Archive for April, 2012

Apr 20 2012

NOAA Proposes Removing Eastern Steller Sea Lions from Endangered Species List

Stellar Sea Lions

Juneau, AK – NOAA is proposing to remove the eastern Steller sea lion, currently deemed “threatened,” from the list of endangered wildlife, after a status review by its biologists found the species is recovering sufficiently.

“This proposal reflects the continued recovery of the eastern population of Steller sea lions and the strong conservation partnership among NOAA Fisheries, the states, the fishing industry, and other stakeholders,” said NOAA’s Fisheries Service Alaska Regional Administrator Jim Balsiger.

NOAA Fisheries began a draft status review of the eastern population, which ranges from Alaska’s Cape Suckling to California’s Channel Islands, in June 2010, and opened a 60-day public comment period. Within a few days, NOAA received two petitions, one from the states of Washington and Oregon, and the other from the state of Alaska, asking that the eastern Steller sea lion be removed from threatened status under the Endangered Species Act.

The draft status review, which was completed in March 2012, shows the eastern Steller sea lion population has met the recovery criteria outlined in the recovery plan, which was developed by NOAA Fisheries in 1992 and revised in 2008.

There were approximately 34,000 eastern Steller sea lions in 1997, when the eastern and western stocks were found to be genetically different from each other. Estimates in 2010 put the eastern population at about 70,000.

The western stock, which ranges from Alaska as far as the Russian Pacific coast, will retain its endangered status.

Read the full news release on the NOAA’s website.

Apr 19 2012

Online Report: Profiles of North Coast Fishing Communities

Charter boats at Trinidad dock Photo: C. Pomeroy

By: Caroline Pomeroy, Cynthia J. Thomas and Melissa M. Stevens

LA JOLLA, CA – California Sea Grant is pleased to announce the availability of an online edition of “California’s North Coast Fishing Communities: Historical Perspective and Recent Trends.”

The 340-pp. technical report presents a historic, demographic and economic overview of the region’s four major fishing communities: Crescent City in Del Norte County, Trinidad and Eureka/Fields Landing in Humboldt County, and Noyo/Fort Bragg in Mendocino County.

Profiles of each community highlight major commercial and recreational fisheries, their values, fleet sizes and how they have changed over time. There is also key information on fishing infrastructure – such as docks, piers, slips, launch ramps and cold storage facilities – and market channels for local commercial catches. But perhaps the most interesting sections are those that describe the current challenges and outlooks for sustaining the fishing communities.

The report was prepared originally, with funding from the California Coastal Conservancy and NOAA Fisheries in 2010 as a resource for addressing a diversity of fishery management and policy issues. It has since been used to inform local decision-making and to evaluate some of the potential social and economic consequences of establishing marine protected areas along the North Coast.
Sorting fish at Caito Fisheries in Fort Bragg. Photo: C. Pomeroy

“It (the report) is an invaluable reference for fielding public and media requests about local fishing, because it explains the value of our fisheries to the overall port community,” said Dan Berman, Director of the Conservation Division for the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District.

“We know what is going on at our docks,” said Eureka-based fisherman Dave Bitts, president of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishing Associations and one of the more than 180 fishery participants interviewed for the project. “What the report has done is assemble our knowledge in a way that is accessible to academics, consultants and government workers.”

Fisheries managers, both state and federal, are required to consider the social and economic impacts of regulations. “Yet, in-depth social science information on California fishing communities has been quite scarce,” said Caroline Pomeroy, a California Sea Grant marine advisor based in Santa Cruz and the lead author of the report, explaining her motivation for pursuing the research.

The full reportexecutive summary and individual community profiles can be downloaded at the California Sea Grant Extension web page or through the University of California’s eScholarship open-access repository.

California Sea Grant is part of NOAA’s National Sea Grant, a network of 32 university-based programs.



Apr 18 2012

How Well, and How Poorly, We Harvest Ocean Life

Written by Cornelia Dean | Science Writer
Overfishing: What Everyone Needs to Know. Ray Hilborn, with Ulrike Hilborn.
To hear some other people tell it, many depleted stocks are recovering nicely.

Ray Hilborn, a fisheries scientist at the University of Washington, wades into this disagreement in his new book and comes out with a lucid explication of a highly tangled issue.

Each argument, he concludes, has some truth on its side. “It depends on where you look,” he writes. “You can paint horror story after horror story if you want. You can paint success after success.”

He navigates the path between horror and success through scores of questions and answers, nearly all of which demonstrate how difficult it is to sort this issue out.

Take the most basic question: What is overfishing? There are several answers, the book tells us. There is “yield overfishing,” in which people take so many fish that they leave too few to spawn or catch too many fish before they are grown. Then there is “economic overfishing,” in which economic benefits are less than they could be. If too many boats chase too few fish, for example, the struggle to make a good catch leads to overspending on boats, fuel and so on.

(There is also “ecological overfishing,” but that is something we must live with as long as we want to eat fish, Dr. Hilborn says. Fishing by definition alters the marine environment.)

Dr. Hilborn tells us of fisheries that succeed — like the halibut industry in Alaska — and fish stocks managed into difficulty, and then out again, like the pollock of the Bering Sea.

And he gets into the issue of trawling, in which boats drop weighted nets to the bottom and drag them along, scraping up everything in their path. Critics liken trawling to harvesting timber by clear-cutting. For Dr. Hilborn, this analogy is not always apt, since in some areas the creatures rapidly repopulate the ocean floor.

Some countries do well by their fish, he writes, but with one exception they are relatively small: New Zealand, Iceland and Norway. The exception? The United States.

The true lesson of this book is that fisheries science is complicated; that the management of any given species must be considered in terms of its ecosystem; that fishing for one species alters the food web as a whole — and that sometimes there is not enough data to make good recommendations.

Read the full book review on The New York Times.
Apr 15 2012

Scientists To Set Sail To Monitor Sardines

Scientists On Bell M. Shimada To Survey Coastal Waters From Mexico To Santa Barbara. News10 Video

SAN DIEGO — The sardine population is dwindling and that could have a major impact on San Diego’s economy and food supply.

On Tuesday, the research ship Bell M. Shimada made preparations to head out again. This time, scientists will survey coastal waters from Mexico to near Santa Barbara looking for sardines.

Southwest Fisheries Science Center scientist Roger Hewitt, Ph.D., said forage fish like sardines are critical.

“They feed everything that we care about,” he said.

Sardines feed not only people – which results in $12 million in commercial fishing revenue in 2010 – but they also feed birds and mammals such as whales and sea lions which are cornerstones of tourism.

“Sardines are used as bait,” said Hewitt.

They help fuel the massive sport fishing industry, which brings in more than 250 million a year for San Diego, according to the United Anglers of Southern California, citing a 1985 study.

The last coast-wide survey occurred in 2006 going from Baja California to British Columbia. Scientists will be using echosounding, which is similar to sonar.

Read the rest of the article on

Apr 13 2012

House Panel Drafting Magnuson Reforms

By Richard Gaines | Staff Writer

The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee is drafting “a comprehensive” change to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, a fisheries management law, in an attempt to ensure that NOAA makes “informed decisions based on sufficient scientific information,” Chairman Doc Hastings has told the Times.

Incorporating elements from a suite of eight bills vetted by the committee last December, the federal legislation has been in construction by committee staff for some time — before a national fishermen’s rally at the Capitol last month and an April 3 letter to the committee from 21 House members. Those signers included John Tierney, who represents Cape Ann, and Barney Frank, whose district includes New Bedford.

A mix of about two dozen federal lawmakers of both parties and houses of Congress including Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown, spoke to the rally of the need for writing flexibility into the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Along with rewriting parts of and writing inserts to Magnuson, the committee is reported to be struggling with the problem of trying to fix misinterpretations of the overriding fisheries management law by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Crystal Feldman, the committee press secretary, said some problems with fisheries management have been created by NOAA’s interpretation of the law and not necessarily by the law itself, and that is harder to fix legislatively.

Similar complaints are at the core of a lawsuit initiated by the fishing ports of New Bedford and Gloucester and industry interests from Maine to North Carolina. That appeal is now before the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

Read the rest of the article on Gloucester Times.
Apr 12 2012

Lust, Lies And Empire: The Fishy Tale Behind Eating Fish On Friday

by Maria Godoy 

It sounds like the plot of a Dan Brown thriller: A powerful medieval pope makes a secret pact to prop up the fishing industry that ultimately alters global economics. The result: Millions of Catholics around the world end up eating fish on Fridays as part of a religious observance.

This “realpolitik” explanation of why Catholics eat fish on Friday has circulated for so long, many people grew up believing it as fact. Some, myself included, even learned it in Catholic school. It’s a humdinger of a tale — the kind conspiracy theorists can really sink their teeth into. But is it true?

“Many people have searched the Vatican archives on this, but they have found nothing,” says Brian Fagan, a professor emeritus of archaeology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, whose book, Fish On Friday, explores the impact of this practice on Western culture.

The real economic story behind fish on Fridays turns out to be much better.

Let’s start with a quick lesson in theology: According to Christian teaching, Jesus died on a Friday, and his death redeemed a sinful world. People have written of fasting on Friday to commemorate this sacrifice as early as the first century.

Technically, it’s the flesh of warmblooded animals that’s off limits — an animal “that, in a sense, sacrificed its life for us, if you will,” explains Michael Foley, an associate professor at Baylor University and author of Why Do Catholics Eat Fish On Friday?

Fish are coldblooded, so they’re considered fair game. “If you were inclined to eat a reptile on Friday,” Foley tells The Salt, “you could do that, too.”

Alas, Christendom never really developed a hankering for snake. But fish — well, they’d been associated with sacred holidays even in pre-Christian times. And as the number of meatless days piled up on the medieval Christian calendar — not just Fridays but Wednesdays and Saturdays, Advent and Lent, and other holy days — the hunger for fish grew. Indeed, fish fasting days became central to the growth of the global fishing industry. But not because of a pope and his secret pact.

At first, says Fagan, Christians’ religious appetite was largely met with herring, a fish that was plentiful but dry and tasteless when smoked or salted. And preservation was a must in medieval times: There was no good way for fresh fish to reach the devout masses. Eventually, cod became all the rage — it tasted better when cured and it lasted longer, too.

Read the rest of the article on NPR.
Apr 10 2012

PG&E tests bad for sea life and also for fishing industry


Written By Brian Stacy

FOR much of the 20th Century Southern California was a world leader in seafood production. The once-thriving tuna fishing fleet, based at the Port of Los Angeles and in San Diego, plied distant waters for months at a time returning to local canneries that employed thousands of people.

Today, the U.S. tuna industry is a distant memory, the victim of subsidized foreign competition, unfair trade practices, government over-regulation, and in some cases under-regulation.

Historically, California’s commercial fishing industry once employed tens of thousands of people in fishing, fish processing, boat building and boat repair and allied industries. Recreational fishing has been a staple of the coastal tourism. Both have been a vibrant part of the California coastal economy, from Eureka to the Mexican border.

I fish the waters of the central California coast. Those of us who remain, men and women who work at sea and harvest many of the types of fish we find in the supermarkets and in restaurants, have to be creative, nimble, and able to adapt to a sometimes harsh natural and political environment.

It is infuriating when yet another hurdle is erected making it nearly impossible for us to practice our trade. But this time it isn’t Mother Nature, imported farm-raised fish, or some government edict. This time it is a public utility – Pacific Gas & Electric, the energy behemoth whose aged gas lines exploded and ravaged the San Bruno community in 2010.

PG&E also owns the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, on the San Luis Obispo County coast. Diablo Canyon now threatens the central coast fishing industry, the local marine environment, and the livelihood of both commercial and recreational fishers.

Read the rest of the article on Los Angeles Daily News.



Apr 7 2012

Let ‘forage fish’ populations double, scientists urge


We appreciate that reporter Tony Barboza differentiated California forage fisheries from the rest of the world.  California’s coastal pelagic forage, or “wetfish” fisheries are recognized by internationally respected scientists as having low impacts on the environment.  


Indeed, California’s wetfish fisheries have one of the lowest harvest rates in the world.  Our visionary ecosystem-based sardine management also was acknowledged by the Lenfest Report.


In addition to low harvest rates, California also has a network of marine reserves, many near key bird rookeries and haul out sites, where fishing is off-limits.  More than 30 percent of traditional squid spawning / fishing grounds are closed in reserve, in addition to weekend closures.  


Ecosystem-based fishery management is the goal of California and federal laws governing our forage stocks.  It’s also important to achieve a balance:  healthy ecosystems and sustainable fishing communities.


Let ‘forage fish’ populations double, scientists urge

Sardines, anchovies and other small, schooling fish are caught in huge numbers, but they’re vulnerable to overfishing, and creatures such as salmon and tuna need them for food, the panel says.

By Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times

…Still, the U.S. West Coast is ahead of other parts of the world in how it manages some forage fish, scientists on the panel said. The sardine catch, for instance, is subject to stricter monitoring and more conservative limits that could serve as a buffer against future crashes.

California’s most valuable catch, squid, is also considered a forage fish but was not included in the analysis.

The complete article can be viewed on Los Angeles Times.


Apr 7 2012

Conservation in the Anthropocene: A Breakthrough Journal Debate

In their Breakthrough Journal essay, “Conservation in the Anthropocene,” Peter Kareiva, Michelle Marvier, and Robert Lalasz showed that conservation is losing the war to protect nature despite winning the battle to create parks and game preserves. While the number of protected areas has risen, species in wild places have fallen. Conservationists must shed their 19th Century vision of pristine nature, the authors wrote, and seek a new vision, one of “a planet in which nature exists amidst a wide variety of modern, human landscapes.”

In a new Breakthrough debate, a host of passionate 21st Century conservationists, including Kierán SucklingPaul RobbinsRay HilbornLisa Hayward, and Barbara Martinez, face off with the authors over the resilience of nature, corporate partners, and the state of conservation today.

Of particular interest is the commentary submitted by Professor Ray Hilborn. You can read his response below, or click here to see Breakthrough Journal’s full debate.



Ray Hilborn

By Ray Hilborn

In “Conservation in the Anthropocene,” Peter Kareiva, Robert Lalasz, and Michelle Marvier argue that conservation needs to move beyond parks and protected areas. They stress that ecosystems are generally resilient to perturbation, and rather than being irreparably damaged by the slightest anthropogenic impact, ecosystems can both support biodiversity and produce sustainable goods and services. While their arguments and examples are drawn from terrestrial ecosystems, much of their article is relevant to marine ecosystems, my field of study.

Marine ecosystems are the new frontier for conservation. And much of the funding for new scientific work has been directed towards the establishment of protected areas. It’s important to note that while marine and terrestrial ecosystems share much in common, there are differences. One fundamental difference is the nature of human use. In terrestrial ecosystems, a dominant form of use is agriculture, which essentially rips out native ecosystems and replaces them with exotic species: crops, tree plantations, or grasses for grazing. Agriculture makes no pretense about preserving natural ecosystems.

In contrast, in marine ecosystems, we attempt to sustainably harvest the natural ecosystem. We leave the lower trophic levels—primary producers and most of their consumers—untouched, and exploit only the higher trophic levels. This has profound consequences. It means that even if the dreams of protecting 10 percent of the world’s ocean, as set out in the 1992 Convention on Biodiversity, were to come true, most marine biodiversity will remain outside the boundaries. The struggle to maintain biodiversity is in the total anthropocene ocean; it will never be achieved through protected areas.

The marine conservation movement has been slow to grasp this. Similarly, it has failed to see that closing areas to fishing does not eliminate fishing pressure, it simply moves it. When an area is closed, fishing efforts concentrate outside protected areas. Consequently, simple comparisons of abundance inside and outside of reserves as a measure of “success” are meaningless. The salient question to ask is what happens to the total abundance.

One study sought to answer this question by tracking trends in abundance inside and outside of a set of reserves established in the California Channel Islands.1 Of the species targeted by commercial and recreational fishing, abundance went up inside reserves and down on the outside. Since 80 percent of the habitat is outside of the reserves, the data suggest that the total abundance of the targeted fish species actually declined. The gains inside were more than offset by the decreases on the outside.

In the case of the Channel Islands reserves, the creation of a protected area had a negative impact on abundance. In many other cases, protected areas have little to no impact. Two of the most heralded successes of the marine conservation movement have been the establishment of large protected areas in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and the western Pacific US territories. If the measure of success is the amount of area proclaimed as protected, these are significant achievements. But if the objective is effective protection against real threats, the achievement is less because there was little, if any, human impact in those areas before protection.

There are many threats to marine ecosystems, including oil spills, exotic species, runoff from terrestrial sources, illegal fishing, excessive legal fishing, ocean acidification, and global warming. The marine parks movement does not recognize that most “protected areas” only “protect” from legal fishing, and not much else. Advocates argue that unfished ecosystems are more resilient to environmental perturbations such as exotic species, yet the same argument, if valid, must apply to areas outside of reserves. Since fishing pressure has been redirected to unprotected areas, those ecosystems ought to be more vulnerable to the same perturbation.

Kareiva et al. argue that the new conservation “requires conservation to embrace marginalized and demonized groups,” and perhaps no group has been so demonized by the environmental movement as fishermen. Terms like “roving bandits” and “rapers and pillagers” permeate the public discussion. But luckily this is changing. The new marine conservation movement recognizes that conserving biodiversity requires more than merely controlling fishing. Progressive NGOs are working with fishing groups rather than demonizing them, a transformation that has entered into in marine conservation debates that attempt to find new solutions to the environmental impacts of fishing.

Kareiva et al. close by stating, “Protecting biodiversity for its own sake has not worked. Protecting nature that is dynamic and resilient, that is in our midst rather than far away, and that sustains human communities—these are the ways forward now.” This is as true in the marine world as in the terrestrial. There is certainly a role for protected areas. But the bulk of marine biodiversity will always be in the dynamic areas outside of them, areas that must be sustainably managed as we go forward.

Ray Hilborn is a professor in the school of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington.

1. Hamilton, S. L., J. E. Caselle, D. P. Malone, and M. H. Carr. 2010. “Incorporating biogeography into evaluation of the Channel Islands marine reserve network.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.


Apr 5 2012

Federal Government Holds Hearing on the National Ocean Policy’s Effect on Fishing

On March 22, 2012, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans & Insular Affairs held an oversight hearing titled Empty Hooks: The National Ocean Policy is the Latest Threat to Access for Recreational and Commercial Fishermen. 

During that hearing, George Mannina testified on exactly what policy decisions are having on fishing in the United States. See his testimony below:

Testimony of George J. Mannina, Jr.


Before the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs Regarding National Ocean Policy

March 22, 2012

Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of this Subcommittee, I am pleased to be here today.  I was privileged to serve as Counsel to this Subcommittee for eight years prior to becoming the Chief Counsel and Staff Director for the Republican members of the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee before it was merged into the Committee on Natural Resources.  During my years with the Subcommittee and Committee, and since that time, I have worked on numerous ocean policy issues.  I am testifying today in my individual capacity and not on behalf of any client or of my firm, Nossaman LLP, although one of our associates, Audrey  Huang, has worked with me on this testimony.

Read Mannina’s full testimony here