Archive for September, 2014

Sep 4 2014

D.B. Pleschner: State’s wetfish industry solid, sustainable


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 make 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, or 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 nearby 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.

Beyond the history, the culture and the 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.


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

Sep 4 2014


Michael Maher working at the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center Mukilteo field station with Mobile Ocean Acidification Treatment Systems (MOATS). Credit: NOAA NWFSC

Carbon dioxide scrubbers like those that clean the air in space stations.

Precision monitors and instruments.

Industrial parts used in wastewater treatment.

Michael Maher’s job was to assemble the pieces into one of the most sophisticated ocean acidification simulation systems yet developed. Ocean acidification is the decrease in ocean pH due to its absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – carbon dioxide forms an acid when it dissolves in water.

“You have tools available – they may not be designed for this purpose but you can try to make them all work together,” said Maher, a research biologist at NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. “There wasn’t a blueprint or a kit you could order because nobody had really been trying to do this kind of thing before.”

The system that Maher and the ocean acidification research team built in the Science Center’s parking lot has provided new insight into the impacts of future ocean conditions on marine species. Researchers used it to examine what happens to small marine snails from Puget Sound when exposed to both current ocean conditions and the acidified conditions expected in the future. The research is described in a new paper in the online journal PLOS ONE reporting that current West Coast ocean waters are acidified enough to dissolve the shells of the snails, called pteropods.

The finding is not a surprise: Another NOAA-led team reported in April that shells of pteropods in near-shore habitat on the West Coast show signs of dissolution due to acidified waters. What is important about the new research is that it measured the extent of shell damage at escalating carbon dioxide concentrations, each translating to a different degree of acidification, in a controlled laboratory environment said Shallin Busch, a NOAA research ecologist.

The findings are a first step toward using the pteropod species examined in the study as a living barometer or indicator of ocean acidification along the West Coast.

“Our findings are a piece of the puzzle,” said Busch, the lead author of the new paper. “Now we know, yes, pteropods from the North Pacific are sensitive to ocean acidification. Now that we have confirmed their sensitivity, we need to look more closely at how pteropods are responding to current ocean conditions and what may happen in the future as carbon dioxide increases.”

Pteropods provide important nutrition for whales, seabirds and fish such as herring, salmon and mackerel, so changes in their populations could rattle through the marine food chain. Carbon emissions during the industrial era have lowered the average global ocean pH from 8.2 to 8.1, turning oceans slightly more acidic. West Coast waters are naturally acidified compared to other parts of the ocean so they may affect marine life such as pteropods sooner than acidifying waters elsewhere in the world.

The research also demonstrated the capacity of the NWFSC’s ocean acidification system to hold marine life at different carbon dioxide concentrations for extended periods. The system can control temperatures, oxygen levels and light for even more precise management of conditions during experiments.

“They are all dependent on each other – if you change the temperature, the pH will change,” Maher said. The system that carefully manages all the variables is “ a combination of machines and precisions instruments.”

The comprehensive controls allow researchers to isolate acidification as the cause of the shell damage, ruling out other factors that might otherwise be at play in a natural environment.

“There are not a lot of cases where we can definitively say, ‘This change is the result of acidification,’” said research ecologist Paul McElhany, Busch’s colleague at NWFSC. “It’s very hard to disentangle unless you know that’s the only thing changing. Experiments like this provide evidence about the effects of acidification alone.”

Busch said each member of the research team – Maher, McElhany and NOAA Hollings Scholar Patricia Thibodeau – brought individual skills to the research. The team has also developed a smaller and transportable version called a Mobile Ocean Acidification Treatment System, or MOATS that could be carried in the field or aboard research ships.

Thibodeau joined the research team for the summer of 2012 after her junior year at Bowdoin College in Maine. One of her initial tasks was to collect pteropods from Puget Sound by boat at night to stock the experimental system. Pteropods ascend in the water column at night to feed. The vertical movement naturally exposes them to varying carbon dioxide concentrations, which the ocean acidification system can simulate.

Later Thibodeau helped examine the shells of pteropods exposed to different concentrations of carbon dioxide. As with most science experiments where objectivity is paramount, she did not know which ones had been exposed to which concentrations when she rated the extent of damage to each shell.

“Sometimes biology can be so unpredictable, but this had such a clear outcome and relationship, it was very interesting to be a part of,” said Thibodeau, who just began work on her PhD at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. “There is definitely a human component to the issue because so many of us eat oysters and clams and other species affected by ocean acidification. So what we know and what we do really makes a difference.”

NOAA Hollings Scholar, Patricia Thibodeau collects seawater from Puget Sound for chemistry measurement. Credit: NOAA NWFSC

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Sep 3 2014

Sardine lover meets his match at The Taste’s ‘Fish Fight’

la-dd-sardine-the-tastes-fish-fight-20140902-001Michael Cimarusti, left, the gracious winner, and the still-happy loser. (Jenna Schoenefeld / Los Angeles Times)

| Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

I like almost everything about sardines. I like to cook them, I like to eat them. Heck, when I visit aquariums I even like to watch them swim around in circles. That’s the only explanation I can offer for how I found myself standing on a stage Sunday night engaged in a cook-off with one of America’s great chefs.

In the final night of this year’s The Taste, Michael Cimarusti from Providence and I were engaged in what we decided to call “The Great Fish Fight,” and the subject was sardines. He won, of course — I told him at one point it was like me playing H-O-R-S-E with Kobe Bryant — but I did get to cook some sardines, so the event wasn’t a total loss on my part.

The whole thing started innocently enough at last year’s Taste when food blogger Sara O’Donnell (Average Betty) tried to instigate an argument between Cimarusti and me about who had the better beard. No vote was taken, but I do think I won by a landslide as people tend to favor elegance over volume.

When she tried to kick up a similar fuss this time around, Cimarusti — perhaps chastened after last year — suggested that instead we should have a sardine cook-off. “Fish-ticuffs” I called it. And, of course, since the whole thing played out in real time on Twitter, there was no way I could back down.

My first challenge was finding sardines to cook. That proved harder than expected. Sardines are a notoriously fickle fish, their population prone to booms and busts. (Interestingly, some marine biologists — and many fishermen — have proposed that there is a sardine-anchovy cycle, with each fish taking dominance over the other for periods of time.)

In good times, sardines are one of the great bargains in the fish market — usually around $2 a pound. We’re in a down cycle for sardines, so I was stymied when I tried to sneak in a little practice beforehand. All my usual suspects, where sardines have been so plentiful in the past, turned up dry.

I ended up using a sardine-like fish I found at Seafood City called something like “Roundhead Scad.” At least I got some practice cleaning — and it actually tasted good.

Cleaning is a big part of sardine cooking. Unlike most fish you buy in the market, sardines are always sold in the round and in their entirety. Cleaning them is not hard, but it is not like buying the usual fillet. Think of it as the difference between cutting up a whole chicken and buying a boneless, skinless breast.

I find sardines react really well to grilling and pair well with big flavors. When I cook them (and maybe I learned this from Cimarusti, years ago — I’ll give him credit anyway), I like to grill them on the skin-side only until the flesh turns color all the way through. This way the skin crisps up nicely, a real plus.

As far as accompaniments, with it being the height of the summer harvest, I decided to pair them with a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and white beans, served with a nice drizzle of a quickly made pesto. It was like a panzanella, but with firm beans instead of tender bread.

Cimarusti opted for another of my favorite sardine dishes, the Sicilian classic pasta con le sarde — sardines mixed with spaghetti, wild fennel fronds and bread crumbs. And he knocked it out of the park.

The judges — KCRW “Good Food” host Evan Kleiman and our own Jonathan Gold — were kind, but it was clear that this was a perfect example of the difference between a good home cook’s dish and what a master chef like Cimarusti can do.

Still, all was not lost — I did get what I think of as my Little League “hardest-trier” award. Afterward Cimarusti gave me all the leftover sardines we hadn’t cooked.

So Monday night, I grilled them. Defeat has never tasted so sweet.


Visit: to read the original post and photos of the the Taste food and wine festival

Sep 3 2014

In massive nod to success of West Coast industry and managers, Monterey Aquarium upgrades 21 species

Copyright © 2014 – Posted with permission from SEAFOODNEWS.COM

SEAFOODNEWS.COM by John Sackton – Sept 3, 2014

In a massive nod to the success of US fishery managers, Monterey Bay Aquarium has upgraded its consumer guide on 21 west coast groundfish and rockfish species.

It now says all of these species – including sable fish, many species of rockfish sold as snapper in California, the various species of flatfish and other bottom trawl fish including Dover sole, petrale sole, starry flounder and sand dabs,  are rated either ‘best choice’ or ‘good alternative’.
“This is one of the great success stories about ecological and economic recovery of a commercially important fishery,” said Margaret Spring, vice president of conservation and science, and chief conservation officer for the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Although Monterey Bay calls this “the most dramatic turnaround to date’, it actually reflects business as usual for the US fishery management system.
The West Coast groundfish fisheries were declared an economic disaster early in 2000, when landings and fishing income plummeted.  Many species were listed as being overfished, and in some cases bycatch limits on types of rockfish came down to virtually single fish.
“The turnaround in such a short time is unprecedented,” said Jennifer Dianto Kemmerly, director of the Seafood Watch program. “Fishermen, federal agencies and our environmental colleagues have put so much effort into groundfish recovery, and now we’re seeing the results of their work.”

In fact, the credit should go to the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, NMFS, and the industry that worked with them, along with the rationalization program that allowed for effort reductions to make the fishery more economically viable.
Although the Aquarium as an NGO credits the changes to the Magnuson act in 2006, actually the seeds of the recovery were planted much earlier.  The West coast and Alaska fisheries operated with hard TAC’s long before they became mandatory across the entire U.S.

Like other US fisheries management success stories, the recovery of West Coast groundfish and rockfish species relies on two primary principles that have been fully embraced by the seafood industry:
*scientifically set quotas for the total allowable catch, and
*comprehensive bycatch management based on industry formed cooperatives and real time bycatch reporting.

A third factor, beyond anyone’s control, has been the favorable environmental conditions on the West Coast that have allowed for stock recovery once the other two actions were in place.

Unfortunately, where the environmental conditions move against a fishery – as is happening in New England cod, the best fisheries science in the world cannot speed up a recovery.  However, fish history is replete with many species suffering declines to near zero abundance, and then recovering sharply as conditions improve.   Haddock in New England is a prime example, with the biomass recovering to levels not seen seen in 40 years.

In future articles we will document more about how this recovery took place, and the hard work that went into it.  But like the rooster who thought he caused the sun to rise, it is important for buyers to recognize that the rooster – in this case the Aquarium’s Seafood Watch – is announcing an event that was brought about through scientific management  and industry cooperation and discipline.

That is why for the seafood industry, it is great to have the recognition, whether it be MSC or the Aquarium or other recommend lists, but just like the rooster and the sunrise, the accolades are for the work we’ve already done, they are not the cause of the success.

John Sackton, Editor And Publisher 1-781-861-1441
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Copyright © 2014

Sep 3 2014

Monterey Wharf Walks: The Story of Squid

wharfPhoto: Ashley Tedesco

Amble out on a story-packed stroll, one that considers the town’s seafaring history.

| By Alysia Gray Painter |  Saturday, Aug 30, 2014  |


SQUID IN THE SPOTLIGHT: It’s sometimes difficult to narrow down what natural focus a town might have regarding the wildness that surrounds it. Sure, you could say that Klamath has strong ties to the redwoods and Big Sur to the condors, but most places snug against water or forest aren’t all that associated with a specific bit of nature above all others in the region. Monterey, though, is associated with quite a few. Whales, yes, otters, yes, sardines, yes, the Monterey Cypress, yes. And squid? We’ll wager that it is a rare day when the tentacled Pacific denizen tops otters and sardines in the list of “wildlife or natural wonders with Monterey cred,” but squidly creatures do have old connections to the Bay-close city. Squid fishing was once a prominent industry, and Monterey Bay Fisheries Historian Tim Thomas is considering it in all of its historic and fascinating context during two upcoming Wharf Walks. They’re set to set out on Saturday, Sept. 6 and Saturday, Oct. 4.

BUT SQUID-ORIENTED FACTS… aren’t the only thing on the table: calamari is, quite literally. Going with a “sea-to-table” theme, the Paluca Trattoria of Old Fisherman’s Wharf will serve Wharf Walk participants a “complimentary calamari appetizer” after the stories wrap. How often do we head out into a history-rich to-do only to end it with an edible related to the stories at hand? Not often enough. A bonus treat: Possible napping seals or sea lions off Finger Pier. Calamari, squid history, and snoozing seals? Yeah, that’s major Monterey cred right there.

TO FOLLOW… all of the upcoming Wharf Walks, keep an eye on the Fisherman’s Wharf page. And never fear, otters: You know you hold a special spot as the de facto fuzzy-faced ambassador of the M.B. area, but squids have played their role, too. Time to give them their briny due.

Copyright NBC Owned Television Stations


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Sep 1 2014

Monterey Bay – Squid Fishing – Thank You

Source: Monterey Harbor Update September 2014 –

The 2014 squid catch was an event of a life time! This years squid catch challenged the memory of local fisherman elders. They had a difficult time remembering a better year for the squid fishery going back to the 1960’s. This year more than 1500 jobs were created for local companies during this season. This years catch and subsequent use of the pumping and landing facilities along with the associated track trailers challenged the users of the commercial wharf with parking, transportation, and access. The businesses, fisherman, boaters, and the public worked within a defined amount of space. The limitations of commercial wharf II was challenged to try and be all things to all users on wharf II this year. We wanted to let you know how much we appreciate the wharf II users being patient throughout this busy 2014 season.

Thank you.


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