Archive for March, 2015

Mar 31 2015

Rep. Don Young’s MSA Reauthorization Bill Focused on Flexibility and Science

Copyright © 2015 — Reposted by permission of

SEAFOODNEWS.COM  [Alaska Journal of Commerce]  By DJ Summers  –  May 26, 2015



Taking the lead on legislation he’s been involved with since it first passed in 1976, Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young introduced a bill March 4 to reauthorize and amend the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

The act, or MSA, governs all U.S. federal fisheries, which take place in the exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, between three and 200 miles off the coast. The MSA was most recently reauthorized and updated in 2006.

Young introduced H.R. 1335 on March 4 with three regional cosponsors: Reps. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., and Amata Coleman Radewagen, R-American Samoa.

Young’s proposed version of the MSA is titled the “Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act.” His philosophy is to let the councils, who have more intimate understandings of their stocks and more responsiveness than the Department of Commerce, have more control of their respective operations, and to update the act to account for better scientific governance and more attention to economic effects.

The revised act has several amendments regarding stock rebuilding protocols, council transparency, catch limits, pollock cooperative quota limits, the definition of “overfished” or depleted stocks, data collection, MSA authority in relation to other federal responsibilities, and the definition and role of subsistence.

The MSA governs eight regional councils in the federal waters off the U.S. coast. Alaska’s waters, fished mainly by fishermen from Alaska and the Pacific Northwest states, fall under the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s authority.

Some changes make provisions for more flexible planning. The plans for rebuilding depleted fisheries will remove the current mandatory 10 years for rebuilding plans and allow councils to phase in rebuilding plans over a three-year period to limit damaging effects to fishing economies.

Some changes expand the MSA’s authority to govern fisheries according to economic needs as well as biological. Under one amendment, councils may take into consideration “changes in an ecosystem and the economic needs of the fishing communities” when establishing annual catch limits.

Moving away from overfishing as the main term for depleted stocks is a key part of the new MSA’s revisions to scientific policy.

“They blame any decline in stock to overfishing,” said Young. “That’s not true. There could be climatic changes; there could be something else. We want to give (councils) a more scientific basis.”

Stock rebuilding plans will account for more causes than overfishing, such as predation and environmental variations.

Young’s reauthorization would replace all uses of the word “overfished” with the word “depleted.” Annual reports “shall distinguish between fisheries that are depleted (or approaching that condition) as a result of fishing and fisheries that are depleted (or approaching that condition) as a result of factors other than fishing.”

The distinction is important, as some stocks will decline in the total absence of fishing. Young said his attention was first brought to the difference between terms in the western Aleutian Islands, where certain stocks like Atka mackerel were depleted not due to overfishing, but predation by Steller sea lions.

Some provisions offer more control in setting harvest use caps. In an amendment specific to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, Young has authorized the council to set the maximum Bering Sea Pollock harvest use cap for “individuals, corporations, or other entities,” such as cooperatives at no more than 24 percent compared to the previous use cap of 17 percent.

Young said the amendment is intended to allow for profitability for pollock fleets but not over-consolidate to the point of excluding entry into the fishery.

Young’s reauthorization also includes a kind of declaration of sovereignty for the act’s authority to govern fisheries. Under one amendment, any conflict between the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act or the Antiquities Act of 1906 will fall under the authority of the MSA. Any required changes to fisheries under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 will also fall under MSA authority to examine and implement.

“As far as I’m concerned, the only thing that manages fish is the Magnuson-Stevens Act,” said Young. “Not the Antiquities Act. Not monuments. When they set an area off for the Antiquities Act that drives out commercial fishermen, they’re managing for fish. It’s an attempt to get commercial fisheries out of the ocean. They’ll deny it, but they know it.”

Young has vocally opposed the executive authority under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act and the Antiquities Act of 1906 to establish monuments and antiquities that amount to national parks or wildlife refuges, such as the recently-nominated President Barack Obama proposed on Jan. 25 to set 12 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, aside as wilderness, effectively halting any oil development. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young all drafted letters of disapproval.

On Jan. 27, Obama also designated 9.8 million acres of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas as a marine sanctuary, halting oil and gas leasing in those areas as well as ANWR. In 2014, Obama used his power under the Antiquities Act to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine Sanctuary.

Only days before the ANWR designation, on Jan. 22, Young introduced H.R. 330. The bill would restrict the president’s authority to independently create national monuments under the Antiquities Act of 1906.

Council process will be altered to provide for more public transparency and involvement. Council Scientific and Statistical Committees “shall develop such advice in a transparent manner and allow for public involvement in the process.”

The Department of Commerce will maintain a public archive of all Scientific and Statistical Committee audio, video, and transcripts.

Each council itself will be required to make available on its website a webcast, audio recording, or live broadcast of each meeting. Each will also provide audio, video, or a searchable audio or written transcript of each meeting of the Council and of the meetings of committees within 30 days of the meeting’s conclusion.

Any proposed fishery requires a fishery impact statement before implementation. Under Young’s amendment, the impact statement shall “assess, specify, and analyze the likely effect and impact of the proposed action on the quality of the human environment.”

Each statement shall be made available to the public not les than 14 before the final decision takes place.

Another broadly-focused amendment concerns data collection and confidentiality. The amendment would require that the Secretary of Commerce issue regulations for electronic monitoring, and allow for the replacement of onboard monitors with electronic monitoring, if the council has determined that electronic monitoring yields comparable results to the observer program. All regulations regarding electronic monitoring must be issued within one year of the MSA’s reauthorization.

Catch shares in certain regions will require a more democratic process. In the New England, Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico, all catch shares will require a referendum approval by the majority of permits holders eligible to take place in the fishery. In New England, the referendum may include fishing crew members who earn a significant portion of their livelihood from fishing.

Specific to Alaska, Young defines subsistence in his reauthorization, and provides for subsistence fishing experience as criteria for North Pacific council seat selection.

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Peggy Parker, Science and Sustainability Editor 1-781-861-1441

Mar 26 2015

Why These Overlooked Fish May Be The Tastiest (And Most Sustainable)

By Elizabeth Gunnison Dunn
Market Fish En Papillote Photo: Armando Rafael for The Wall Street Journal, Food Styling by Heather Meldrom, Prop Styling by Nidia Cueva

A FEW YEARS AGO, one of Charleston’s finest fishing boat captains approached chef Mike Lata with a problem: If business didn’t improve, he would have to hang it up. Federal quotas limited how much lucrative grouper and snapper he could catch, and while there were plenty of other fish for the taking, what he brought in barely sold for enough to cover gas. So, the chef made him a proposition:

The Recipes


Roasted sardines with seaweed salsa verde Photo: Armando Rafael for The Wall Street Journal, Food Styling by Heather Meldrom, Prop Styling by Nidia Cueva

“I told him on his next trip to bring us everything he caught, and we’d pay.” Mr. Lata and his cooks set to work on the catch—a grab bag of amberjack, banded rudderfish, mackerel, eel, lionfish and sea robin—and discovered that many of these fish were remarkably delicious. “This was great product, treated with care and attention, only the species names weren’t marketable. So, we decided to take care of the marketing side.”

Mr. Lata is one of a growing number of chefs making a case for eating abundant domestic species that have up until now been largely ignored. These are widely referred to as “trash fish,” a name originally bestowed by fisherman unable to sell them, now co-opted by some of their staunchest advocates.

The sea is home to thousands of fish species, but only a few of them regularly appear on American tables. Shrimp, tuna, salmon and tilapia together account for nearly 70% of seafood consumed in the U.S.; in the case of fine dining, cod, halibut and sea bass have also been in heavy rotation for the past 30 years. These once-plentiful species have retained pride of place on menus and behind fish counters long after it stopped making ecological sense, as chefs and seafood purveyors have catered to a dining public skeptical of trading salmon and swordfish for fish with names like “scup” and “smelt.”

Every fishery has a unique set of under-loved species. Waters in the Northeast are teeming with pollock, hake and dogfish, which match the flaky, mild profile of dwindling cod. Acadian redfish, once used for lobster bait off the coast of Maine, makes a superior alternative to tilapia, much of which is raised in antibiotic-spiked pools in China. The Chesapeake Bay is lousy with blue catfish, similar to the basa being imported by the ton from Vietnam. Firm, buttery and plentiful Pacific lingcod is a good understudy for pricey halibut. “There are incredibly delicious, vibrant, abundant fish out there and people don’t know about them,” said Michael Dimin, the co-founder of Sea to Table, a supplier to top seafood restaurants like New York’s Marea and RM Seafood in Las Vegas.

Confronted by the copious overlooked species swimming off Massachusetts, chef Michael Leviton is working on a trash fish cookbook. At Lumière in Newton, Mass., he regularly serves such underappreciated species as Acadian redfish and porgy.

Would you eat goosefish or slimehead? Chances are, you already have, and just didn’t realize you were eating a re-branded trash fish. WSJ’s Jeff Bush reports.

“Diners have become very accustomed to chefs going to the farmers’ market and putting on the menu whatever is fresh and local,” said Barton Seaver, director of the Healthy and Sustainable Food program at Harvard’s School of Public Health. “We’re just beginning to see that sustainable menu philosophy applied to fisheries.”

Earlier this week, chefs from 20 of the world’s best restaurants—including Grant Achatz of Chicago’s Alinea and Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park in New York—committed to serving ocean-friendly species like anchovies, herring and sardines on World Oceans Day, which falls on June 8th. And Chefs Collaborative, a nonprofit organization focused on sustainability, has organized seven Trash Fish Dinners around the country in recent years, gathering top chefs to work their magic with local invasive species, by-catch and other alien sea creatures. The most recent such dinner took place at the Squeaky Bean in Denver, where chef Theo Adley cooks with the likes of snakehead, brown shrimp, moon snails and drum. “We go for broke in terms of the range of fish we serve,” Mr. Adley said. “A lot of the challenges we face have to do with guest knowledge, and providing a gentle education in terms of what a fish is going to taste like.”

As a member of Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch’s Blue Ribbon Task Force, chef Jonathon Sawyer is similarly committed to supporting a diversity of species. His menus at Greenhouse Tavern and Trentina in Cleveland, Ohio, simply list “market fish,” which gives him flexibility to buy the best-choice catch of the moment. Porgy, grunt, black drum and farmed sturgeon have all made appearances.

Trash fish advocates hope that introducing diners to a wider array of seafood in restaurants will ultimately trickle down to home kitchens. It will likely take time, given home cooks’ hesitancy to work with unfamiliar fish, and the fact that most seafood counters still offer only well-worn options. Mr. Dimin and Mr. Seaver encourage consumers to start by choosing only domestically caught fish—U.S. fisheries are regulated to protect vulnerable species—and letting the best local choice dictate the preparation method, rather than shopping to a recipe.

After all, cooking with the whole net offers benefits beyond the ecological; it provides novelty at the table, it’s cost efficient and, best of all, choosing a local porgy or dogfish rather than farmed or imported options keeps fishing communities all over the country in business.

“Fishing is the last true hunting on earth,” Mr. Dimin said. “We have a duty to protect it.”


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Mar 26 2015

VIDEO: Ray Hillborn Comments on What Makes a Sustainable Fishery

CWPA preamble: Our Coastal Pelagic Species fisheries all account for environmental variability in fishery management.  Our sardine fishery is the poster fish for ecosystem-based management —  perhaps the most precautionary management in the world.

Published  by permission

SEAFOODNEWS.COM [SeafoodNews] March 25, 2015

In our latest video segment the ongoing series profiling the history  of fishery management in Alaska and the US, produced by Steve Minor, renowned professor of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington Ray Hilborn offers his opinion of what fishery sustainability means from a scientific perspective.  He is critical of simplistic arguments that use changes in stock- such as is happening with sardines in California – as any kind of sustainabiity metric.

According to Hilborn fishery sustainability shouldn’t solely depend on catch volumes on a year-to-year basis. Hilborn says the volatility of fish stocks can skew data. Rather, Hilborn highlights a multitude of factors that should be considered before a fishery can be labeled sustainable. Hilborn says how a fishery is managed over time and what motives are driving that particular scheme should largely be considered before an ecolabel is approved.

Watch the video here.



Mar 24 2015

No, California won’t run out of water in a year


Lawmakers are proposing emergency legislation, state officials are clamping down on watering lawns and, as California enters a fourth year of drought, some are worried that the state could run out of water.

State water managers and other experts said Thursday that California is in no danger of running out of water in the next two years, even after an extremely dry January and paltry snowpack. Reservoirs will be replenished by additional snow and rainfall between now and the next rainy season, they said. The state can also draw from other sources, including groundwater supplies, while imposing tougher conservation measures.

“We have been in multiyear droughts and extended dry periods a number of times in the past, and we will be in the future,” said Ted Thomas, a spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources. “In periods like this there will be shortages, of course, but the state as a whole is not going to run dry in a year or two years.”

The headline of a recent Times op-ed article offered a blunt assessment of the situation: “California has about one year of water left. Will you ration now?”

Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a professor at UC Irvine, wrote about the state’s dwindling water resources in a March 12 column, citing satellite data that have shown sharp declines since 2011 in the total amount of water in snow, rivers, reservoirs, soil and groundwater in California.

In an interview Thursday, Famiglietti said he never claimed that California has only a year of total water supply left.

He explained that the state’s reservoirs have only about a one-year supply of water remaining. Reservoirs provide only a portion of the water used in California and are designed to store only a few years’ supply. But the online headline generated great interest. Famiglietti said it gave some the false impression that California is at risk of exhausting its water supplies.

The satellite data he cited, which measure a wide variety of water resources, show “we are way worse off this year than last year,” he said. “But we’re not going to run out of water in 2016,” because decades worth of groundwater remain.

Still, the state’s abysmal snowpack and below-average reservoir levels could exacerbate the overpumping of already depleted groundwater reserves — a problem detailed in an in-depth Los Angeles Times article Wednesday.

There’s little debate that the state’s water situation is troubling, but there is some improvement from last year. Water levels in some of the state’s largest reservoirs in Northern California are higher than last year at this time, largely because of big December storms. But some smaller Southern California reservoirs aren’t doing so well and have lower reserves than a year ago.

The Department of Water Resources did not have a readily available estimate of the total water supply in California or the amount expected to be used over the next year.

Just because California is not exhausting its water supply “doesn’t mean we’re not in a crisis,” said Leon Szeptycki, executive director of the Water in the West program at Stanford University, who called the state’s snowpack, at 12% of average, “both bad for this year but also a troubling sign for the future.”

State officials said stricter conservation measures, including watering restrictions for cities and big cuts in water deliveries to San Joaquin Valley farmers, will help reduce the drain on reservoirs.

Madelyn Glickfeld, director of the UCLA Water Resources Group at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, said the drought is so serious that stricter conservation measures are urgently needed. “But I’m confident California’s government will not let this get to the point where water is not coming out of peoples’ faucets.”

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Mar 24 2015

Warm waters off Pacific coast upsetting biological balance, researchers say

sealionpupPC:Morsel, a male California sea lion, had to be force fed at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Tuesday, February 3, 2015. The Marine Mammal Center is getting in a lot more sick and abandoned young California sea lions. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

“Unprecedented changes” that have warmed the ocean off the west coast of North America may portend a dramatic decline in the biological productivity of coastal waters, explaining recent strandings of emaciated sea lion pups and a mass die-off that began last fall of small seabirds called Cassin’s auklets.

That’s the word from fishery experts and ecologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who say populations of tiny organisms at the base of the marine food web already have diminished and could take a toll on everything from salmon to seals because of especially intense variability in regional weather patterns.

Scientists remain in “wait and see” mode, but, “Our guess is the primary productivity of zooplankton and phytoplankton will probably be reduced this year,” and perhaps even longer, said Toby Garfield, director of the Environmental Research Division at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla.

A shift in atmospheric winds and the flow of unusually warm waters south from the Gulf of Alaska have raised ocean surface temperatures between 2 to 6 degrees along a band of Pacific Ocean from Alaska to Mexico, according to Nate Mantua, leader of the landscape ecology team at the science center’s Santa Cruz facility.

“Right now, the ocean is very warm, and we have lots of indicators pointing to low productivity and low availability of some of the more normal prey items for things like seabirds and marine mammals, including seals and sea lions,” he said.

In addition, an extended period of winds from the south and weak winds from the north has depressed the upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich water that would normally fertilize the surface waters and stimulate a more productive food web, he said.

But there are mixed signals in the wind and water, including some indication that north winds and ocean upwelling may be beginning from Cape Mendocino, in Humboldt County, north to southern Oregon, Mantua said.

Whether it continues, grows in strength and spreads southward is still in question, but it could help mitigate “food stress” to some degree, he said.

On the other hand, NOAA has recently declared development of a weak El Niño at the equator.

If it strengthens and spreads, “we’re potentially getting warm conditions from two directions,” Garfield said.
That could be good for fish species like sardines and anchovies, which tend to thrive in warm conditions, scientists said.

For cold water fish, like salmon, the reverse is true.

“The patterns that we’re seeing,” Garfield said, “are part of the natural variability that we expect to see. But in this particular instance, it’s been much stronger than in past instances.”

Mantua said strong upwellings and cold water conditions in 2012 and ’13 suggest the current trend reflects regional atmospheric conditions rather than long-term climate change, which is expected to become more dominant in years to come.

But the rapid warming that began last year and continues now could easily persist through next year, he said.

Scientists warned of implications for the marine food web as early as last fall.

When emaciated juvenile Cassin’s auklets began showing up dead along the California Coast in early November, wildlife biologists said it was likely because krill, their usual forage prey, had disappeared from the warm waters near their breeding colonies.

In December, focus shifted to very young, undernourished sea lion pups who began washing ashore, especially in the southern part of the state, well before they should have left their mothers’ sides. The pups are apparently unable to get the nourishment they need.

Insufficient food supplies are likely exacerbated by exponential growth in sea lion populations over the past few decades, Mantua said.

More than 1,800 stranded sea lions have since been recorded, though that number reflects only those that have been admitted to marine mammal rehabilitation facilities such as the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito. That facility had 220 sea lion pups in its care Thursday, a spokeswoman said, and has cared for 568 so far this year.

Many pups have died before they could be admitted to care or have been euthanized upon arrival, said Justin Viezbicke, coordinator of the California Stranding Network.

Those that have been released back to the wild still face the same challenging ocean conditions that sent them ashore in the first place, as well, he said.

“We don’t believe we’ve peaked yet,” Viezbicke said.

Read the original post: | By Mary Callahan | March 19, 2015

Mar 24 2015

Roasted Sardines With Seaweed Salsa Verde Recipe


Photo: Armando Rafael for The Wall Street Journal, Food Styling by Heather Meldrom, Prop Styling by Nidia Cueva

Total Time: 1½ hours Serves: 6, as an appetizer

2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 small clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced white onions
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing and garnish
6 (approx. 6-by-8-inch) sheets Japanese nori (seaweed), torn into small pieces
12 fresh sardines, cleaned, scaled and butterflied
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ tablespoon salt-packed capers, rinsed, soaked for 2 hours, drained and minced
1½ tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon dark Japanese soy sauce
3 tablespoons chopped mint leaves
¼ cup puffed rice (optional)

1. Make salsa verde: In a lidded small saucepan over low heat, sweat shallots, garlic and onions in ½ cup olive oil until beginning to steam. Cover, and cook until soft, 10 minutes. Off heat, stir in nori, and let marinate 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, prepare sardines: Lightly rinse in cold water, then pat dry. Season both sides of fish with salt, then brush with oil. Place fish, skin-side up, on a baking sheet. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

3. Strain marinated nori mixture, reserving oil. Finely mince solids, then combine with capers in a mixing bowl. Stir in lime juice, soy sauce, reserved oil and salt to taste. Sauce should be thin enough to spread easily. Thin with up to ¼ cup additional oil, as needed. Gently fold in mint and puffed rice, if using, until incorporated.

4. Place fish in oven and roast until skin lightly crackles and sizzles, about 4 minutes. Divide fish among serving plates. Dollop salsa verde on and around fish, then finish with a drizzle of oil.

—Adapted from Theo Adley of the Squeaky Bean, Denver

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Mar 19 2015

Oceana Encouraging Chefs to Serve More Small Fish as Conservation Measure

SEAFOODNEWS.COM [Reuters] By Jorge Murcia – March 18, 2015 –
Copyright © 2015 | Published with permission

Seafood News
SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain, Top chefs from around the world gathered in the north of Spain on Tuesday to launch a campaign to eat more small fish such as anchovies in the interests of feeding more people and reducing pressure on the world’s oceans.

Eating fish such as sardines and herring directly rather than processing them as fish meal to feed farmed salmon, pigs and chickens is a more efficient way of using protein, says non-profit ocean conservation organization Oceana, which started the campaign.

Chefs including Brett Graham of two-Michelin-starred The Ledbury in London and Peruvian celebrity chef Gaston Acurio attended the event in San Sebastian, the capital of the northeast Basque region and one of the cities in the world with the most Michelin stars.

The chefs have committed to serve anchovies and other small fish at their restaurants starting on World Oceans’ Day on June 8.

“We can feed tens of millions more people if we simply eat anchovies and other forage fish directly rather than in form of a farmed salmon or other animals raised on fish meal and fish oil,” said Andy Sharpless, chief executive officer of Oceana.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates 37 percent of all marine fish caught worldwide are processed into fish mean and fish oil.

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Mar 19 2015

Ray Hilborn’s Commentary on Capitol Hill: Magnuson Has Given the US Sustainable Seafood

SEAFOOD.COM   [The Hill]  (Commentary)  By Ray Hilborn  –  March 17, 2015
Copyright © 2015 | Published by permission

alaskafishingboatHilborn published an opinion column today in the Hill, a newspaper targeting Congress and Congressional Staff.  He makes the case that with the Magnuson Stevens Act the US has acheived sustainable fisheries.

This year marks 40 years since the passage of landmark Congressional legislation that fundamentally overhauled how the $90 billion U.S. commercial fisheries industry is managed. It established a unique public-private partnership in which the industry, working with scientists and both federal and local authorities, would regulate fishing according to agreed-upon scientific standards for environmental sustainability, even as the industry stretched to meet skyrocketing demand for seafood. As the world’s marine science and fisheries experts convene in Boston this week at the International Boston Seafood Show, the implications of the bold decisions taken in 1976 on U.S. fisheries should be assessed in light of a race to the bottom of the seas elsewhere due to overfishing.

Prior to 1976, federal regulations for marine fisheries were virtually non-existent, leading to rampant exploitation of our oceans and fisheries. But the Magnuson Stevens Act changed that in two important ways. First, it eliminated foreign fleets from a 200-mile exclusive economic zone, reserving these waters for U.S. vessels alone. And second, it established a system of regional management councils to regulate federal fisheries, laying the foundation for a strict and transparent science-based approach to fisheries management that has enabled the U.S. to emerge as a model of seafood sustainability around the world.

Under the provisions of the Magnuson Stevens Act, regional fishery councils in the U.S. are required to use the best available science in setting harvest levels, identify and protect essential fish habitat, abide by the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Act, and enact protections from fishing activities that are detrimental to other species.
Over the years, various amendments to the Magnuson Act have further refined and improved its structure. Most importantly, following the painful collapse of the nation’s oldest fishery—New England bottom fish, including haddock and redfish—significant amendments in 1996 resulted in a stronger focus on protecting habitats and establishing a requirement for a 10-year rebuilding timeline.

Today, the U.S. has essentially eliminated overfishing, with only 9 percent of stocks now fished at rates higher than would produce long-term maximum yield.  In a report released this month by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, 98 percent of U.S. fisheries received a “Best” or “Good” rating, with only 2 percent on the “Avoid” list. While 17 percent of stocks are still considered “overfished”, most of these are on the road to recovery.  And in New England, bottom fish stocks have made a spectacular recovery, having increased six-fold since the mid-1990s.

Technically speaking, some stocks will always be “overfished”  – fish stocks fluctuate naturally and the managers can only control what they harvest—but the U.S. management system, using scientific advice, is designed to take such fluctuations into account, and will completely stop harvesting when stocks reach low levels. Consumers and retailers should buy U.S.-caught fish with confidence that the fishery is managed through an open, transparent, and sustainable process.

However, consumers and retailers are often confused by the numerous non-governmental organizations providing consumer advice on what stocks are sustainably managed. Legitimate concerns about overfishing in the 1990s led to the rise of these watchdog NGOs, and today there are literally dozens of seafood advice web sites that provide often conflicting advice. A stock may be listed as a “best choice” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but still be on Greenpeace’s “red” list.  The same stock of fish may be rated “green” or “red” by the same organization depending on how it is caught.

Why the conflicting information? Quite simply, providing seafood advice is now a big business, both with direct payment from retailers to those giving advice, and by fundraising campaigns to “save the oceans” that fail to acknowledge that the existing U.S. fisheries management system provides for sustainability. Indeed, despite the fact that it is widely agreed among scientists, fisheries managers, and government regulators that U.S. fisheries are well managed, some NGOs now gain so much revenue from companies that sell seafood and concerned citizens, that they simply cannot admit the U.S. success.

The interests of marine stewardship are far better served should NGO’s direct their attention to places where fisheries management is not science-based and effective.  While there is always room for improvement, the U.S. has a system in place that can adjust to sustainability concerns, while many other countries do not routinely monitor the abundance of their fish stocks, nor have management systems in place to reduce harvest when abundance goes down.

Moving forward, the U.S. government and NGOs should promote the U.S. management system and its successes as a model for the world. The race to the bottom in countries that routinely overfish is ultimately self-defeating. Convincing fisheries that sustainability preserves jobs as well as stocks is a monumental task. But the U.S. has the benefit of 40 years of evidence—a thriving industry with one of the lowest levels of overfished stocks—to back it up.

Hilborn is a professor of aquatic and fishery sciences at the University of Washington and author of “Overfishing: What Everyone Needs to Know.”

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Mar 19 2015

Things to Know about California’s sea lion crisis

bildeVolunteer Brennan Slavik carries a just-rescued sea lion pup into a holding pen after feeding the pup, Monday, March 2, 2015, in Laguna Beach, Calif. Since January, more than 1,100 starving and sickly sea lion pups have washed up along Californiaís coast. Rescue centers have taken in about 800 but are stretched thin by the demand. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — More than 1,800 starving sea lion pups have washed up on California beaches since Jan. 1 and 750 are being treated in rescue centers across the state, according to updated numbers released Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Scientists with the federal agency believe the crisis hasn’t reached its peak and sea lions could continue to arrive on beaches sick and starving for at least two more months.

Here are a few things to know about the sea lion crisis unfolding in California:

Waters off North America’s Pacific Coast are about 2 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit above the long-term average. That could be pushing the fish that sea lions eat — sardines, market squid and anchovies, for example — further north. The majority of sea lions give birth in rookeries on the Channel Islands off the Southern California coast and mothers are leaving their pups alone for up to eight days at a time as they are forced to travel further in search of food. The pups aren’t eating as much or as frequently and they are weaning themselves early out of desperation and striking out on their own even though they are underweight and can’t hunt properly.

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say an El Nino weather pattern is to blame. North winds, which stir up the coastal waters in the spring and bring colder, nutrient-rich swells to the surface, are just now starting to materialize off California and might bring some relief over time. The warming off California is likely the result of regional weather patterns rather than a direct effect of global warming, said Nate Mantua, a NOAA research scientist based in Santa Cruz, California.

Yes. In 1998, a strong El Nino weather pattern led to significant warming in Pacific coastal waters and 2,500 sea lion pups were found washed up on California beaches. A large number also washed ashore in 2013. Current numbers are on track to surpass the 1998 record but have not done so yet, said Justin Viezbicke, coordinator for NOAA’s California Stranding Network.

It’s unclear. This year’s crisis probably won’t have any immediate effect but several years of such big losses could reduce the sea lion population in the future. Currently, there are about 300,000 sea lions and the numbers of dead pups represents less than 1 percent of the total population, said Viezbicke. The number of pups born each year in the past few years is also much greater than during previous episodes of coastal warming in the 1990s.

Many of the sea lion pups are beyond help by the time they are reported to authorities. Some die at the rescue centers and others are euthanized. Those that do survive are tube-fed until they regain their strength and then released back into the wild. NOAA doesn’t have a tally of how many have been successfully treated and released. The ones being released are tagged with a number but placing satellite trackers on all of them is too costly so scientists aren’t sure how many are making it.

People who live in California can volunteer at a rescue center. Most centers are now running at full capacity and aren’t able to take many new sea lion pups in but they still need extra hands. Another alternative is to donate money. A map showing the marine rescue centers helping sea lions, along with contact information, can be found here:

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Mar 19 2015

Sea lion pup strandings may hit 2,000, but don’t blame climate change (yet)


California sea lion pups keep washing up on the state’s coastline at abnormally high numbers: more than 1,800 starving pups have been brought into rescue facilities already this year, officials reported Tuesday.

The average yearly intake for stranded pups is about 200.

Justin Viezbicke, California Stranding Network coordinator for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said that he’s asking the public to be patient when it comes to rescue attempts for emaciated pups.

He said that the network won’t be able to rescue all pups and efforts to do so would hurt its ability to treat animals already in house. About 750 sea lions are being held for treatment in facilities right now.

“If we go over too many animals, the care really is lessened for all of those animals, and they all have decreased chances of survival,” Viezbicke said “Whereas, if we can focus on the ones we know we can give the best care and have the best chance of survival, we at least are giving them the best shot.”

Even reaching treatment centers is no guarantee of survival for the pups. Some are judged to be too far gone and are euthanized. Others die while undergoing treatment.

Even the ones that are successfully treated and released face difficult survival prospects. Unusually warm water off the coast holds less prey for the sea lions to forage.

“The reality is we’re putting them back into a very challenging situation, so there’s no guarantee that these animals that are being rehabbed are going to survive. It’s something we’ll be watching and monitoring for the future,” Viezbicke said.

The warm water is believed to be the cause of the high number of strandings in the first place.

As nursing mothers spend more time away on hunting trips seeking out that ever elusive prey, starving young leave their rookeries far earlier than they normally would.

Scientists said that the population of California sea lions is still strong, with estimates of total size at around 300,000 individuals.

The population has doubled from decades ago and the increased competition may be contributing to the poor feeding conditions, according to Nate Mantua, a climatologist with NOAA Fisheries.

Climate change not culpable … yet

He said the warm water isn’t likely caused by global warming because its development was too recent and too regional.

“It doesn’t look to me like a global warming pattern. It’s a direct response to the regional wind patterns that have been so persistent — including the pattern that brought us drought,” Mantua said. “I don’t really see the hallmarks of a global warming signature.”

A lack of winds from the north has kept surface water from being pushed out from the coast. That has lessened the amount of nutrient-rich upwelling of colder water.

101938-eightThe sea surface temperature map shows the unusually warm ocean water encompassing the West Coast. Darker red indicates temperatures farther above average. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Southwest Fisheries Science Center.

No end in sight

Mantua said the northerly winds that normally accompany the start of spring are beginning to appear in Northern California. If they persist, he said some colder water could emerge nearer to land. That could help.

But he said the effect would be localized and that a recently declared El Niño appears to be strengthening — a combination that means the warm water could last for another year.

“The bigger picture, you step back and look at the whole broad region of the Northeast Pacific Ocean, it’s likely to stay warm for much of this year,” he said.

“Unless we get a winter next year that’s more normal and a lot stormier,” he added, “I think that it might persist. And if the El Niño develops, then it becomes even more likely to persist all the way to the end of the year and to next spring.”

Even though climate change isn’t a large factor in the current water temperature rise, Mantua said models predict it will become the major cause for future warmer water.

“When we get towards the middle of this century, human-caused climate change is going to be equal and then dominant for the warming trends along the West Coast,” Mantua said.


2013 was bad, too

This is the second time in a few years that California sea lion pups have stranded at abnormally high rates. In 2013, NOAA declared an unusual mortality event for the species.

Viezbicke, of the California Stranding Network, said it would take several years of similar mass deaths to reduce numbers to a threatened level because sea lion populations are so big right now.

In fact, events like this may even strengthen the remaining population.

“Even in naturally occurring situations like this, Mother Nature can kind of control the population size out there, and those that are doing well — that are currently in this warm water situation — will probably continue to do ok,” Viezbicke said. “And those that don’t, will kind of be weeded out from the gene pool.”


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