Archive for August, 2014

Aug 29 2014

Pacific Ocean acidity dissolving shells of key species


Pacific Ocean acidity dissolving shells of key species: New research from NOAA sounding alarm bells about climate change

By Paul Rogers/San Jose Mercury News and Will Houston/The Times-Standard

In a troubling new discovery, scientists studying ocean waters off California, Oregon and Washington have found the first evidence that increasing acidity in the ocean is dissolving the shells of a key species of tiny sea creature at the base of the food chain.

The animals, a type of free-floating marine snail known as pteropods, are an important food source for salmon, herring, mackerel and other fish in the Pacific Ocean. Those fish are eaten not only by millions of people every year, but also by a wide variety of other sea creatures, from whales to dolphins to sea lions.

Humboldt State University Oceanography Department Head Jeffrey Abell has conducted several studies on ocean acidification off the coast of Trinidad, most recently in 2010. Abell said that deeper ocean waters are usually more acidic due to bacteria digesting dead organism matter, called detritus, which floats to the ocean floors. This digestion releases carbon dioxide, which reacts with water and causes the ocean to increase in acidity. Abell said Humboldt County’s shoreline is more prone to upwelling events in the late spring, which brings this deep, more acidic water to the surface.

“We don’t see a consistent exposure to acidic waters,” he said. “What we see is in the order of a few times to a dozen times a year during which the organisms, like pteropods, will be exposed to this corrosive water.”

Abell said Trinidad experienced about five of these events in 2007 — lasting no longer than a few days — but that number tripled to 15 episodes in 2010 that sometimes lasted over a week.

If the trend continues, climate change scientists say, it will imperil the ocean environment.

“These are alarm bells,” said Nina Bednarsek, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle who helped lead the research. “This study makes us understand that we have made an impact on the ocean environment to the extent where we can actually see the shells dissolving right now.”

Scientists from NOAA and Oregon State University found that in waters near the West Coast shoreline, 53 percent of the tiny floating snails had shells that were severely dissolving — double the estimate from 200 years ago.

Until now, the impact on marine species from increasing ocean acidity because of climate change has been something that was tested in tanks in labs, but which was not considered an immediate concern like forest fires and droughts.

The new study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a scientific journal based in England, changes that.

“The pteropods are like the canary in the coal mine. If this is affecting them, it is affecting everything in the ocean at some level,” said one of the nation’s top marine biologists, Steve Palumbi, director of Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove.

The vast majority of the world’s scientists — including those at NOAA, NASA, the National Academy of Sciences and the World Meteorological Organization — say the Earth’s temperature is rising because of humans burning fossil fuels like oil and coal. That burning pumps carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and traps heat, similar to a greenhouse. Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere have increased 25 percent since 1960 and are now at the highest levels in at least 800,000 years, according to measurements of air bubbles taken in ancient ice and other methods.

Many of the impacts are already being felt. Since the 1880s, when modern temperature records were first taken, the 10 hottest years have all occurred since 1998. Polar ice has melted, forest fires are burning in the West with increasing frequency, and the ocean has risen 8 inches since 1900 at the Golden Gate Bridge.

But what many people do not realize is that nearly a third of carbon dioxide emitted by humans is dissolved in the oceans. Some of that forms carbonic acid, which makes the ocean more corrosive.

Over the past 200 years, the ocean’s acidity has risen by roughly 30 percent. At the present rate, it is on track to rise by 70 percent by 2050 from preindustrial levels.

More acidic water can harm oysters, clams, corals and other species that have calcium carbonate shells. Generally speaking, increasing the acidity by 50 percent from current levels is enough to kill some marine species, tests in labs have shown.

Coastal Seafoods manager Greg Dale said Humboldt County’s oyster industry has actually thrived over the last two years, but rising ocean acidity is “something we watch carefully.”

“If this keeps going, and it means shutting ocean productivity, that’s when things get scary,” Dale said. “The ocean changes every year, but if you change the (acidity), you will lose a great deal.”

Abell said the current ocean acidification levels are not enough to harm the shells of oysters or abalone, which are made of calcite, but are enough to dissolve the shells of pteropods, which are made of aragonite.

“Pteropods are the most sensitive of this process; they’ll be kind of like an early warning system,” Abell said. “The present school of thought is that 50 years from now is when we’ll have to worry about the more sturdy shellfish, such as abalone.”

The new research on the marine snails does not show that increasingly acidic water is killing all of them, particularly older snails. But it is causing their shells to dissolve, which can make them more vulnerable to disease, slow their ability to evade predators and reduce their reproductive rates, the researchers said.

Some of the corrosive water near the shore could be a result of other types of pollution, such as runoff from fertilizer and sewage, said Stanford’s Palumbi, who was not involved in the NOAA research. But because the study found rates of the snails’ shells dissolving in deep water, far from the shore, human-caused carbon dioxide is the prime suspect, he added.

If people reduce emissions of fossil fuels, cutting carbon dioxide levels in the decades ahead, the damage to the oceans can still be limited, he said.

“But if we keep on the emissions profile we have now, by 2100 the oceans will be so harmed it’s hard to imagine them coming back from that in anything less than thousands of years,” Palumbi said.

“We are in a century of choice,” he said. “We can choose the way we want it to go.”

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Aug 29 2014

Focusing In: Collaborative Fisheries Research West

Collaborative Fisheries Research West is a program that supports and facilitates research involving fishermen, managers and scientists. Unlike other cases we have examined, this is a program dedicated to supporting one very particular kind of citizen science. In this summary we describe the approach that CFR West has taken to supporting collaborative fisheries research — the principles and practices that they instill through their program — using the same framework that we have applied to citizen science programs in previous blog posts.

The Basics
Collaborative Fisheries Research West is a not-for-profit organization that develops partnerships between fishermen, managers, and scientists for the purpose of contributing to fisheries science and management, for example: bycatch reduction, gear recovery, population structure, or seafood markets. CFR West may fund projects directly, provide project management and oversight or contribute scientific expertise to these efforts. Projects must abide by a set of ten principles (link is external), the first of which is that projects must be relevant to fisheries management. The last round of funding, supported by the California Ocean Protection Council, committed over $1.1 million to 15 projects.

Program Participation
While all of the CFR West projects involve collaborators from the fishing community, participation varies amongst individual projects. Some are instigated by fishermen: for example, conducting aerial sardine surveys to complement acoustic-trawl surveys conducted by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Another project collects life history information on night smelt by beach fishermen in northern California. Others are driven by management needs x for example, an experiment to test the effect of trap hole diameters on the size distribution of hagfish was led by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. All, however, are required to maintain close cooperation and communication amongst all three partner types, from identifying the research questions and determining best methods through data collection to data interpretation. This is one of the highest forms of collaboration and is recognized by scholars of participation to be an effective means to integrate different worldviews towards a common goal.

Fishermen get involved with the program often because they do not see the best available science used to inform management decisions – possibly because there xs not much available science. In these cases, fishermen lend their expertise to help steward the resource in the future. Managers are motivated to work together to improve the data available for developing regulations and policy. Scientists share a similar motivation – a desire to better understand fisheries ecology in order to support the livelihoods, economy, and ecosystems that depend on fisheries, and, of course, an interest in learning how populations and ecosystems respond to recreational and commercial fishing pressure.

Meeting the Mission by Balancing Goals
CFR West has the following mission statement:
CFR West engages commercial and recreational fishermen, resource managers, tribes, nongovernmental organizations, and scientists by facilitating and supporting applied research focused on fisheries and fisheries resources and their human dimensions. Through open and collaborative partnerships, CFR West contributes to the management of sustainable marine resources, and fosters the stewardship of those resources.
Data from CFR West are used for both scientific and management applications, which helps connect science and policy. This connection bolsters the sometimes flagging trust between fishermen and managers, who can have a conversation about the data and how they are interpreted. For the fishermen, participation fosters a sense of stewardship for the resource and participants report that taking on these responsibilities can be rewarding.
The stewardship aspect of this mission, aside from producing management-relevant science, brings together a diverse group of stakeholders in research and fosters a stewardship ethic among these communities. The manner in which CFR West implements its multi-faceted mission is affected heavily by the uncertainty and nature of its funding. As a result, most projects are, by necessity, short term and the means for maintaining continued support for long term monitoring, a requirement for good fishery management, are limited at best.

Data Types Good for a Citizen Science Approach
Collaborative fisheries research is designed to utilize expertise in the fishing industry gained largely through daily experience on the water or practical experience gained on the job. There are many avenues for such integration of expertise, as demonstrated by the wide diversity of projects under the CFR West umbrella. They are mostly unified by research that includes a large amount of fieldwork, as time on the water is the best place to share and demonstrate the experiential knowledge of fishermen.

Data Uses

Scientific Uses
The scientific partners in each of these projects generally make sure that the data contributes to the appropriate body of scientific literature. A number of the projects also enroll graduate students in the work, who use the data as part of their thesis work.

Management Uses

In addition to the data from the research projects, lessons learned from the research process itself can inform management. CFR West projects must be completed or transferred to an agency within three years, and some projects serve as pilots for potentially long-term programs within management agencies.

Scientific Credibility

verification of data quality

The collaborative aspect of CFR West xs approach promotes trust-building among participants in the program, and a degree of data verification happens through reputation-building of the investigators as trustworthy brokers of information. Otherwise, the data is reviewed the same way as most other fisheries research – by undergoing review as part of the process of making management decisions through the Pacific Marine Fishery Council, the Department of Fish and Wildlife or the National Marine Fisheries Service, as well as the peer-review process of publishing in academic journals and presenting at scientific conferences. CFR West also makes an effort to disseminate project results widely to include fishing communities and the interested public in a manner that is generally accessible to the non-scientist. For example, the results of the hagfish trap experiment were presented at meetings held in key port communities from Morro Bay to Eureka. This too functions as a kind of peer review, whereby those not involved in the research process have an opportunity to consider the projects and their results and provide input to CFR West and project collaborators.

raw data transparency and access

Every project must make the data publicly available unless there xs a specific sensitivity, but the logistics of this access can be tricky. Results published in scientific journals (a common product of these projects) often reside behind paywalls, so the fishing partners often do not have access, plus raw data is not always included. In addition, fisherman participants worry about sharing spatially explicit data, which might give away lucrative fishing spots or invite legal battles with DFW enforcement.

clarity of communications

Communicating about the scientific process comes primarily in the form of participation – fishermen, scientists, and managers are all invited to spend time designing the research, collection data, or otherwise observing the research process firsthand. Similarly, post-project community presentations and outreach materials offers everyone an opportunity to learn. One of the major challenges, however, is to design these in such a way that they are accessible to all.

willingness and capability to adapt methods

CFR West is currently beginning a process of evaluating itself. The evaluation will form the basis of plans for future collaborative research as well fundraising strategies. Some of the projects will live on, as they include plans to develop a strategy for future activity. The crab gear recovery project, for example, has developed a long-range plan to convert the effort to a largely industry-funded one, including work with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to address legal issues that would otherwise interfere with the process.

Program Sustainability

Since the CFR West program focuses heavily on creating trusting relationships between fishermen, managers and scientists, it depends especially heavily on equal participation – xtrue collaboration x – through all the intellectual and economic aspects of the project. One of the challenges CFR West faces is that the funding is structured around short-term projects, while maintaining these relationships requires some standing level of base funding. Another challenge is that the nature of a traditional request for proposals, so familiar to scientists, is foreign to fishermen; ways of encouraging these fishermen to come forward with their own ideas that would benefit from collaboration should be developed.
Just like any research, collaborative fisheries research has some resource needs that are critical to success of the program. Many of these needs are specific to the research question at hand – for example, equipment and data analysis software. But there are a couple of additional resources peculiar to collaborative fisheries arrangements:

  • coordinator, especially to connect potential partners.
  • payment for fishing partner xs time (managers and scientists are generally salaried employees; if they are not fishing, fishermen are not earning a living)
  • data management and regulating data access

Looking Toward the Future

Collaborative fisheries research is a subset of the broader citizen science community. It is one that celebrates and values the experiential expertise of fishermen. Yet, to date on the Central Coast, there are no models that blend collaborative fisheries research (with commercial fishermen) and more typical citizen science, which often focuses on long-term monitoring. Such a program might look something like fishermen recording observations while out on the water daily. Collaborative fisheries research is an evolving model, and for the long term, one that needs to collect quality data without huge injections of grant money. This can be done, but the model that demonstrates this goal does not appear to be out there yet.

For existing projects, the future holds a program evaluation. The CFR West director, Peter Nelson, says he is interested in participants x sense of what collaborative research is and if their feelings on the process changed over the course of their project. In addition, CFR West might shift its attention a bit – to be less of a grant-making institution and more of a boundary organization that helps cement relationships between the many partners in the fishing industry, management, and academic science.

kirk_lynn_cfr_westAerial sardine surveys. Photo by Kirk Lynn, CDFW

lyall_bellquist_cfrwestTag and release study of Paralabrax spp. Photo by Lyall Bellquist.

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Aug 29 2014

Bigger marine reserve isn’t better


By Jerry Fraser, publisher, National Fisherman

The proposal that would create the world’s largest marine reserve is a poor idea whose time, sadly, has likely come.

President Obama wants to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, so designated by his predecessor, from about 80,000 square miles to upward of 750,000.

Leaders in the U.S. Pacific Territories have spoken out against the plan, which would ban fishing, resource exploration, and other economic activities. So have the chair and co-chair of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, among others, as seen in the video below, but I expect their entreaties will fall on deaf ears.

Marine reserves are not inherently bad, but they must be justified by — and measured against — specific conservation objectives. “Greater protections of our beloved ocean,” as cited by petitioners in favor of expanding the monument, is not an especially rigorous standard.

Indeed, in this case the precautions offered by a reserve are dubious. Conservationists describe the waters as pristine, which implies that any human activity that has taken place over the years has had no deleterious effect. And you’re banning fishing… why?

The impacts on local fishermen as well as our distant water tuna fleet will be real and adverse. Islanders who oppose an expanded monument know very well it will mean economic losses to local fisheries and the stifling of the traditional Pacific Islands fishing culture that has sustained local communities for centuries.

Yet their voices are countered not with data, but with sentiment: “Together we can push for the fullest expansion and the fullest protection of one of America’s natural wonders,” writes Frances Beinecke of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

George W. Bush erred when his administration fashioned the monument, and Obama has erred in proportion. Unfortunately, the times and the tides are against us.

Watch the WPRFMC Press Conference video:


Aug 24 2014

D.B. Pleschner: California’s ports, fishermen rely on healthy wetfish fisheries

Despite gloomy predictions of El Niño and the broader impact of climate change on the ocean and planet, California’s historic wetfish fisheries carry on — still the foundation of California’s fishing economy.

More than 150 years ago, Chinese fishermen rowed Monterey Bay at night in sampans, with baskets of burning fat pine on the bow used as torches to attract market squid, which fishermen harvested with round-haul nets.

This was the modest beginning of California’s “wetfish” industry. The immigrant Asian, Italian, Slavic and other nationalities of fishermen who came to America introduced new fishing methods. Around the turn of the 20th century, Sicilian immigrants to Monterey brought their lampara nets, another type of round-haul net, and launched what would become the largest fishery in the western hemisphere — California’s famed sardine industry, popularized in our collective conscience by John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row.”

It was the plentiful schools of fish — especially sardines that stretch from the Gulf of California to Alaska — that provided opportunity for generations of enterprising fishing families to prosper. The complex of fisheries that makes up California’s wetfish industry, including mackerel and anchovy as well as squid and sardines, helped to build the ports of Monterey and San Pedro, as well as San Diego and San Francisco. Wetfish, now called coastal pelagic species (CPS), have contributed the lion’s share of California’s commercial catch since before the turn of the 20th century.

Even back then fishermen recognized that a sustainable fishery was good for both fisherman and fish. That’s why over the decades fishing interests have supported marine protections based on sound science and have contributed significantly to cooperative research. That tradition continues today.

In fact, today coastal pelagic fisheries in California like squid and sardines are managed with strict quotas as well as numerous time and area closures, including a statewide network of no-take marine reserves. Fishermen are allowed to harvest only a small percentage of the overall fish population. Current regulations require that at least 75 percent of CPS finfish must stay in the ocean to ensure a resilient core biomass, and the sardine protection rate is even higher at about 90 percent.

In addition, squid fishing is closed on weekends (squid live less than a year and die after spawning). And about 30 percent of squid spawning grounds are also closed in reserves.

What’s more, to preserve the quality of the catch, fishermen typically fish day trips near the ports. This makes California’s CPS fisheries among the most efficient and “greenest” fisheries on the planet with one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world. For example, wetfish fisheries can produce 2,000 pounds of protein for only six gallons of diesel fuel. This highlights the importance of California wetfish to California.

Beyond history, culture and sustainability, California’s CPS fisheries contribute essential revenue into local port communities. Wetfish fisheries are an important part of California’s fishing economy and squid is California’s most valuable fishery. Statewide, these fisheries represent more than 80 percent of all landings and close to 40 percent of dockside value of all fisheries in the Golden State!

CPS_thmbdownload/view PDF infographic


D.B. Pleschner is executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association, a nonprofit created to promote sustainable wetfish resources.


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Aug 22 2014

Lucrative crab industry in danger

Lucrative crab industry in danger | Sea Change: Ocean acidification | The Seattle Times

Scientists fear ocean acidification will drive the collapse of Alaska’s iconic crab fishery.

This video was produced jointly with PBS NewsHour, using The Seattle Times’ reporting and video.

Learn more →

Alaska map

DUTCH HARBOR, Alaska — For decades, the crab piled up in fishing boats like gold coins hauled from a rich and fertile sea.

But the very ocean that nursed these creatures may prove to be this industry’s undoing.

New research earlier this year shows that Bristol Bay red king crab — the supersized monster that has come to symbolize the fortunes of Alaska’s crab fleet — could fall victim to the changing chemistry of the oceans.

Barring a hasty reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions — or evidence that the creatures could acclimate to changing sea conditions — a team of scientists fears Alaska’s $100 million red king crab fishery could crash in decades to come.

That grim possibility also raises alarm about the crab fleet’s other major moneymaker, snow crab.

“With red king crab, it’s all doom and gloom,” said Robert Foy, who oversaw the crab research for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Kodiak, Alaska. “With snow crab, there’s so little known we just can’t say. But we don’t see anything from our experience that’s good for any of these crab. Some is just not as bad as others.”

Potential impact on Alaska’s red king crab industry

Early projections suggest trouble ahead for red king crab fishing.

Potential impact on Alaska's red king crab industry

Source: NOAA, Alaska Fisheries Science Center

Mark Nowlin / The Seattle Times

Said Mark Gleason, director of the Seattle-based industry trade group Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, “From my perspective, the chemistry is pretty clear-cut.”

For decades, these storied crustaceans have drawn men and women from Seattle to the far reaches of the North Pacific. There, adventurers wrestled 800-pound steel cages amid raging seas and aprons of pack ice, hoping to strike it rich on a bounty of flaky meat and accordion legs.

The emerging issues with Alaska’s crab underscore a predicament that stretches beyond the North Pacific. It gets to the difficulty of trying to comprehend the depth of fallout from ocean acidification.

For reasons scientists don’t always understand, similar species, even those living side by side, often respond to changing water chemistry in remarkably different ways.

“The real issue here is unpredictability,” said Richard Aronson, a Florida-based marine scientist who has tracked king crab in Antarctica. “There are all these unanticipated collateral impacts. The problem is, most of them are nasty surprises.”

‘We’re scared to death’

Certainly the threat to king crab was unexpected.

As humans pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a quarter of it gets absorbed by the seas. That lowers the water’s pH and alters the availability of carbonate ions, which crab rely on to build their exoskeletons.

Many crab species appear hardy in the face of souring seas, or at least not so frail. Exceedingly corrosive waters actually pump up Maryland blue crab to three times their size and turn them into voracious predators. Sour waters kill Dungeness crab, but far less often than Alaska red king crab.

When Foy and his colleagues exposed baby red king crab to CO2 levels expected by midcentury, the young died more than twice as often as crab raised in normal water. When researchers boosted CO2 to levels expected decades later, red king crab died in far larger numbers.

“The overall survival at the larval and juvenile stage is extremely low,” Foy said. “It decreases to a point that is likely to affect the population of the crab.”

Such a loss would exact quite a toll.

“You say king crab, and most people associate that with Alaska,” said longtime crab-boat captain Kale Garcia, who lives outside Kent. “So, for it to go away, that’s a huge part of the identity for Alaska. I think it’d be devastating. I know it’d be devastating for me.”

Red king crab is the showboat of the Northwest’s billion-dollar fishing industry. It is a television sensation and a marketer’s dream, its image emblazoned on bumper stickers, mugs, caps and T-shirts throughout the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

It is even a tourist attraction: Cruise-ship passengers stopping in Ketchikan pay $159 for a half-day ride to watch crews haul marine life aboard a 107-foot crab boat that appeared on Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch.”

Alaska’s commercial crabbers also catch small loads of golden king crab and Tanner crab, but the real cash comes from just two species — red king crab and snow crab. The 54 million pounds of snow crab caught in 2011 brought the fleet $115 million dockside. But a mere 14.8 million pounds of red king crab brought nearly as much — $92.5 million. And it can fetch $39.99 a pound at Pike Place Market.

Crabbing attracts tough adrenaline junkies who disappear for weeks into the storm-buffeted frontier of the Bering Sea. They lounge in cramped quarters watching bad movies and wait for crab to fill their cages. Then workers scramble day or night on icy decks through stomach-churning swells, amped on coffee and nicotine.

“A lot of people that are involved in the industry, it’s something they’ve been in forever,” Garcia said. “People like that don’t plan an exit strategy out of the fishery. There is no exit strategy. They’re like ‘This is what we do. We fish.’ ”

NOAA researchers are using Bob Foy’s research to develop models and a timeline that charts the potential collapse of king crab. But things are changing quickly.

“Bob reared those crabs under conditions that we thought were some time off in the future,” said Jeremy Mathis, a NOAA oceanographer who specializes in Alaska and the Arctic. “And what we actually found is that in certain times of the year, the conditions near the bottom in the Bering Sea were actually worse than the conditions that Bob was raising his crabs under.”

There’s no evidence that souring seas have yet altered wild populations — the most corrosive seas now occur at times when red king crab aren’t as susceptible. But Alaska’s crab industry has followed the science closely.

“All of us in the fishing industry are looking at each other and going ‘This sucks,’ ” said Ed Poulsen, former science adviser to the crab industry group. “I can tell you right now I’m doing all I can to get into other fisheries. I’m diversifying. With these changes in the environment, I think things are probably not going to get better.”

Still, Jim Stone, of Lakewood, Pierce County, co-owner of the Bering Sea crab boat Arctic Hunter, is trying to remain optimistic.

“We’re scared to death,” Stone said. “But we’ve heard a lot of horror stories before.”

Adaptation possible, but uncertain

The research comes with plenty of caveats. No laboratory setting can ever properly approximate what happens in nature. Scientists are still conducting genetic tests to see if king crab might have the ability to adapt.

“It’s not unreasonable to assume, for example, that they might move, that some form of rapid evolution will occur, that they may become somewhat more robust,” said Andre Punt, a University of Washington professor who worked on the research and assesses crab for fishing regulators.

But the situation also might be worse than first thought. Souring seas could hit crab at several additional stages of development or attack their food.

“They could be impacted in other parts of the water column,” Punt said. “The prey that they’re eating could be impacted.”

Ocean acidification is also not the only marine-world change under way. Warming seas, also caused by carbon emissions, could compound crab’s troubles.

“Anytime you’re working with an organism at the edge of its threshold and you add another stressor, that’s going to be an issue,” Foy said. “When you’re working in the subarctic environment like we are in the Bering Sea, these animals are always living at the edge of their tolerance in one season or another.”

And while king crab’s future has everyone scrambling, the future for snow crab, which brings in more money, could be equally disconcerting.

No two crab species react same way

No two Alaskan crab species have responded to CO2 exactly the same way. They seem to react differently depending on where they live at certain stages of their lives.

Golden king crab, for example, live extremely deep, below 1,000 feet, where waters already are naturally rich in CO2. That appeared to make them highly tolerant of sea-chemistry changes.

Meanwhile, baby Tanner crab exposed to high CO2 died at a higher rate than normal — but nowhere near as often as king crab. Foy suspects that’s because young Tanner crab live in water that already experiences vast swings in pH, depending on tides, time of day and photosynthesis.

Tanner crab probably are used to more variations than king crab, which remain on the outer continental shelf.

While snow crab are genetically similar to Tanner crab, their young spend more time at moderate depths.

But with snow crab, scientists have struggled to perform extensive tests. The animals are just too hard to keep alive in the lab.

It’s also hard to know how Foy’s results will translate to other species in other waters.

A related king crab species has recently been seen by the millions in Antarctica, where it is devouring shellfish and starfish. Scientists are debating whether or not the crab is native.

Will more acidic conditions kill these creatures or drive them out? Since they often occupy far deeper water, does that mean they instead might thrive?

“There’s a lot of ifs, ifs, ifs,” said Aronson, who documented Antarctica’s crabs during a cruise in 2010. “I’ve found that the number of times the surprise with carbon-dioxide emissions has been undesirable far outweighs the times it’s been desirable.”

The weird purgatory for these signature creatures unnerved Brett Robinson, who captains Stone’s Arctic Hunter.

“It’s scary as hell, if something doesn’t get figured out,” Robinson said. “I don’t know.”

“I guess you won’t have to fish for them” in the future, he added. “They’ll figure out how to grow these things in an aquarium or something.”

Hatchery may be part of future

Scientists in Seward, a thousand miles from the fishing grounds, are working toward just that.

For years, a shellfish hatchery has been learning how to raise baby king crab from scratch. The program started as an experiment to see if baby crab could be transplanted near Kodiak Island, where massive crab populations crashed in the 1970s and 1980s. But the rising threat from acidification has insiders closely watching their work.

Crab are most susceptible to corroding seas as babies, when a mere fraction of young survive even in perfect conditions. At the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery, survival can be 500 times higher.

Still, no one expects this operation could ever replace wild king crab. The orders of magnitude required to get enough crab to populate the Bering Sea would be ridiculous.

But perfecting the science could provide options, such as the ability to repopulate a few previously devastated areas.

“We’re hoping that it never gets to the point that they rely on the hatchery for that kind of work,” hatchery manager Jeff Hetrick said. “If we get to that point I think we’re in trouble. But it is a possibility.”

The idea that crab might be partially grown in a lab instead of the ocean frustrated Mizrain Rodriguez, another Arctic Hunter crewman. But it also saddened him to think that humans could be doing such damage to the sea.

“Every single animal on this planet lives in balance with its surroundings except us,” Rodriguez said. “We see it. We understand it. But we don’t want to do anything about it. It seems like we are on this destructive path.”


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Aug 22 2014

Fishing Fleets Search for Squid Off Santa Barbara Shores

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A brightly lit commercial fishing vessel hunting for squid sits just offshore from Santa Barbara on a recent night. (Mike Eliason/Noozhawk photo)

Market squid are spawning in more places than normal, including in local waters

Bright lights seen off the shores of Santa Barbara signify the return of squid-fishing fleets locally, a common occurrence in recent years but still a bit unusual, experts say.

Santa Barbara isn’t typically a popular squid-spawning locale. But cooler surface temperatures in nutrient-rich Pacific Ocean waters the past four years have caused smaller California market squid to spawn like crazy everywhere, according to Diane Pleschner-Steele, executive director of California Wetfish Producers Association.

A market squid usually grows to eight inches long with its eight legs and two feeding tentacles— sometimes up to a foot — and lives about nine months, she said.

The animals are one of the smallest of all 300-plus species of squid, and die after laying eggs in sandy, shallow water, which is where fishermen come in.

Most squid are caught with help from light boats, which shine bright lights at the water to attract the animals to the surface. When they do, fishing boats catch the squid in nets and share about 20 percent of profits with their helpers, Pleschner-Steele said.

She said squid-fishing season lasts nearly year-round, from April 1 through March 1, but closes whenever fishermen reach the statewide cap of 118,000 tons — a rarity.

Boats usually follow squid from one spawning ground to the next, starting in Monterey and then heading south, sometimes netting near the northern Channel Islands and Ventura.

Pleschner-Steele, who lives in Buellton, said La Niña effects have spurred squid to spawn near Santa Barbara and Carpinteria for unknown reasons, and fishermen hit the state’s tonnage quota in 2010.

Most squid are caught with help from light boats, which shine bright lights at the water to attract the animals to the surface. (Mike Eliason / Noozhawk photo)

“Squids are a fascinating animal,” Pleschner-Steele said. “We are learning more about them, and we’re learning how much we don’t know about them.”

The California Wetfish Producers Association was founded in 2004 to promote sustainable fishing and to foster collaborative research with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The nonprofit also governs other so-called “wetfish,” such as sardines, mackerel, anchovies and coastal tuna.

Although the squid fishery is the state’s largest in terms of volume and revenue, Pleschner-Steele said fishermen haven’t seen such solid production since the last La Niña effects in the late 1990s.

The boom is likely nearing its end, however, she said.

“We’ve just had four banner squid seasons,” she said. “The conditions were so ripe in so many places. These are small little animals but they are sure tasty.”


Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Aug 22 2014

Squid Fishermen Find Massive Schools Near Santa Barbara Shores


A parade of boats powering bright lights at night is showing up between Carpinteria and Santa Barbara, very close to shore.

“We have a squid run going on right out in front of Santa Barbara,” said Santa Barbara Harbor Operations Manager Mick Kronman.

Squid fishermen who normally find their catch by the Channel Islands, Monterey, Gaviota or Malibu, have located a massive population  just a few minutes off the coast between Ventura and Santa Barbara.

“This is a highly sustainable fishery. It’s regulated by quotas  even though 118 thousand tons a year seems like a lot this is a massive volume of  fish they are fishing on,” said Kronman.

What’s caught the public’s eye at night are the bright lights off each boat. They bring the squid to the surface, and the haul is caught in large nets. Then it’s off to the markets, and not necessarily close to home.

“It is big business. The fishermen are paid about $650. a ton for squid. A great percentage of it goes to China, they have a great appetite for squid and about 30 percent stays in the U.S. or it is sent over seas, and repackaged and brought back to the U.S.,” said Kronman.

During the day you can see some boats “holding” the spots they believe will be good fishing locations  at night.

They also have to keep from crowding the same fishing area.

“They do have rules to abide by and some times the squid will be congregated  but they have to maintain an eighth-mile distance from net to net.  It’s a gentleman’s fishery, most of the time.  Most folks abide by the rules, but as you see, once you get an area of fish,  the boats will be strung  very close to each other,” said Kronman.

Fishing has been extremely good, and already many fisherman have reached 80 percent of their quota.


Watch the video here.


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Aug 10 2014

This Is Your Brain on Fish

Thicker, stronger, and more resilient. Once a week is all it takes, new research says.
James Hamblin | Aug 7 2014


Alex Trautwig/Getty

Have you ever considered undergoing brain-thickening surgery, only to find that such a thing does not exist? And that the guy in the van was probably not actually a surgeon? Well, consider fish.

Dr. Cyrus Raji, a resident radiologist at UCLA, appreciates value beyond the cosmetics of a thick cerebral cortex. He’s the lead researcher in a new study in the current American Journal of Preventive Medicine that found that people who regularly eat fish have more voluminous brains than those who do not—in such a way that stands to protect them from Alzheimer’s disease.

“Understanding the effects of fish consumption on brain structure is critical for the determination of modifiable factors that can decrease the risk of cognitive deficits and dementia,” Raji and colleagues write. The team has previously shown gainful effects of physical activity and obesity on brain structure.

This study found that eating fish—baked or broiled, never fried—is associated with larger gray matter volumes in brain areas responsible for memory and cognition in healthy elderly people.

“There wasn’t one type of fish that was the best,” Raji told me by phone, probably while eating fish. “All that mattered was the method of preparation.” Fried fish had a unique dearth of benefits to the brain.

People who eat fish at least once a week have larger gray matter volumes in the red/yellow areas.


“If you eat fish just once a week, your hippocampus—the big memory and learning center—is 14 percent larger than in  people who don’t eat fish that frequently. 14 percent. That has implications for reducing Alzheimer’s risk,” Raji said. “If you have a stronger hippocampus, your risk of Alzheimer’s is going to go down.”

“In the orbital frontal cortex, which controls executive function, it’s a solid 4 percent,” Raji said. “I don’t know of any drug or supplement that’s been shown to do that.”

Speaking of supplements, the researchers initially looked to omega-3 fatty acids as the driver of these benefits. But when they looked at the levels of omega-3s in people’s blood, they didn’t correlate with better brain volumes.

“These findings suggest additional evidence that it is lifestyle factors—in this case, dietary intake of fish,” the researchers write, “and not necessarily the presumed biological factors that can affect the structural integrity of the brain.”

Omega-3 fatty acids have previously been shown to slow cognitive decline. In one study, higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in people’s blood were associated with lower rates of brain atrophy observable over just a four-year period. We also know that when rats are fed diets low in omega-3 fatty acids, they have increased signs of dementia, possibly mediated by insulin and related buildup of amyloid plaques in their tiny brains.

Eating more omega-3 fatty acids, a lot of fruit, and not much meat, has previously been associated with increased volume throughout the brain’s gray matter. Recent research in the journal Neurology found that elderly people with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood had better cognitive function than those with lower levels. MRIs of their brains showed larger volumes, too. (The associations also held for vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12, C, D, and E, and folate.)

Drs. Deborah Barnes and Kristine Yaffe at UCSF recently calculated in Lancet Neurology that up to half of cases of Alzheimer’s disease “are potentially attributable” to seven modifiable risk factors: diabetes, midlife high blood pressure, midlife obesity, smoking, depression, cognitive inactivity or low educational attainment, and physical inactivity. Minimal inroads in those areas, they say, could result in millions fewer cases of Alzheimer’s.
People who ate fish once per week were just as well off as those who ate it more frequently.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine corroborate, “Our research has consistently shown that it is the interactions among these risk factors with the patho-biological cascade of Alzheimer’s disease that determine the likelihood of a clinical expression as dementia or mild cognitive impairment.”

Specific suspects in the fish-brain benefit paradigm are omega-3s docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which seem to increase the size of the amygdala and anterior cingulate gyrus, and possibly overall brain volume. DHA and EPA can also affect the way neural synapses fire.

“Something about fish consumption, whatever it is, is strengthening to the brain,” Raji said. “It’s also possible that we’re capturing a general lifestyle effect—that there’s something else out there we’re not measuring that’s accounting for this.”

For example, people who ate fish might also eat more tartar sauce, and it might actually be that tartar sauce was responsible here. Though that’s unlikely. The researchers did control for obesity, physical activity, education, age, gender, race, and every other variable they could think of, and fish-eating itself remained a strong predictor of gray matter volume.

Even if it is just that people of good birth and cognitive fortune are those eating fish, the number of people with dementia is projected to double every 20 years. Or, as Raji put it to me, “By the time you and I are in our 60s and we start worrying about Alzheimer’s, 80 million people in the United States are going to have it.”

As that tide approaches, it can be nice to adopt a few hard grains of habit that confer a sense of command in sealing it out. Raji and other dementia researchers note that the challenge is to implement prevention strategies in the decades prior to ages when dementia manifests, before there are any signs of brain structural or functional abnormalities. In the case of fish, this doesn’t have to be a foundational life overhaul or even a substantive acquiescence. People who ate fish once per week were just as neurologically fortified as those who ate it daily.

“Nobody wants to eat food like they’re taking medicine,” Raji said. Unless, of course, they do.


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Aug 7 2014

Russian ban hits US exports of hake, surimi, pink salmon and salmon roe; canned products excluded

SEAFOODNEWS.COM  by John Sackton – Aug 7, 2014


Russia’s announcement early today of the food commodity imports it will ban covers most frozen fish and seafood products.  However canned products under custom codes 1604 and 1605 will not be included.


The list of banned products covers all fresh and frozen fish, molluscs, and crustaceans.


The most immediate impacts for US producers will be felt on the West Coast, with hake, surimi, frozen pink salmon and salmon roe all significant export products to Russia.  All are now subject to the import ban.


For whiting/hake, US exports to Russia through June were worth about $4 million, and for all of 2013, the total export value was nearly $8 million.


For pollock surimi, shipments through June to Russia were worth $3.5 million, and for all of 2013 $8.2 million.


Salmon roe is where the most direct market impact might be felt because Russian imports of salmon roe represent a larger share of total production than they do for hake or surimi.  In 2013, total salmon roe exports to Russia were valued at $45.9 million, with a volume of over 7 million pounds.  Through June, shipments of salmon roe out of inventory from last year were worth $8.5 million, with a total volume of 1.1 million pounds.


The imposition of the import ban on salmon roe at the height of the roe production season is going to have a market impact, since the roe not shipped to Russia will have to be sold in Eastern Europe and Japan.  As a result, these markets will have to absorb greater supply, with a corresponding decline in price.


Frozen pink salmon will also be affected.  In 2013, virtually no frozen pinks were sold to Russia, but in 2014, that jumped from less than $250,000 to $3.3 million, making frozen pink salmon the second most valuable US export in the first half of the year, after whiting.


Canned pink salmon and other canned seafoods are not part of the ban.   However, Russia is not an export market for canned salmon from the US, and the exemption will have little impact.


The Russian sanctions on fresh and frozen fish and seafood were applied to the EU, Canada and Australia as well.  The biggest impact will be in Norway, where an immediate fall in salmon prices is expected.


Russia imported 6.6 billion NOK worth of seafood from Norway last year, of which 4.2 billion NOK was salmon.


Analysts who have modeled the impact of a Russian ban see an immediate price drop of more than 10-12%, and then a near term market settling about 10-12% below current levels for fresh Norwegian salmon.


Long term, if these sanctions continue in place for a year or longer, these same analysts from the Bergen firm Optimeering expect the impact to be minimal, as new markets will be found and trade patterns adjusted.


One of the ‘winners’ on salmon is likely to be Chile, whose exports are not affected.  Ironically, the same Norwegian firms cut out of the market via Norway, will be expanding their sales in Russia through their Chilean subsidiaries.  However, the Chilean shipments will be frozen Atlantic salmon, which has had nowhere near the growth experienced in fresh.


Russia is likely to expand its imports from Asia, including black market channels through China.  China already imports Norwegian and other farmed salmon, and it would not take much for some of this salmon to find its way to Russia.



Posted with permission of | Copyright © 2014

Aug 7 2014

D.B. PLESCHNER: Some Inconvenient Truths about California Squid Marketing


Greenberg missed the boat on a number of issues, including the overall carbon footprint of seafood, but equally important, the reasons why most of the squid that California exports is consumed overseas!

Read the original Paul Greenberg op-ed in the Los Angeles Times

August 5, 2014 ( — The following opinion piece appeared today on


In his op-ed to the Los Angeles Times last week, author Paul Greenberg could have dodged some critical misstatements and inaccuracies about the marketing of California squid – the state’s largest catch.

All he had to do was check with local sources, including the California Wetfish Producers Association, which represents the majority of squid processors and fishermen in the Golden State and promotes California squid.

Instead, Greenberg missed the boat on a number of issues, including the overall carbon footprint of seafood, but equally important, the reasons why most of the squid that California exports is consumed overseas!

To set the record straight, here are some inconvenient truths you wouldn’t know about squid by reading last week’s op-ed:

First, size matters and price rules when it comes to California market squid, which are one of the smallest of more than 300 squid species found worldwide. The U.S. “local” market really prefers larger, “meatier” squid, notwithstanding Greenberg’s ‘locavore’ movement.

Greenberg acknowledged the labor cost to produce cleaned squid in California adds at least $1.50 per pound to the end product. In fact, local production costs double the price of cleaned squid, due to both labor (at least $15 per hour with benefits) and super-sized overhead costs, including workers’ comp, electricity, water and myriad other costs of doing business in the Golden State.

Del Mar Seafood is one processor in California that micro-processes cleaned squid at the request of markets like the CSA that Greenberg mentioned. In fact, virtually all California squid processors do the same thing at the request of their customers. But at 1,000 pounds per order, we would need 236,000 CSAs, restaurants or retail markets paying $1.50 more per pound to account for the total harvest. If the demand were there, we’d be filling it!

Greenberg also misconstrued the issue of food miles. Respected researchers like Dr. Peter Tyedmers, from Dalhousie University in Canada, found that transport makes a minor contribution to overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, when considering the carbon footprint of seafood (or land-based foods). Mode of production is far more important.

Here’s another surprise: California squid is one of the most efficient fisheries in the world – because a limited fleet harvests a lot of squid within a short distance of processing plants.

Studies show that the California wetfish fleet, including squid, can produce 2,000 pounds of protein for only 6 gallons of diesel. Squid are then flash frozen to preserve freshness and quality. Keep in mind that even with immaculate handling, fresh squid spoil in a few days.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, even with product block-frozen and ocean-shipped to Asia for processing, California’s squid fishery is one of the ‘greenest’ in the world. One recent survey estimated that about 30 percent of California squid is now either processed here or transshipped to Asia for processing (other Asian countries besides China now do the work) and re-imported.

China, although important, is only one export market that craves California squid. With a growing middle class billions strong, Chinese consumers can now afford California squid themselves. Many countries that import California squid prefer the smaller size, and California squid goes to Mediterranean countries as well. In short, most of the squid that California’s fishery exports are consumed overseas. Why? The U.S. palate for squid pales in comparison to Asian and European demand.

Also important to understand: California squid is the economic driver of California’s wetfish industry – which produces more than 80 percent of the total seafood volume landed in the Golden State. California squid exports also represent close to 70 percent by weight and 44 percent of value of all California seafood exports. Our squid fishery contributes heavily to the Golden State’s fishing economy and also helps to offset a growing seafood trade imbalance.

The sad reality is that price really does matter and most California restaurants and retail markets are not willing to pay double for the same – or similar – small squid that they can purchase for half the price.

Nonetheless, we do appreciate Greenberg’s pitch for local seafood. Our local industry would be delighted if, as he suggested, all Californians would be willing to pay $1.50 a pound more for California squid. We may be biased, but in our opinion California squid really is the best!


D.B. Pleschner is Executive Director of the California Wetfish Producers Association, a nonprofit designed to promote sustainable wetfish resources.