope of limiting global warming to the ambitious goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels by the end of this century.

The world already has warmed one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the late 19th century. Scientists backed by the United Nations reported this month that with warming projected to steadily increase, the world faces a daunting challenge in trying to limit that warming to only another half-degree Celsius. The group found that it would take “unprecedented” action by leaders across the globe over the coming decade to even have a shot at that goal.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has continued to roll back regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions from vehicles, coal plants and other sources and has said it intends to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. In one instance, the administration relied on an assumption that the planet will warm a disastrous seven degrees Fahrenheit, or about four degrees Celsius, by the end of the century in arguing that a proposal to ease vehicle fuel-efficiency standards would have only minor climate impacts.

The new research underscores the potential consequences of global inaction. Rapidly warming oceans mean that seas will rise faster and that more heat will be delivered to critical locations that already are facing the effects of a warming climate, such as coral reefs in the tropics and the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica.

“In case the larger estimate of ocean heat uptake turns out to be true, adaptation to — and mitigation of — our changing climate would become more urgent,” said Pieter Tans, who is the leader of the Carbon Cycle Greenhouse Gases Group at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and was not involved in the study.

The oceans absorb more than 90 percent of the excess energy trapped within the world’s atmosphere.

The new research does not measure the ocean’s temperature directly. Rather, it measures the volume of gases, specifically oxygen and carbon dioxide, that have escaped the ocean in recent decades and headed into the atmosphere as it heats up. The method offered scientists a reliable indicator of ocean temperature change because it reflects a fundamental behavior of a liquid when heated.

“When the ocean warms, it loses some gas to the atmosphere,” Resplandy said. “That’s an analogy that I make all the time: If you leave your Coke in the sun, it will lose the gas.”

This approach allowed researchers to recheck the contested history of ocean temperatures in a different and novel way. In doing so, they came up with a higher number for how much warming the oceans have experienced over time.

“I feel like this is a triumph of Earth-system science. That we could get confirmation from atmospheric gases of ocean heat content is extraordinary,” said Joellen Russell, a professor and oceanographer at the University of Arizona. “You’ve got the A team here on this paper.”

But Russell said the findings are hardly as uplifting.

The report “does have implications for climate sensitivity, meaning, how warm does a certain amount of CO2 make us?” Russell said, adding that the world could have a smaller “carbon budget” than once thought. That budget refers to the amount of carbon dioxide humans can emit while still being able to keep warming below dangerous levels.

The scientists calculated that because of the increased heat already stored in the ocean, the maximum emissions that the world can produce while still avoiding a warming of two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) would have to be reduced by 25 percent. That represents a very significant shrinkage of an already very narrow carbon “budget.”

The U.N. panel of climate scientists said recently that global carbon emissions must be cut in half by 2030 if the world hopes to remain beneath 1.5 Celsius of warming. But Resplandy said that the evidence of faster-warming oceans “shifts the probability, making it harder to stay below the 1.5-degree temperature target.”

Understanding what is happening with Earth’s oceans is critical, because they, far more than the atmosphere, are the mirror of ongoing climate change.

According to a major climate report released last year by the U.S. government, the world’s oceans have absorbed about 93 percent of the excess heat caused by greenhouse gases since the mid-20th century. Scientists have found that ocean heat has increased at all depths since the 1960s, while surface waters also have warmed. The federal climate report projected a global increase in average sea surface temperatures of as much as nearly five degrees Fahrenheit by 2100 if emissions continue unabated, with even higher levels of warming in some U.S. coastal regions.

The world’s oceans also absorb more than a quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted annually from human activities — an effect making them more acidic and threatening fragile ecosystems, federal researchers say. “The rate of acidification is unparalleled in at least the past 66 million years,” the government climate report stated.

Paul Durack, a research scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, said Wednesday’s study offers “a really interesting new insight” and is “quite alarming.”

The warming found in the study is “more than twice the rates of long-term warming estimates from the 1960s and ’70s to the present,” Durack said, adding that if these rates are validated by further studies, “it means the rate of warming and the sensitivity of the Earth’s system to greenhouse gases is at the upper end.” He said that if scientists have underestimated the amount of heat taken up by the oceans, “it will mean we need to go back to the drawing board” on the aggressiveness of mitigation actions the world needs to take promptly to limit future warming.

Beyond the long-term implications of warmer oceans, Russell added that in the short term, even small changes in ocean temperatures can affect weather in specific places. For instance, scientists have said warmer oceans off the coast of New England have contributed to more-intense winter storms.

“We’re only just now discovering how important ocean warming is to our daily lives, to our daily weather,” she said.


Original post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/

Oct 29 2018

Coastal Pacific Oxygen Levels Now Plummet Once A Year

40-year crabber David Bailey says hypoxic water can show up like the flip of a switch, “If there are crabs in the pot, they’re dead. Straight up.” — Kristian Foden-Vencil/Oregon Public Broadcasting

 

Scientists say West Coast waters now have a hypoxia season, or dead-zone season, just like the wildfire season.

Hypoxia is a condition in which the ocean water close to the seafloor has such low levels of dissolved oxygen that the organisms living down there die.

Crabber David Bailey, who skippers the Morningstar II, is rattled by the news. He remembers a hypoxia event out of Newport, Oregon, about a decade ago. He says it shows up “like a flip of a switch.”

“It shows up like a flip of a switch,” he says.

“If there are crabs in the pot, they’re dead. Straight up,” Bailey says. And if you re-bait the pots, “when you go out the next time, they’re blanks, they’re absolutely empty. The crabs have left the area.”

A hypoxia event will kill everything that can’t swim away—animals like crabs, sea cucumbers and sea stars.

“We can now say that Oregon has a hypoxia season much like the wildfire season,” says Francis Chan, co-chair of the California Hypoxia Science Task Force.

“Every summer we live on the knife’s edge and during many years we cross the threshold into danger – including the past two years,” Chan says. “When oxygen levels get low enough, many marine organisms who are place-bound, or cannot move away rapidly enough, die of oxygen starvation.”

The hypoxia season hits Oregon, Washington and California waters in the summer and can last from a few of days to a couple of months. Some years it only affects a few square miles of ocean; other years it’s thousands of square miles.

Video taken by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in 2006 showed dead marine life littering the sea floor.

“These reefs that used to be full of rockfish, they were all gone and a lot of the marine life: the sea stars, the sea cucumbers. They were dead,” says Chan.

The question now is: Why is this happening?

“One of the more fundamental reasons is that the ocean is warmer now and warmer water holds less oxygen,” says Chan. “And then the second part is that a warmer surface ocean, it acts as an insulating blanket.”

So that blanket stops colder low-oxygen water from rising up and mixing with oxygen in the surf.

Scientists say climate change is behind this. The ocean has been absorbing nearly all the rising heat from greenhouse gas emissions, and it’s projected to grow even warmer in coming decades.

Other factors may be contributing too. Oregon State University oceanographer and co-chair of the Oregon Coordinating Council on Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Jack Barth, thinks higher temperatures are also slowing ocean currents. If we could see under the waves, he says, there’d be a lot more concern.

Oregon State University oceanographer Jack Barth deploys a glider that will spend weeks at sea collecting data on everything from dissolved oxygen levels to temperature. “When we used to think about hypoxia in the ocean, we think about little areas. But now what we’re looking at is…out in the ocean, there’s low oxygen…all along the coast,” he says.

Kristian Foden-Vencil/Oregon Public Broadcasting

“As an analogy, think about the summer when the skies were filled with smoke. Covered the whole Pacific Northwest,” Barth says. “When we used to think about hypoxia in the ocean, we think about little areas. But now what we’re looking at is…low oxygen all along the coast.”

Barth is collecting data to draw the first hypoxia maps of Oregon’s coast.

“We’re actually seeing real interest from the fishing community. They know how to look at our data and say, ‘Where are the layers in the ocean? Where is the high and low oxygen?'” Barth says.

Barth also notes that the crabbing and the oyster industries were ahead of the curve. “They were among the first to notice that the ocean just off our coast is changing and was affecting their livelihoods,” Barth says. “And they have been working with scientists ever since.”

Deep Pacific waters 50 miles off the coast have always been hypoxic. And it’s hardly surprising. The water down there take decades to slowly flow thousands of miles from Japan to the west coast — all the while separated from oxygen in the air.

But in 2002, fishers started to notice hypoxic waters moving closer-in — to just a couple of miles off the coast.

Back then, Francis Chan had just finished his Ph.D and was looking for a research subject. State fish and wildlife biologists started to call him to say crabbers were calling them, saying their crabs were dead. The crabbers also noticed strange behavior, like octopuses climbing up ropes.

Chan went out to sample the water and found extremely low levels of dissolved oxygen across tens of square miles. Four years later it happened again, but across a larger area and with lower oxygen levels.

“Hypoxia is something we rarely saw throughout the 20th century,” Chan says, “but have seen almost annually since the year 2002.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration just issued a grant for about 40 new oxygen sensors to be distributed among crabbers so they gather data where they put their pots. Crabbers say they’re happy to hand over the data, but they’re not so sure about revealing the locations — favorite crabbing spots are a closely held secret.


Original post: https://www.npr.org/

Oct 25 2018

Seaport developer, fishermen reach deal to help save San Diego’s storied fishing industry

Commercial fishermen David Haworth (left) and Peter Halmay talk on the G Street Mole on Sept. 24, 2018. (Brad Racino/inewsource)

 

After years of negotiations, San Diego’s fishermen and a local developer have signed an agreement to recapture a lost piece of the city’s history – a thriving commercial fishing trade that once employed thousands of people while netting hundreds of millions of dollars.

Much of the agreement focuses on five acres called Tuna Harbor, and the role it will play within Seaport San Diego, the billion-dollar waterfront development expected to break ground in 2022.

The marina is expected to provide a true “working waterfront” – a unique attraction for the Seaport project, an economic boon for the region and an opportunity for the fishermen to revive their struggling industry.

Throughout the talks, inewsource monitored the arguments, near-implosions and compromises that finally led to a deal being signed last month. It was a rare and noteworthy episode in San Diego history: Downtown land was up for grabs, and the two sides vying for a part of its future couldn’t have contrasted more in their history, finances or motivations.

“It wasn’t easy,” Peter Halmay said.

The 77-year-old urchin diver, representing San Diego’s commercial fishermen, sat next to Seaport San Diego developer Yehudi Gaffen at the conference room table of the American Tunaboat Association on Sept. 24. For years, Halmay had worked for this moment, though in a way he’d been planning it for decades – as one of the biggest advocates for commercial fishing’s “fantastic future” in San Diego.

Gaffen signed for Seaport and sat a head shorter from the tip of Halmay’s shock of white hair.

“I was 6 foot when I started,” Gaffen said.

“And I had wavy blond hair,” Halmay said.

The papers on the table were an ending point — but also a beginning. There are still government agencies, private interests and the public to appease. Not easy steps, said Alex Buggy, seated to Halmay’s right. The former Navy SEAL has spent the past three years as the intermediary between the fishermen and developer.

“But if we do it together, we have a better chance of succeeding,” Buggy said.

San Diego’s commercial fishermen rarely cooperate with outsiders. Monied interests – including developers – are naturally interested in their bayfront properties. Hotels line the downtown North Embarcadero. Two different billion-dollar developments are coming to the Central Embarcadero (home to Tuna Harbor). A third waterfront project – one of the largest on the West Coast – is expected to break ground on the Chula Vista bayfront in 2019.

Halmay, who had been negotiating on behalf of a disparate and unruly group of fishermen for the past three years, pointed to Gaffen and Buggy.

“And one thing these people never said was, ‘How do we get rid of these guys?’”

Gaffen smirked.

“We thought we could until we met you,” he said.

Setting the scene

Two years earlier – at the same table – Peter Flournoy considered the news media’s portrayal of his clients as “cowboys of the sea.” From Washington, D.C., to Papua New Guinea, the 74-year-old maritime attorney has represented fishermen for decades. A map of the world took up much of the wall behind him. San Diego Bay lapped outside his windows.

“I guess it depends on what you think of as a cowboy,” Flournoy said. “If you think of cowboys as outlaws or cattle rustlers or stuff like that, that’s not commercial fishermen. If you think of cowboys as independent, tough, resilient, hard working, with deep character, kind of people, then yeah, maybe you can call them cowboys.”

Many of these San Diego “cowboys” displayed those traits in public meetings, private talks, aboard their boats and underwater during the years of negotiations with Gaffen. They also showed volatility, a lack of organization and a level of distrust that sometimes bordered on paranoia.

Few interviewed had high hopes for Gaffen when his Seaport project cleared a hurdle on July 13, 2016.

“This has been a competition for ideas,” then-San Diego Port Commissioner Bob Nelson said to a packed house that afternoon, “and I believe there is one clear winner.”

The competition was over 70 acres of public land and water along the Central Embarcadero. Six companies presented redevelopment plans to the port – a government agency that manages thousands of acres of public land and water across San Diego, National City, Chula Vista, Coronado and Imperial Beach.

The winner was 1HWY1 – Seaport’s umbrella organization managed by Gaffen, Jeffrey Essakow and Jeff Jacobs. The estimated cost for the project was $1.2 billion, funded entirely by private investment. It is now around $1.6 billion, and includes hotels, office space, retail, a school, an aquarium, public parks and more within the area from the San Diego Convention Center to the USS Midway Museum.

Five acres of that land are protected by law for San Diego’s commercial fishermen. The California Coastal Act recognizes their industry’s “economic, commercial, and recreational importance.” It’s one of the few protections the fishermen have.

“People wonder why fishing has been on a downturn, and it’s because it’s difficult to operate our businesses on a day-to-day basis,” fisherman Kelly Fukushima said.

“Everything’s a struggle.”

What’s at stake

Fishermen around the country have been on the defensive for decades. Developers are just one threat. Federal and state regulations, an overabundance of imported seafood, low wages, a lack of public awareness and an aging fleet are a few others.

These factors nearly sank the commercial fishing industry in San Diego – and the U.S. – over the past half century, and the maritime economy along with it:

  • San Diego – once known as “The Tuna Capital of the World” – went from employing more than 4,100 people in boats and canneries in 1971 to closing its last factory in 1984.
  • California fishermen went from hauling in more than 1.5 billion pounds of fish in 1950 to landing little more than 11 percent of that in 2016.
  • Foreign competition cornered the national market. Today, 85 percent to 95 percent of the fish we eat is imported, and the U.S. ran a $16 billion seafood trade deficit in 2017.

Despite these numbers, San Diego’s commercial fishermen believe opportunities abound: the Port Commission’s new chairman openly advocates for a vibrant maritime industry; fish off the California coast are plentiful after “spectacular rebuilding efforts”; the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, a 4-year-old commercial enterprise formed and run by local fishermen, is drawing hundreds of customers each Saturday; and a panel discussion about the future of Tuna Harbor drew close to 200 people in April 2017.

“From an industry standpoint, we’re seeing a big bright light,” said Fukushima, who has been catching swordfish, shark and tuna off the coast for more than 20 years.

“The demand for our products is increasing. The public awareness of what we do is on a scale that hasn’t been recognized in a long time. There’s a great opportunity for fishing, and we need to promote it better,” he said.

“We also need to have the infrastructure to do it right.”

From Gaffen’s perspective, if San Diego fishermen are equipped with that infrastructure and support, they’ll generate a true “working waterfront” – like those in Morro Bay, San Francisco, Seattle and Tacoma.

A working waterfront also opens the door to possible apprenticeships, branding campaigns, a network of local buyers and a fishing museum, Gaffen and others said. Those elements could create a maritime district in downtown San Diego.

But key to that future is the physical state of Tuna Harbor.

On the docks

David Haworth looked around the marina this past August. The tuna, lobster and squid fisherman pointed out rotting piers and dilapidated docks before motioning toward a landscaper.

That guy is out here every day, tending to the flowers, Haworth said, while what really needs to be maintained is ignored.

The Port of San Diego is responsible for taking care of the harbor, but it hasn’t been doing the best job. Docks are falling apart – many are unusable. Storage is lacking. One study from 2010 found it would take $2.4 million to $8.4 million to renovate Tuna Harbor.

Port Chairman Rafael Castellanos acknowledged the marina’s backlog of deferred maintenance but said it’s not unique to Tuna Harbor.

“We have 34 miles of coastline, 6,000 acres,” Castellanos said of the port. “We would like for all of that to be in perfect condition, but the reality is we have to make choices every year.”

He hopes the Seaport development will fund the Tuna Harbor improvements.

That’s where the past several years of negotiations come into play. To reinvent Tuna Harbor, the developer and fishermen would have to find a compromise. The fishermen would need to overcome a silo mentality, spend much of their time on land, and learn how to work with a person who represented everything they’ve long despised – waterfront development.

Gaffen and his team had to put in long hours, organize hundreds of meetings with stakeholders, and find a way to work with a splintered faction of gruff older men who labeled his initial plans for Tuna Harbor “HS1” and “HS2” – the HS short for horseshit.

If they hadn’t worked out a deal, the fishermen could have gone to the California Coastal Commission, the port or the news media – and possibly killed Gaffen’s project.

Gaffen could have ignored the marina, or found a way around the fishermen by developing the surrounding land and taking millions of dollars off the table for reinvestment in Tuna Harbor.

‘’I don’t like to be forced by very wealthy people to do something I don’t want to do,” Halmay told inewsource. “It goes against a fisherman’s nature.‘’

Trouble on the horizon

Gaffen guessed that by August 2016 he’d already spent at least nine months meeting with Halmay and his colleagues.

“In the beginning,” Gaffen recalled, “they just said, ‘We don’t trust you, we don’t even know if we want to work with you.’”

Though the meeting locations would change every other week – from the American Tunaboat Association to the Chesapeake Fish Co. to the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute to the downstairs dining room of the Harbor House restaurant – the distrust remained constant.

Phil Harris, a second-generation fisherman, spoke to inewsource about Gaffen while piloting his boat, the Seanag.

Phil Harris was a part of the Seaport negotiations and is pictured here aboard his boat, the Seanag, in July 2016. (Brad Racino/inewsource)

“He’s a typical developer,” Harris said, then paused.

“Well, I don’t know about typical, but he is a developer and you gotta just take that into consideration in dealing with him.”

He said Gaffen had been pleasant to work with, but he was in a “position to either help us a lot, or sink us.”

“We’re headed for a confrontation, I’m sure,” Harris said.

Harris remembered the “fiasco” of the North Embarcadero development project. The Port of San Diego promised that swath of land to the public in the early 2000s, but powerful interests privatized it piece by piece. Gaffen was involved with that project, and Harris would clash frequently with the developer over the next two years.

At a crowded meeting in January 2017, Harris broke up what was becoming a productive discussion between the fishermen and Gaffen.

“What are your intentions,” Harris shot at the developer. “We’re not going to give anything up.”

During the negotiations, Harris, Halmay and dozens of other fishermen would meet on Saturday mornings at the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market to sell fish and trade the latest gossip. Was Gaffen going to allow yachts inside Tuna Harbor, next to fishing boats? What was going to happen to their parking spaces? Was he going to jack up the rent?

The Tuna Harbor Dockside Market on Oct. 7, 2016. (Megan Wood/inewsource)

Even after more than a dozen meetings, they continued to doubt Gaffen.

“They are suspicious of the outcome and why this is being done,” Gaffen told inewsource at the time. “They don’t trust the data, and to some extent don’t trust us.”

He said he didn’t blame them – that they had been taken advantage of in so many areas over the decades that the lack of trust was well-founded.

A growing rift was over allowing anything other than commercial fishing boats within Tuna Harbor. From Gaffen’s standpoint, empty slips didn’t make sense: Why not fill them with sportfishing or pleasure boats when the fishermen weren’t using them? From the fishermen’s perspective, once those boats got in, they’d never leave – and there are only about 100 spots in the harbor.

Halmay’s plan for “a fantastic future” for commercial fishing would have no room to flourish if this happened.

The urchin diver and the developer could find no common ground. In February 2017, Halmay sent an email: Gaffen was pulling out of Tuna Harbor.

A turning point

Seaport’s financial backers “do not see any possibility of running the marina in the black even in the distant future,” Halmay wrote, without allowing yachts and sportfishing boats in Tuna Harbor.

Gaffen later told inewsource he didn’t know where that rumor came from, but it wasn’t true. The issue, however, would pop up again. Gaffen promised the fishermen no recreational activities would be allowed in the marina, and he presented them with plans for upgrading facilities and structures at the harbor.

Shortly after that, Halmay told inewsource at an interview in a North Park coffee shop that he had changed his mind about the Seaport developer. Gaffen had proved he was listening.

“It looks like the stuff we wanted is there. Now the real work starts,” he said.

Commercial fisherman Peter Halmay aboard the Erin B., on July 27, 2016. (Brad Racino/inewsource)

Halmay was joined that day by Theresa Talley, a scientist and researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She specializes in coastal ecosystems and had been at the negotiations from the beginning.

She started by helping the fishermen find a unified voice, then transitioned to being what she called a “referee” at the meetings.

In the summer of 2016, Talley and her colleagues at the University of California San Diego published a research paper. It found only 8 percent of San Diego’s 86 seafood markets consistently carried locally sourced fish.

Reasons cited included “a small fishing fleet, prevalence of imported seafood, limited waterfront and urban infrastructure needed to support a local seafood system, and a lack of public awareness about local fisheries.”

The week after inewsource met with Halmay and Talley, Gaffen sat for an interview at his office in Sorrento Valley.

“This is taking almost every waking moment of my day, seven days a week,” Gaffen said.

“It’s at a very critical stage of the project right now.”

But things were going better than he expected. There was mutual trust and collaboration developing, Gaffen said. The two sides were on a path together.

“I must say that after our last meeting a couple of weeks ago, it felt really good,” he said. “I think it was the ‘Aha’ moment.”

That good faith lasted a month or so.

Then, at an April 2017 port meeting, the fishermen erupted when the board proposed zoning Tuna Harbor as “mixed use.” To them, that was a nebulous term that meant removing protections given to them by state law.

“The fishermen thought we did it,” Gaffen told inewsource the morning after the meeting.

“We had nothing to do with it. It came as a surprise to us,” he said.

The port ended up dropping the “mixed use” designation, though the fishermen’s distrust would persist for months.

Deal falling apart

This year, on Feb. 3, Gaffen told inewsource the negotiations were crumbling.

Talks with the fishermen were transitioning from a “win-win” to a “lose-lose,” he said, because a small group of mavericks wouldn’t accept anything he offered. He said his team was willing to pump millions into Tuna Harbor, but the fishermen needed to give up something. They needed to agree to having secondary uses at the harbor when fishing boats weren’t filling up the piers.

Halmay, Haworth, Harris and Flournoy gathered on the G Street Pier that day. They said they were in the same position as they were 10 months before, but that Gaffen had become secretive and stopped listening to their concerns.

But before a big meeting in front of the Port Commission on March 13, the fishermen got some concessions and decided it was better to stick with Gaffen than risk everything they’d work toward.

The meeting drew people from the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, San Diego Tourism Authority, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, the San Diego Waterfront Coalition and others. Almost all spoke in support of Gaffen’s Seaport project – as did Halmay and Flournoy.

“When we started, we were almost talking two different languages,” Halmay said to the commission. “We look at the port from the water in, and most developers look at it from the land, from the buildings, all the way to the edge of the water. … I think we can make it into a beautiful area that would not only reflect on the history and tradition, but would be an efficient way of marketing our fish. I think we’re working towards that goal.”

Minor issues still needed to be worked out, Halmay said, but “I think we can get there.”

Gaffen, seated in the front row, was visibly happy with what he was hearing.

Port Commissioner Robert “Dukie” Valderrama from National City said to Gaffen, “When the fishermen first approached us regarding this project, there was a war going on – and it was them against you. … But the good point is you guys are meeting and you’re communicating and you’re evolving.”

He added: “Overall I’m pleased with where we’re headed.”

A done deal

The signed agreement – dated Sept. 24, 2018 – was on the table in front of Halmay and Gaffen. It described what each side was willing to give – and give up.

Seaport will keep rates low for fishermen and designate Tuna Harbor solely for commercial fishing. The developer will provide space in a waterfront building for seafood buyers and processors, along with cold storage, ice machines, live seafood tanks and other items necessary for direct marketing – something Halmay has advocated for long before Gaffen came along.

“He may be in his 70s,” liaison Alex Buggy said of Halmay, “but he honestly has the perspective of a millennial, and understands that you need to be out in the community marketing what you do, and letting Americans know that American products can be sold here locally.”

Seaport will also provide cranes, an offloading dock, more dedicated parking and berths, signage, improved storage areas, sufficient space for a fish auction, and a strong effort to help fishermen restore a pier on the North Embarcadero.

In exchange, the fishermen won’t object if Seaport wants to commercialize the bay west of the Fish Market Restaurant. They will actively support the developer’s interests in the community and at related government meetings. And they’re still negotiating how much space to cede in Tuna Harbor for other uses when there is no demand for a commercial fishing slip – but no recreational boating is allowed.

Shortly after signing the deal, Gaffen reflected on the past three years dealing with Halmay.

“A lot of credit goes to him for persevering through,” Gaffen said. Halmay could have been out fishing and making a living, but instead his dedication to building a future for San Diego’s commercial fishermen helped lay the groundwork for the agreement on the table, Gaffen said.

“Without him, we would never have got here,” the developer said.

Halmay accepted the praise in his own way – joking that those kind words will make his fellow fishermen think he’s been paid off.

The ink had dried. The two sat back in their seat.

“The treaties that the fishermen have signed with the port haven’t been very good for the last 30 years,” Halmay said. “We’ve kept losing and losing and losing. … Finally – I don’t think we’re losing in this.”

By year’s end, Gaffen said Seaport will present a final project description, which for Tuna Harbor means a “fairly precise” layout of infrastructure, slip sizes, building footprints and square footage. Then it will to the Port Commission, the California Coastal Commission and the State Lands Commission.

Once an environmental impact report is finished, Gaffen said, Tuna Harbor could be rebuilt in less than a year.

“It’s gonna be a slow build,” Buggy said. “But once it crests, it’s going to have this huge upland economic impact that’s going to be great for San Diego.”

But Halmay did exercise a note of caution, quoting “the famous philosopher Mike Tyson.”

“A plan is good,” Halmay said, “until you get punched in the face.”


Originally published: https://inewsource.org/  |  by Brad Racino | October 23, 2018 | Full article including video files

Oct 4 2018

Climate scientists are struggling to find the right words for very bad news

A much-awaited report from the U.N.’s top climate science panel will show an enormous gap between where we are and where we need to be to prevent dangerous levels of warming.

In Incheon, South Korea, this week, representatives of over 130 countries and about 50 scientists have packed into a large conference center going over every line of an all-important report: What chance does the planet have of keeping climate change to a moderate, controllable level?

When they can’t agree, they form “contact groups” outside the hall, trying to strike an agreement and move the process along. They are trying to reach consensus on what it would mean — and what it would take — to limit the warming of the planet to just 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, when 1 degree Celsius has already occurred and greenhouse gas emissions remain at record highs.

“It’s the biggest peer-review exercise there is,” said Jonathan Lynn, head of communications for the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “It involves hundreds or even thousands of people looking at it.”

Delegates and experts attend the opening ceremony of the 48th session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in Incheon, South Korea, on Oct. 1, 2018. (Jung Yeon-je/AFP/Getty Images) (Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)

The IPCC, the world’s definitive scientific body when it comes to climate change, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a decade ago and has been given what may rank as its hardest task yet.

It must not only tell governments what we know about climate change — but how close they have brought us to the edge. And by implication, how much those governments are failing to live up to their goals for the planet, set in the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

1.5 degrees is the most stringent and ambitious goal in that agreement, originally put there at the behest of small island nations and other highly vulnerable countries. But it is increasingly being regarded by all as a key guardrail, as severe climate change effects have been felt in just the past five years — raising concerns about what a little bit more warming would bring.

“Half a degree doesn’t sound like much til you put it in the right context,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development. “It’s 50 percent more than we have now.”

The idea of letting warming approach 2 degrees Celsius increasingly seems disastrous in this context.

Parts of the planet, like the Arctic, have already warmed beyond 1.5 degrees and are seeing alarming changes. Antarctica and Greenland, containing many feet of sea-level rise, are wobbling. Major die-offs have hit coral reefs around the globe, suggesting an irreplaceable planetary feature could soon be lost.

It is universally recognized that the pledges made in Paris would lead to a warming far beyond 1.5 degrees — more like 2.5 or 3 degrees Celsius, or even more. And that was before the United States, the world’s second-largest emitter, decided to try to back out.

“The pledges countries made during the Paris climate accord don’t get us anywhere close to what we have to do,” said Drew Shindell, a climate expert at Duke University and one of the authors of the IPCC report. “They haven’t really followed through with actions to reduce their emissions in any way commensurate with what they profess to be aiming for.”

The new 1.5 C report will feed into a process called the “Talanoa Dialogue,” in which parties to the Paris agreement begin to consider the large gap between what they say they want to achieve and what they are actually doing. The dialogue will unfold in December at an annual United Nations climate meeting in Katowice, Poland.

But it is unclear what concrete commitments may result.

At issue is what scientists call the ‘carbon budget’: Because carbon dioxide lives in the atmosphere for so long, there’s only a limited amount that can be emitted before it becomes impossible to avoid a given temperature, like 1.5 degrees Celsius. And since the world emits about 41 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, if the remaining budget is 410 billion tons (for example), then scientists can say we have 10 years until the budget is gone and 1.5 C is locked in.

Unless emissions start to decline — which gives more time. This is why scenarios for holding warming to 1.5 degrees C require rapid and deep changes to how we get energy.

The window may now be as narrow as around 15 years of current emissions, but since we don’t know for sure, according to the researchers, that really depends on how much of a margin of error we’re willing to give ourselves.

And if we can’t cut other gases — such as methane — or if the Arctic permafrost starts emitting large volumes of additional gases, then the budget gets even narrower.

“It would be an enormous challenge to keep warming below a threshold” of 1.5 degrees Celsius, said Shindell, bluntly. “This would be a really enormous lift.”

So enormous, he said, that it would require a monumental shift toward decarbonization. By 2030 — barely a decade away — the world’s emissions would need to drop by about 40 percent. By the middle of the century, societies would need to have zero net emissions. What might that look like? In part, it would include things such as no more gas-powered vehicles, a phaseout of coal-fired power plants and airplanes running on biofuels, he said.

“It’s a drastic change,” he said. “These are huge, huge shifts … This would really be an unprecedented rate and magnitude of change.”

And that’s just the point — 1.5 degrees is still possible, but only if the world goes through a staggering transformation.

An early draft (leaked and published by the website Climate Home News) suggests that future scenarios of a 1.5 C warming limit would require the massive deployment of technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the air and bury it below the ground. Such technologies do not exist at anything close to the scale that would be required.

“There are now very small number of pathways [to 1.5C] that don’t involve carbon removal,” said Jim Skea, chair of the IPCC’s Working Group III and a professor at Imperial College London.

It’s not clear how scientists can best give the world’s governments this message — or to what extent governments are up for hearing it.

An early leaked draft of the report said there was a “very high risk” that the world would warm more than 1.5 degrees. But a later draft, also leaked to Climate Home News, appeared to back off, instead saying that “there is no simple answer to the question of whether it is feasible to limit warming to 1.5 C . . . feasibility has multiple dimensions that need to be considered simultaneously and systematically.”

None of this language is final. That’s what this week in Incheon — intended to get the report ready for an official release on Monday — is all about.

“I think many people would be happy if we were further along than we are,” the IPCC’s Lynn said Wednesday morning in Incheon. “But in all the approval sessions that I’ve seen, I’ve seen five of them now, that has always been the case. It sort of gets there in the end.”

Sep 26 2018

Sardines

The little things

Consider the sardine. The small fish sits at the base of the ocean’s food web. Cold currents welling up in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans nurture schools of billions of the creatures, their populations waxing and waning in decades-long global cycles. Entire industries and ecosystems have been built upon the little swimmers.

Not that they get much credit. Sardines are ground up into animal meal, rendered into oil or bait, and stuffed unceremoniously into cans for mass consumption.

But their star is on the rise. Trendy, delicious, and aesthetically irresistible, sardines have begun to garner public adoration once again. In Portugal, the city-wide celebration of Santo António, Lisbon’s patron saint, wouldn’t be complete without a fresh sardine, grilled on a street corner with a splash of lemon. In fact, Portugal has elevated the sardine to the pinnacle of its culinary culture, prizing them equally at home or on a white tablecloth. And finally, the rest of the world is catching on.

But just as they’re ready to swim back into our lives again, the fish may be leaving for cooler waters. Climate change is threatening the species’ ancestral homes. Let’s dive in.

By the digits

300 AD: Date to which scientists have ocean sediment cores tracking population fluctuations of Pacific sardines

30 years: Age at which canned sardines are still excellent to eat

7 km (4.3 miles): Length of shoals of fish in the South African sardine run, which rivals in biomass East Africa’s great wildebeest migration

0.323 kg (0.71 lb): Weight of the heaviest sardine on record

15 years: Oldest recorded age of a live sardine

Sardine populations have been rising and falling for thousands of years. An average cycle is approximately 55-60 years. But combination of overfishing in some regions and natural cycles means catches have been falling since the 1990s.

 

Wait, what’s a sardine again?

Sardines are not just one, but at least 21 species of cold-water loving fish. Silds, sprats, herring and pilchards are all classified as sardines, depending on whether one is fishing in the Mediterranean, North Sea, Pacific or elsewhere.

Sardines live fast, but they don’t die young. The oldest can live for 15 years, reaching 90% of their adult length (about 27 cm) within a year. They swim with their mouths open, gorging on tiny phytoplankton and zooplankton in the water column. Within a few years, females can spawn 400,000 to 1 million eggs annually (to match their fecundity, hens would need to lay almost 5,000 eggs.)

That’s good news, because sardines are the all-you-can-eat buffet of the sea. They are the key forage species for predators including fish, squid, marine mammals, and seabirds. Not to mention humans: Fishery experts estimate every major sardine fishery in the world is already fully exploited.

Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

 

The fish that filled a thousand factories

The ancient Greeks and Romans loved sardines, and the first modern sardine factory opened in Setúbal, Portugal in 1880. The country is the fish’s greatest champion on the continent, and celebrates St. Anthony’s Day (June 13th) by grilling fresh sardines on every street corner.

Sardines are typically washed, cleaned, and steamed before being packed in oil or water. Styles vary. Olive oil is preferred in Portugal, Spain, and Morocco. Soybean oil is common in the US, herring oil in Norway, while some prefer water, mustard or tomato sauce. Sardine scales are suctioned off to make cosmetics, lacquers, and artificial pearls.

Today the industry is almost gone from the US. The value of sardines consumed once routinely exceeded that of Maine lobsters in the 1960s. But by 2005, per capita sardine consumption had fallen to 0.1 pounds per year in the US (compared to 16 pounds for all seafood and 220 pounds of meat), and has yet to recover. California’s famed canneries, immortalized in John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, declined from about 51 in 1948 to just one in 1968—today there are zero. Maine’s last cannery closed in 2010.

Reuters/Nacho Doce

How do I eat them?

Sardines were once considered finer than lobster. Oscar Wilde’s son even opened a sardine tasting club in 1930s London. The finest specimens ended up in European pantries next to foie gras and caviar.

Demand for protein during WWII transformed them into lunchbox food for workers and soldiers in the US, takng the shine off the species’ reputation. Human consumption has been declining ever since.

But all is not lost. A cadre of “sardinistas” around the world are resurrecting the culinary glory days of the sardine. (They happen to be great for you: full of protein, essential fats, and amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.)

The classic preparation is to grill up fresh sardines rubbed with olive oil, garlic, and parsley and splash on a bit of red wine vinegar and lemon juice. There’s also sardelosalata, a version of a classic caviar, and no shortage of inventive things to do with the canned ones.

Staying out of hot water

Sardines may not be sticking around. Stocks have recently plummeted by almost 80% off the coast of Portugal and Spain, grounding their fleets for months (a 15-year ban is being contemplated). The US just shut down the west coast sardine fishery for the fourth straight year after a 97% collapse in sardine populations since 2006.

The reason? Natural cycles in the oceans, for the most part. But now global warming is set to take over. As soon as ocean temperatures rise above sardines’ preferred 10 to 15°C, they leave, says Francisco Chavez, a biological oceanographer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

For now, natural cycles are the primary factory in sardines’ boom and bust cycles. “It’s not going to be that way in the future,” Chavez says. “In maybe 20 years, climate change will be the dominant player.” When that happens, sardines will head to the poles, leaving their traditional fishing grounds, and the countries that rely on them, high and dry.

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Original post: https://qz.com/emails/quartz-obsession/1400071/

Sep 25 2018

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Declares Commercial Fishery Disasters for West Coast Salmon and Sardines

 

CWPA and California’s wetfish industry are deeply grateful to Secretary Ross and Assistant Administrator for Fisheries Chris Oliver, as well as to West Coast NMFS officials and Governor Brown, for acknowledging that our sardine fishery closure met the legal requirements for designation as a fishery resource disaster. This determination now makes our sardine fishery eligible for NMFS fishery disaster assistance. We look forward to learning the level of disaster assistance that the Department of Commerce will determine. The fact that relief is coming is very good news.

 

September 25, 2018

Determinations make these fisheries eligible for NOAA Fisheries fishery disaster assistance.

Today, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced that commercial fishery failures occurred between 2015 and 2017 for salmon fisheries in Washington, Oregon, and California, in addition to the sardine fishery in California.

“The Department of Commerce and NOAA stand ready to assist fishing towns and cities along the West Coast as they recover,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “After years of hardship, the Department looks forward to providing economic relief that will allow the fisheries and the communities they help support to rebound.”

Between July 2016 and March 2018, multiple tribes and governors from Washington, Oregon, and California requested fishery disaster determinations. The Secretary, working with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), evaluated each request based on the available data, and found that all but one (the California red sea urchin fishery) met the requirements for a fishery disaster determination.

The determinations for West Coast salmon and sardines now make these fisheries eligible for NOAA Fisheries fishery disaster assistance.  The 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act provided $20 million in NOAA Fisheries fishery disaster assistance. The Department of Commerce is determining the appropriate allocations of these funds to eligible fisheries.


Originally posted: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/

Sep 10 2018

Wait, So How Much of the Ocean Is Actually Fished?

September 10, 2018 — The following is excerpted from an article published today by The Atlantic. More information about this paper is available at Sustainable Fisheries UW

How much of the world’s oceans are affected by fishing? In February, a team of scientists led by David Kroodsma from the Global Fishing Watch published a paper that put the figure at 55 percent—an area four times larger than that covered by land-based agriculture. The paper was widely covered, with several outlets leading with the eye-popping stat that “half the world’s oceans [are] now fished industrially.”

Ricardo Amoroso from the University of Washington had also been trying to track global fishing activity and when he saw the headlines, he felt that the 55 percent figure was wildly off. He and his colleagues re-analyzed the data that the Global Fishing Watch had made freely available. And in their own paper, published two weeks ago, they claim that industrial fishing occurs over just 4 percent of the ocean.

How could two groups have produced such wildly different answers using the same set of data? At its core, this is a simple academic disagreement about scale. But it’s also a more subtle debate that hinges on how we think about the act of fishing, and how to measure humanity’s influence on the planet. “I think this discussion really shows how little we know about the world’s oceans and why making data publicly available is so important for stimulating research,” says Kroodsma.

As ships traverse the oceans, many of them continuously transmit their position, speed, and identity to satellites. This automatic identification system was originally developed to prevent collisions, but by training Google’s machine-learning tools on the data, the Global Fishing Watch (GFW)—a nonprofit founded by Oceana, SkyTruth, and Google—can identify different kinds of fishing vessels, and work out where they’re dropping their lines and nets.

They quantified that activity by dividing the oceans into a huge grid of around 160,000 squares. Each of these squares had sides that span half a degree of latitude, and an area of around 3,100 square kilometers. And in 2016, around 55 percent of them included some kind of fishing activity. “You’re dividing the ocean into 160,000 cells, and you’re seeing fishing activity in half of them,” says Kroodsma. “One reason this resonated with people is that however you slice it, that’s impressive.”

Actually, it’s misleading, says Ricardo Amoroso from the University of Washington. He and his colleagues had spent years trying to measure the impact of trawlers and based on their early results, the GFW’s estimates smelled fishy. The problem is that they divided the ocean into such large squares that if a single boat drops a net in an area the size of Rhode Island, that area would count as “fished” in a given year.

Fortunately, the GFW made all their data freely available, so Amoroso’s team could analyze it at finer resolutions. When they divided the ocean into smaller squares that are 0.1 degrees of latitude wide and take up around 123 square kilometers, they found that fishing activity occurs in just 27 percent of them. And when they used even smaller squares that are 0.01 degrees wide and 1.23 square kilometers in area—the size of a city block—just 4 percent of the ocean is “fished.”

Read the full story at The Atlantic