Archive for January, 2015

Jan 22 2015

Official unveiling next week for North Coast marine sanctuary expansion

SonomaCoastKamilah Motley of Washington, D.C. takes in the sweeping view of the Sonoma Coast, north of Bodega Bay, Monday Jan. 20, 2015. The unveiling of the expanded Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries will take place next week. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015

Last-minute consultations were underway in Washington this week in advance of the expected publication Tuesday of final plans for expansion of two adjoining national marine sanctuaries off the North Coast.

Reports of a few lingering operational questions on the part of Coast Guard officials should not impede implementation of long-sought protections for the swath of wildlife-rich waters offshore of Sonoma County, federal sanctuary personnel said.

“So far, the information I have is we are not anticipating any delays,” said Maria Brown, superintendent of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

The proposed move, announced by the Obama administration in December 2012, will more than double the size of the combined Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries, extending federal protections north along the Sonoma Coast to Point Arena in southern Mendocino County.

The action will fulfill a four-decade quest to ban energy and mineral exploration and extraction off that stretch of coastline, extending federal protection to an additional 2,769 square miles of ocean.

The final rule on the expansion is expected to be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, Jan. 27, triggering a 45-day review by Congress and California Gov. Jerry Brown before the area is officially included in sanctuary boundaries. Sanctuary officials earlier had said the rule would be published Jan. 20.

Matt Stout, communications director for the National Marine Sanctuary System, said the expansion is the agency’s largest undertaking of its kind short of creating a new sanctuary. But he said strong support for the plan among lawmakers suggested smooth sailing ahead.

“This expansion has grown out of the will of Congress to see something happen here,” Stout said. “We’ve had nothing but absolutely fantastic support from all members of Congress. And the local delegation is incredibly vocal and supportive, so we wouldn’t anticipate any challenge.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

Read original story: The Press Democrat

Jan 22 2015

Speaker Atkins Announces “Pacific to Plate” Legislation to Boost Coastal Fish Markets

SAN DIEGO – Assembly Speaker Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego) has announced that she will introduce legislation, “Pacific to Plate,” to clarify and streamline state laws to make it easier for San Diego’s Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, and other fish markets like it, to grow and thrive.

“Since the market opened, thousands of San Diegans have enjoyed being able to walk down this pier and choose their next meal from the fresh catch brought ashore by our local fishermen,” Speaker Atkins said.

“Though the Market has been successful, there are still some barriers in state law that need to be overcome to ensure its ongoing operation. ‘Pacific to Plate,’ the legislation I am introducing in the Assembly, will help keep red tape from tangling up this boon to San Diego’s Blue Economy.”

Speaker Atkins hosted a Jan. 17 press conference during the weekly fish market to announce the proposed legislation. She was joined by San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox, Port of San Diego Board Chairman Dan Malcolm and local fisherman Peter Halmay.

The proposed state legislation would:

  • Allow Fishermen’s Markets to operate as food facilities
  • Allow fresh fish to be cleaned for direct sale at Fishermen’s Markets, and
  • Streamline the permitting process, so commercial fishermen can organize under a single permit—just like Certified Farmers’ Markets.

Currently, Fishermen’s Markets are not defined in state law as food facilities, complicating the permit process. In addition, a special exemption is needed to allow vendors to clean fresh fish for patrons.

“San Diego was once the tuna capital of the world,” said Supervisor Cox. “This bill can help us establish more fishermen’s markets, create more jobs for local fishermen and give San Diegans more fish caught fresh off our waters.”

The bill has attracted broad bipartisan support from San Diego’s state legislative delegation. Assemblymembers Rocky Chavez, Brian Jones, Brian Maienschein, Marie Waldron and Shirley Weber are co-sponsoring the “Pacific to Plate” bill, along with state Senators Joel Anderson, Patricia Bates, Marty Block and Ben Hueso.

San Diego’s Tuna Harbor market has been a success since its Aug. 2 opening, drawing 350 visitors a week, who spend about $15,000 on fresh seafood brought directly to the pier by local fishermen.

The market was established following action by San Diego County and the Port District, which partnered to establish a place where local commercial fishermen could sell directly to consumers. The county and Port requested that the State become involved to ease regulations that could be obstacles to the growth of the Tuna Harbor market, and other coastal markets like it.

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Jan 22 2015

California drought could end with storms known as atmospheric rivers

California’s drought crept in slowly, but it could end with a torrent of winter storms that stream across the Pacific, dumping much of the year’s rain and snow in a few fast-moving and potentially catastrophic downpours.

Powerful storms known as atmospheric rivers, ribbons of water vapor that extend for thousands of miles, pulling moisture from the tropics and delivering it to the West Coast, have broken 40% of California droughts since 1950, recent research shows.


“These atmospheric rivers — their absence or their presence — really determine whether California is in drought or not and whether floods are going to occur,” said F. Martin Ralph, a research meteorologist who directs the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

The storms, which flow like massive rivers in the sky, can carry 15 times as much water as the Mississippi and deliver up to half of the state’s annual precipitation between December and February, scientists say. Though atmospheric rivers are unlikely to end California’s drought this year, if they bring enough rain to erase the state’s huge precipitation deficit, they could wreak havoc by unleashing floods and landslides.

Scientists using a new type of satellite data discovered atmospheric rivers in the 1990s, and studies since then have revealed the phenomenon’s strong influence on California’s water supply and extreme weather.

This month, a group of government and university scientists, including Ralph, are launching a major field experiment to better understand atmospheric rivers as they develop over the Pacific. Through the end of February, some researchers will fly airplanes above storms as they pass through, while others will monitor them from ships hundreds of miles off California. As the storms make landfall, the scientists will collect data with ground-based instruments.

“We’re going to measure the heck out of them,” Ralph said.

Scientists will use the information to try to improve atmospheric river forecasts, including where they will hit hardest and for how long. That could help communities prepare for flooding and allow water managers to make better use of storm runoff.

These atmospheric rivers — their absence or their presence — really determine whether California is in drought or not and whether floods are going to occur.- F. Martin Ralph, a research meteorologist who directs the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

California usually needs about five good atmospheric rivers each winter to fill reservoirs, stimulate spring vegetation growth and build snowpack to healthy levels, said Michael Anderson, a climatologist for the California Department of Water Resources. But how much the storms boost the state’s water supply depends on the characteristics of each one, including how cold it is, whether it makes landfall toward the north or south, and whether the precipitation falls mostly as rain near the coast or as snow in the mountains.

Jay Jasperse, chief engineer for the Sonoma County Water Agency, calls atmospheric rivers “our water supply up in the air.” The agency, which operates two reservoirs in the Russian River Valley, one of the state’s most flood-prone watersheds, has been seeking more precise forecasts to make better decisions about releasing water from reservoirs to accommodate storm runoff or conserving it to use as drinking water.

“We want to better handle these short, intense rainfall events,” Jasperse said.

If atmospheric rivers fail to arrive, California could be in serious trouble. That’s what happened last winter, when a ridge of high pressure lingered off the West Coast for months, blocking storms and intensifying the drought.

An atmospheric river broke through last February but didn’t bring enough rain to make a big improvement. In December, a strong atmospheric river drenched Northern California, but much of it fell as rain near the coast rather than snow in the mountains. That means the state will need several more big storms by the end of next month to build up its snowpack, which in the Sierra Nevada remains at less than half of normal.

As much as Californians might hope for a series of atmospheric rivers to sweep in and end the three-year drought, experts warn that so much rain at once could bring devastation.

California’s most severe storm event on record was caused by a series of atmospheric rivers that began in December 1861 and poured rain for weeks. The storms caused such extensive flooding in the Central Valley that the state Capitol was temporarily moved from Sacramento to San Francisco.

Ten years ago, an atmospheric river brought record-setting rain to Southern California, causing a mudslide that killed 10 people in the Ventura County beach town of La Conchita.

Atmospheric rivers are expected to grow stronger over the century as global warming increases the amount of water vapor that can be lifted out of tropical oceans and pushed to higher latitudes.

A 2011 simulation by the U.S. Geological Survey found that a hypothetical megastorm — an atmospheric river event so strong it happens only once every 100 to 200 years — could be more catastrophic than a major earthquake, over several weeks bringing 10 feet of rain and hurricane-force winds, widespread flooding, landslides and $300 billion in property damage.

Dale Cox, a USGS project manager who oversaw the disaster scenario, said atmospheric rivers “provide us water, but they are also a major source of our calamity.”

“Everybody’s hoping for them,” he said, “but we don’t want too many.”


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Jan 16 2015

The Pacific Sardine Fishery: Then and Now

giantkelpSardines and giant kelp, Channel Islands

The Pacific sardine (Sardinops sagax caerulea) is a small pelagic fish found throughout the Pacific Ocean. In California, the Pacific sardine fishery has historically been one of the largest commercial fisheries in the state. The fishery began in the early 1900s, peaked in the late 1930s, and then declined rapidly in the 1940s during a well-known population downturn fueled by oceanic regime changes and fishing pressure. A moratorium was placed on the Pacific sardine fishery from 1967 to 1986. Then, beginning in the 1990s, Pacific sardine landings increased as the population recovered.

Today, the Pacific sardine fishery continues to contribute to California’s economy. In 2013, the fishery for Pacific sardine was the fourth largest commercial fishery in the state of California by volume. These landings were valued at over $1.5 million dollars.

pacificsardinePacific sardine

Since 2000, the commercial fishery off California, Oregon, and Washington has been managed by the Pacific Fishery Management Council under the Coastal Pelagic Species Fishery Management Plan. The commercial fishing season for Pacific sardine runs from July 1 through June 30 of the following year. The season is split up into three periods: July 1 – September 14, September 15 – December 31, and January 1 – June 30, each with an assigned harvest limit. Based on 2014 landings information to date from the second period (September 15- December 31), the preliminary harvest amount for the third period (January 1 – June 30, 2015) will be 5,084 metric tons.

For more information about coastwide Pacific sardine landings, please visit the NOAA Fisheries Pacific sardine landings web page. For more information about Pacific sardine history, research, and management, please visit CDFW’s Pacific sardine web page.

Original post by Anna Holder, CDFW Environmental Scientist  — CDFW file photos