Archive for December, 2014

Dec 8 2014

D.B. Pleschner: The truth about new sardine fishing limits


Recently the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to change the sardine harvest control rule, increasing the upper limit of the sardine harvest fraction from 15 percent to 20 percent. The decision came after an exhaustive set of scientific workshops and analysis involving more than 60 people, held over the past two years to respond to a research paper that suggested that sea surface temperature (SST) measured at Scripps Pier in Southern California, which had been employed as a proxy for sardine recruitment, was no longer correlated with recruitment success.

But apparently this fact was lost on environmental activists who cried foul to the media, claiming that sardines are crashing, and the management response to the crisis is to just fish harder.

Claims that the council voted for a more aggressive fishing rate miss the point: nothing could be further from the truth. But the truth is complicated.

We know that California’s sardine population is strongly influenced by ocean temperatures: warmer waters tend to increase sardine productivity, while colder waters tend to decrease it.

“The northern sardine stock has been declining for several years due to poor recruitment, and there is concern that it will decline further in the next couple of years,” says Dr. Richard Parrish, one of the authors of the original sardine control rule. “Although no one can predict the environmental conditions that will occur in the future, the pessimistic view is that the northern stock will continue to decline and the optimistic view is that the present warm water conditions will herald increased recruitment.”

“Whichever occurs first,” he adds, “the past, present and management team-recommended sardine harvest control rules were all designed to automatically regulate the exploitation rates both by reducing the quota and reducing the harvest rates as the stock declines, and by shutting down the fishery if the biomass falls below 150,000 mt.”

The original sardine analysis, made in 1998, was updated by a new analysis that found offshore sea temperatures slightly better correlated with sardine productivity than the measurements made at Scripps Pier. Population simulations made with the updated information that included the population increase in recent decades show that the sardine stock is about 50 percent more productive than thought in 1998. The management team therefore recommended raising the upper bound of fishing fraction from 15 percent to 20 percent to account for the new best available science.

But that doesn’t mean that the catch quota for the coming year will be raised. This is a long-term harvest control rule that simply follows better scientific modeling efforts.

The new rules will determine fishing rate just as before: If the temperature is cold, the harvest will be kept low; if the population size decreases, both the harvest rate and the allowable catch will automatically decrease. In fact, the new sardine harvest rule is actually more precautionary than the original rule it is replacing. It does this by producing an average long-term population size at 75 percent of the unfished size, leaving even more fish in the water, vs. 67 percent in the original rule. The original harvest rule reduced the minimum harvest rate to 5 percent during cold periods. The present, very complicated rule, has a minimum rate of 0 percent during cold periods.

What’s more, the harvest fraction will only be applied after subtracting 150,000 mt from the sardine biomass estimated in the next year’s stock assessment.

Bottom line: The California sardine may be the best-managed fishery of its type in the world — the poster fish for effective ecosystem-based management.

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

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Dec 8 2014

NOAA: Don’t Count On El Niño To Bring Drought Relief In California


It’s less likely an El Niño event will bring rain to parched California farms next fall or winter.

The forecast released Thursday from the Climate Prediction Center (National National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) said the chance of El Niño is about 70 percent during the Northern Hemisphere this summer and is close to 80 percent during the fall and early winter.

But Michelle Mead, Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento said the chance of a strong El Niño is not favored and forecasters anticipate El Niño will peak at weak-to-moderate strength during the late fall and early winter.

She said for Northern California and the San Joaquin Valley, the best estimate is for a weak to moderate event. Mead said there is little correlation between weak-to-moderate El Niño events and above-normal rainfall.

“El Niño right now is not looking like a slam dunk as far as helping us with our drought scenario,” said Mead.

Mead said if there is a strong El Niño it would means an increased chance of rain for California, but mostly for Southern California. But she said, even that is unlikely.

“The latest forecast ensemble models are actually indicating that the type of El Niño that could develop would be weak to slightly moderate and there’s no guarantee that Southern California will see increased precipitation,” said Mead.


 UC Davis researchers say “the drought is likely to stretch to a fourth straight year, through 2015, if not longer – regardless of El Niño conditions.”

“El Niño only means potential for at or above normal precipitation and we are so far behind in precipitation that even if we get normal amounts for next year it would not end the drought,” said Mead.

But she said flooding can happen very quickly, even during drought.

“You can actually have a drought scenario where one or two strong Pacific storms move in and small creeks and streams can rise quickly,” said Mead. “There won’t be a big influx of moisture and people should continue to conserve water.”

The term El Niño refers to the large-scale ocean-atmosphere climate phenomenon linked to a periodic warming in sea-surface temperatures across the central and east-central equatorial Pacific (between approximately the date line and 120oW), according to NOAA.

El Niño represents the warm phase of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, and is sometimes referred to as a Pacific warm episode.

NOAA said the term originally referred to an annual warming of sea-surface temperatures along the west coast of tropical South America.

El Niño events can bring flooding to some countries and drought to other countries.


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Dec 5 2014

Study: California Drought Most Severe Dry Spell in at least 1,200 Years


A car sits in dried and cracked earth of what was the bottom of the Almaden Reservoir south of San Jose on Jan. 28. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California’s current drought is pretty exceptional — like the driest in about a millennium — according to an article published today in the journal Geophysical Research Letters by scientists with the University of Minnesota and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

But how could they know that? There weren’t a lot of rain gauges in California in 800 A.D. — at least, not the plastic kind.

So authors Daniel Griffin and Kevin Anchukaitis looked to tree-ring samples from California blue oaks.

“California’s old blue oaks are as close to nature’s rain gauges as we get,” said Griffin, a NOAA Climate and Global Change Fellow with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. “They thrive in some of California’s driest environments.”

The researchers collected their own blue oak tree-ring samples from south and central California, giving them a pretty good idea of yearly precipitation in the area back to 1293. They then augmented their samples with data from the North American Drought Atlas and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Palmer Drought Severity Index.

The result: The study estimates that in the past 1,200 years, there have been 66 dry periods lasting three-to-nine years and 37 more-severe, three-year droughts. But not one of them has been as extreme as the one beginning in 2012, despite some years in the past seeing similarly low precipitation.

It’s not only lack of rain that makes a drought, though. Record-high temperatures added to California’s strife to make this dry spell the worst in more than 1,000 years, according to the study. The researchers estimate high temperatures have intensified the drought by about 36 percent.

UC Berkeley geology professor and researcher Lynn Ingram said the study’s findings appear solid.

“The tree-ring records provide the highest resolution as they have annual growth layers,” she said, adding the study provides a “cautionary lesson” about how human-caused warming “may already be impacting climate and water in California.”

Watch the California drought progress from the beginning of 2011 to the end of 2014 below. The NOAA U.S. Drought Monitor released the latest outlook today, up-to-date as of Dec. 2. More than half the state is now in “exceptional drought,” defined as “exceptional and widespread crop/pasture losses; shortages of water in reservoirs, streams, and wells creating water emergencies.”

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Dec 2 2014

Monterey historic boat could get new purpose

gp1Built by Sicilian born boatbuilder Angelo Siinno in Monterey around 1927-1930, the General Pershing may be repurposed into a classroom on the bay.
David Royal — Monterey Herald

The Siino family has contributed a lot to the history of Monterey and their latest idea could give back even more.

They said this week they are aiming to turn the largest boat Sicilian-born Angelo Siino, one of Monterey’s most famous shipbuilders, ever crafted into an educational tool.

The General Pershing boat is roughly 60 feet long, 15 feet wide and was built around 1927 at Monterey Boatworks and used to film “Captains Courageous” in 1937 and other films. It is still seaworthy.

“Our goal is to make it back to being useful for the heritage of Monterey. We’re calling it Classroom on the Bay. We want it to be a teaching vessel,” said Siino’s granddaughter, Janet Martinez, 68, of Aromas.

Martinez said they need help restoring the lampara boat, which she estimates could reach up to $150,000. They have been repainting it for the last three weeks.

She said they hope to partner with a nonprofit or get grants to accomplish their vision.

In the meantime, she has written a book called “Master Boat Builders of Italy.” Revenue from sales will be used for the project.

Given the boat was built during the heyday of the sardine industry, she said students could be taught the history of Monterey aboard, as well as modern classes about the ecology of the Bay.

Angelo Siino moved to the United States from Sicily in 1903 and to Monterey in 1914. He died in 1956.

He built 15 boats from scratch and did it without blueprints, Martinez said.

“To this day, I don’t know how they did it,” she said.

He taught his craft to sons, Raymond and Frank, who became celebrated ship builders.

The General’s original owner was Neno DiMaggio, cousin to baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, who named it after Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, the World War I figure under whom Neno DiMaggio served.

It eventually ended up in San Francisco under the ownership of fisherman Frank Watada. He gave it back to the Siino family in 2003.

The General hit the news in 2008 when a colony of seabirds called Brand’s cormorant took up residence on it and required U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists to get them out.

Martinez can be found at Boatworks most days painting the boat but can also be reached at


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