Archive for March, 2015

Mar 17 2015

Proposal for new Central Coast marine sanctuary is rejected

By David Sneed |

1mLUf.AuSt.76A gray whale comes to the water’s surface as it passes Morro Bay on its way south.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has rejected a proposal to create a new National Marine Sanctuary on the Central Coast.

The proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary would have stretched from Cambria to near Gaviota in Santa Barbara County. The agency said the nomination by the Northern Chumash Tribal Council was insufficient.

“It really just boiled down to the fact that some of the management considerations needed more detail,” said Lisa Wooninck, policy coordinator with the NOAA Sanctuaries regional office in Monterey.

Andrew Christie, director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the Chumash can resubmit the nomination with additional details. The club supports the formation of the sanctuary.

“We always knew this was one of the potential outcomes,” he said. “The Chumash will submit an amended nomination in response.”

The proposed sanctuary would be sandwiched between two existing marine sanctuaries: the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to the north and the Channel Islands Sanctuary to the south.

The proposal drew the support of the California Coastal Commission, San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Bruce Gibson and State Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Calabasas.

National Marine Sanctuary guidelines include restrictions on dumping, altering the seabed and disturbance of historic and archaeological sites. Oil and gas drilling and exploration are also restricted.

“Designation of the proposed California Central Coast Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary will ensure the continued protection of one of the most important, culturally and biologically diverse, unique and ecologically rich coastlines in the world,” wrote Fred Collins on the Northern Chumash Tribal Council in the nomination letter.

Successful marine sanctuary nominations typically take two to four years to complete. NOAA recently opened the marine sanctuary nomination process for the first time in two decades.

Read original post:

Mar 17 2015

NW scientists discover Pacific fish surviving dead zones

10516983-mmmainSome species of Pacific Ocean rockfish have been found to survive in low-oxygen dead zones off the West Coast, while other species struggle significantly, researchers in Oregon and Washington reported in a recent study. (Cindy, Oregon Coast Aquarium)

GRANTS PASS — Scientists say they have found that some fish can survive in low-oxygen dead zones that are expanding in deep waters off the West Coast as the climate changes.

While the overall number and kinds of fish in those zones are declining, some species appear able to ride it out, according to a study published this month in the journal Fisheries Oceanography.

The study focused on catches from 2008 through 2010 of four species of deepwater groundfish — Dover sole, petrale sole, spotted ratfish and greenstriped rockfish.

Catches of ratfish and petrale sole both declined in low-oxygen areas, while catches of greenstriped rockfish and Dover sole showed no changes. Dover sole are well-known for being adapted to low oxygen, but greenstriped rockfish are not.

Oregon State University oceanographer Jack Barth, a co-author, says commercial fishermen will likely start taking oxygen levels into account as they decide where to tow their nets.

“It’s rearranging that ocean geography,” Barth said of the low-oxygen conditions. “If you go out to a spot where you’ve always gone before commercial fishing, and you don’t catch what you expect, is it because the oxygen has gone low and things moved someplace else?”

Dead zones were first noticed off Oregon in 2002, where they peaked in 2006, and have since spread to Washington and California waters.

Some, such as where the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico, are caused by agricultural runoff. On the West Coast, scientists have demonstrated they are triggered by climate change.

North winds cause the ocean to turn over, drawing cold low-oxygen water up from the depths. Conditions get worse as tiny plants, known as phytoplankton, are drawn to the surface, where sunshine triggers a population explosion. As they die, they sink and use up more oxygen as they decompose.

Underwater videos have shown crabs and other slow-moving bottom-dwellers in shallow waters die, but scientists from NOAA Fisheries Service and Oregon State wanted to know what happened to fish.

NOAA Fisheries was already chartering fishing trawlers to do annual surveys of groundfish populations off the West Coast. They equipped the nets with oxygen sensors.

Lead study author Aimee Keller, a fisheries biologist for the NOAA Fisheries Service’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, said scientists ultimately want to see whether fish forced out of preferred habitats grow more slowly, are less successful reproducing, and whether other species adapted to low-oxygen conditions move in.

The next step, she said, is to expand the surveys to include more commercially important species.

Tim Essington, professor of fisheries at the University of Washington, was not part of the study but said it was significant for covering a large geographic area, and was consistent with what has been seen in estuaries. He added he expects fish to congregate along the edges of low-oxygen zones, where predators will be able to feed on less active fish inside the zone.

NOAA oceanographer Bill Peterson, who was not part of the study, said there was no doubt that low-oxygen waters were expanding, but it was a slow process that would take decades to be felt.

Read the original post:

Mar 17 2015

West Coast waters shifting to lower-productivity regime, new NOAA report finds

State of the California Current report highlights record-warm conditions and effect on fisheries

NOAA Fisheries/Alaska Fisheries Science Center


88424_webMany sea lion pups in California’s Channel Islands are underweight and are washing up on beaches starving are dead. Biologists suspect unusually warm ocean conditions are reducing marine productivity, causing female sea lions to struggle to find sufficient food to nurse the pups. For further details

Large-scale climate patterns that affect the Pacific Ocean indicate that waters off the West Coast have shifted toward warmer, less productive conditions that may affect marine species from seabirds to salmon, according to the 2015 State of the California Current Report delivered to the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

The report by NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Southwest Fisheries Science Center assesses productivity in the California Current from Washington south to California. The report examines environmental, biological and socio-economic indicators including commercial fisheries and community health.

“We are seeing unprecedented changes in the environment,” Toby Garfield, Director of the Environmental Research Division at the SWFSC, told the Council when presenting the report, citing unusually high coastal water and air temperatures over the last year. Climate and ecological indicators are “pointing toward lower primary productivity” off California, Oregon and Washington, he said.

That could translate into less food for salmon and other marine species, added Chris Harvey of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. High mortality of sea lion pups in Southern California and seabirds on the Oregon and Washington coasts in recent months may be early signs of the shift.

Among the highlights of the new State of the California Current Report:

• Record-high sea surface temperatures combined with shifts in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, North Pacific Gyre Oscillation and weaker upwelling of deep, cold waters indicate declining productivity in the California Current.
• After several productive years the biomass of tiny energy-rich organisms called copepods, which support the base of the West Coast food chain and provide important food for salmon, has declined significantly.
• California sea lion pups and seabirds called Cassin’s auklets found dying and emaciated in large numbers in recent months may reflect the transition to less productive marine conditions.
• Although commercial fishery landings have remained high in recent years, the fishing fleet has become more specialized in terms of targeting specific fisheries. That may expose the vessels to more fluctuations of catch and revenue if those fisheries decline.

“This year’s report is very useful,” said Council Chair Dorothy Lowman. “We’re looking forward to working with the science centers to find ways to integrate this information into management.”

Scientists produced the report as part of NOAA’s Integrated Ecosystem Assessment Program, which tracks conditions across coastal ecosystems to provide insight into environmental and human trends and support decisions on fisheries and other activities. The California Current Ecosystem is one of seven U.S. ecosystems monitored by the program.

“We’re seeing some major environmental shifts taking place that could affect the ecosystem for years to come,” said John Stein, Director of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. “We need to understand and consider their implications across the ecosystem, which includes communities and people.”

In recent years the California Current Ecosystem enjoyed highly productive conditions, with strong upwelling of deep waters from the north flush with energy-rich copepods that supported high salmon returns and high densities of juvenile rockfish, sanddabs and market squid. In 2014 waters off Southern California and in the Gulf of Alaska turned unusually warm, and these so-called warm “blobs” have since grown and merged to encompass most of the West Coast.

The coastal warming includes an influx of warmer southern and offshore waters with leaner subtropical copepods that contain far less energy and are often associated with low productivity and weaker salmon returns. Overall the warm conditions off the West Coast are as strong as anything in the historical record. The tropical El Niño recently declared by NOAA could extend the warm conditions and reduced productivity if it persists or intensifies through 2015.

“We are in some ways entering a situation we haven’t seen before,” said Cisco Werner, Director of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, Calif. “That makes it all the more important to look at how these conditions affect the entire ecosystem because different components and different species may be affected differently.”

For example, warmer conditions in the past often coincided with increases in sardines and warmer-water fish such as tuna and marlin and drops in anchovy and market squid. Salmon also fare poorly during warm conditions. Cooler conditions in contrast have often driven increases in anchovies, rockfish and squid. Anchovy and sardines have both remained at low levels in recent years, the report notes.

NOAA researchers will continue tracking how species respond to the shifting temperatures and conditions.

Salmon face the potential “double jeopardy” of low snowpack in the Northwest and rivers and streams shrunk by drought in California, plus reduced ocean productivity when juvenile salmon enter the ocean this year looking for food, Harvey said. However the impacts on salmon may not become apparent until a few years from now when the fish that enter the ocean this year would be expected to be caught in fisheries or return to the Columbia and other rivers as adults.


Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.

Read the original post:

Mar 14 2015

Oceans Are Losing Oxygen—and Becoming More Hostile to Life

By Craig Welch, National Geographic

Low-oxygen areas are expanding in deep waters, killing some creatures outright and changing how and where others live. It may get much worse.

01_01391515 2.adapt.1190.1The diving patterns of Atlantic sailfish, like this one going after sardines in the Caribbean, and blue marlin helped scientists figure out that many fish are spending more time in shallower water as low-oxygen zones push closer to the surface.
Photograph by Claudio Contreras, Nature Picture Library

Marlin and sailfish are the oceans’ perfect athletes. A marlin can outweigh a polar bear, leap through the air, and traverse the sea from Delaware to Madagascar. Sailfish can outrace nearly every fish in the sea. Marlin can hunt in waters a half mile down, and sailfish often head to deep waters too.

Yet in more and more places around the world, these predators are sticking near the surface, rarely using their formidable power to plunge into the depths to chase prey.

The discovery of this behavioral quirk in fish built for diving offers some of the most tangible evidence of a disturbing trend: Warming temperatures are sucking oxygen out of waters even far out at sea, making enormous stretches of deep ocean hostile to marine life.

“Two hundred meters down, there is a freight train of low-oxygen water barreling toward the surface,” says William Gilly, a marine biologist with Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station, in Pacific Grove, California. Yet, “with all the ballyhoo about ocean issues, this one hasn’t gotten much attention.”

Sharks, particularly great whites and mako sharks like this one near San Diego, tend to avoid marine waters that are low in oxygen. The expansion of low-oxygen zones may change what they can eat.
Photograph by Andy Murch, Visuals Unlimited/Corbis

These are not coastal dead zones, like the one that sprawls across the Gulf of Mexico, but great swaths of deep water that can reach thousands of miles offshore. Already naturally low in oxygen, these regions keep growing, spreading horizontally and vertically. Included are vast portions of the eastern Pacific, almost all of the Bay of Bengal, and an area of the Atlantic off West Africa as broad as the United States.

Globally, these low-oxygen areas have expanded by more than 1.7 million square miles  (4.5 million square kilometers) in the past 50 years.

This phenomenon could transform the seas as much as global warming or ocean acidification will, rearranging where and what creatures eat and altering which species live or die. It already is starting to scramble ocean food chains and threatens to compound almost every other problem in the sea.

Scientists are debating how much oxygen loss is spurred by global warming, and how much is driven by natural cycles. But they agree that climate change will make the losses spread and perhaps even accelerate.

“I don’t think people realize this is happening right now,” says Lisa Levin, an oxygen expert with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, in San Diego.

Bad Water Rising

Few understand marlin and sailfish better than biologist Eric Prince. He has studied them in Jamaica, Brazil, the Ivory Coast, and Ghana. He has examined their ear bones in Bermuda, taken tissue samples in Panama, and gathered their heads—with bayonet-like bills still attached—during fishing contests in Puerto Rico.

One day a decade ago, while tracking satellite tags attached to these fish, Prince saw something bizarre: Marlin off North Carolina fed in waters as deep as 2,600 feet (800 meters). But marlin off Guatemala and Costa Rica hovered high in the water, almost never descending beyond a few hundred feet. Sailfish followed a similar pattern.

These billfish have special tissues in their heads that keep their brains warm in deep water. So why were they bunching up at the ocean’s surface?

The culprit, it turned out, was a gigantic pool of low-oxygen water deep off Central America. These fish were staying up high, trying to avoid suffocating below.

03_bc001694.adapt.676.1Low-oxygen waters drawn from the deep sea onto the continental shelf can be deadly for invertebrates like this fish-eating anemone.
Photograph by Brandon D. Cole, Corbis

Prince’s discovery came just as other scientists were figuring out that rising temperatures were expanding natural low-oxygen zones in the deep ocean, pushing them skyward by as much as a meter (three feet) per year.

Over the next decade, researchers figured out that this change already was driving marine creatures—sailfish, sharks, tuna, swordfish, and Pacific cod, as well as the smaller sardines, herring, shad, and mackerel they eat—into ever narrower bands of oxygen-rich water near the surface.

“It leaves just a very thin lens on the top of the ocean where most organisms can live,” says Sarah Moffitt, of the Bodega Marine Laboratory at the University of California, Davis.

Congregating alongside their prey appears to be making some bigger fish fatter, as they burn less energy hunting. But living in such a compressed area also may be speeding the decline of top predators such as tuna, sailfish, and marlin by making them more accessible to fishing fleets.

04_nationalgeographic_1142826.adapt.676.1Dungeness crabs can suffocate when low-oxygen waters from the deep ocean are swept near coastal Oregon.
Photograph by Paul Nicklen, National Geographic

“It makes the predators much more likely to be caught by the longline fleet,” says Prince, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center in Florida. “Very slightly, every year, they become more and more susceptible to overfishing.”

Oxygen is so central to life, even in the marine world, that its loss is harming animals in countless other ways, too.

Warming Waters Deplete Oxygen

Fish, squid, octopus, and crab all draw dissolved oxygen from the water. And just as oxygen levels shift with elevation, oxygen at sea varies with depth. But in the ocean, oxygen is also dynamic, changing daily and seasonally with weather and tides or over years with cycles of warming and cooling.

05_42-42984995.adapt.1190.1Sea stars are often early victims when low-oxygen waters get drawn onto the continental shelf from the deep sea.
Photograph by Tom Neves, Canada Photos/Corbis

Oxygen gets into the sea in two ways: through photosynthesis, which takes place only near the top where light penetrates, or through the mixing of air and water at the surface by wind and waves.

Deep ocean waters hold far less oxygen than surface waters because they haven’t been in contact with air for centuries. And in many places, decomposing organic matter raining down from the surface uses up what little oxygen remains. These natural deep-water “oxygen minimum zones” cover great swaths of ocean interior.

They are far different from hypoxic coastal dead zones, which are multiplying, too, with more than 400 now reported worldwide. Dead zones are caused by nitrogen and other nutrients as rivers and storms flush pollution from farms and cities into nearshore waters.

The expansion of deep-sea low-oxygen zones, on the other hand, is driven by temperature. Warm water carries less dissolved oxygen. It’s also lighter than cold water. That leaves the ocean segregated in layers, restricting delivery of fresh oxygen to the deep and making these oxygen-poor zones much bigger.
Breathless seas
Oxygen is as essential for life in the sea as it is on land. Oxygen levels normally vary with depth. But deep ocean areas already low in oxygen are losing more as seas warm, wreaking havoc on marine life. Here are four elements of that change.
[View original post: National Geographic for animated diagram.]
• Ocean mixing
• Chemistry
• Shoaling
• Consequences

“The natural thing to expect is that as the ocean gets warmer, circulation will slow down and get more sluggish and the waters going into the deep ocean will hang around longer,” says Curtis Deutsch, a chemical oceanography professor at the University of Washington, in Seattle. “And indeed, oxygen seems to be declining.”

The zone off West Africa that’s as big as the continental United States has grown by 15 percent since 1960—and by 10 percent just since 1995. At 650 feet (200 meters) deep in the Pacific off southern California, oxygen has dropped 30 percent in some places in a quarter century.

Many scientists already suspect global warming is partly to blame for this transformation. Deutsch and others, however, think oxygen declines so far have been driven by complicated natural factors. Ocean conditions vary so much normally that they might be experiencing an unusual period of depletion—one that could moderate soon.

But Deutsch called that “a very, very thin silver lining.”

“Right now in the ocean, there is incredibly strong internal variability and a very tiny climate trend on top of it,” he says. “But my sense from all the model simulations we’ve done is that we’re on the verge of having that trend emerge from the noise.”

The larvae of strange but important midwater fish like the black sea dragon have declined off California as low-oxygen regions have expanded.
Photograph by Norbert Wu, Minden/Corbis

Some species, such as Dover sole, may be unaffected, but many areas could be left with far fewer higher life forms.

Most researchers project that oxygen loss will keep driving many species toward the surface, reducing habitat for some and concentrating prey for birds, turtles, and other surface predators.

Winds in some regions will draw the oxygen-depleted water to the surface and push it onto shallower continental shelves. When oxygen drops there, some sensitive species that can’t move die. Even survivors experience stress, which can make them vulnerable to predators, disease, or overfishing.

This has already begun. The waters of the Pacific Northwest, starting in 2002, intermittently have gotten so low in oxygen that at times they’ve smothered sea cucumbers, sea stars, anemones, and Dungeness crabs. This biologically rich region—where winds draw waters from the deep 50 miles (80 kilometers) offshore and push them to the beach—is temporarily transformed into a lifeless wasteland.

Many midwater fish, such as the odd-looking Pacific hatchetfish, hide in deep, dark water during the day, rising only at night to feed. But changes in the ocean’s oxygen level can alter how high in the water they go.
Photograph by Solvin Zankl, Nature Picture Library

“I look at it as a major reshaping of the ecosystem,” says Jack Barth, a chemical oceanographer at Oregon State University, in Corvallis.

Localized die-offs aren’t even the most disruptive effect of depleted oxygen.

“Changes in oxygen turn out to be really important in determining where organisms are and what they do,” says marine biologist Francis Chan, also at Oregon State University.

The fate of some odd little fish suggests the consequences can be enormous.

Into the Light

Since the 1950s, researchers every year have dropped nets 1,000 feet (300 meters) down to catalog marine life many miles off California. Most track commercially important species caught by the fishing industry. But J. Anthony Koslow tallies fish often credited with keeping marine systems functioning soundly—tiny midwater bristlemouths, the region’s most abundant marine species, as well as viperfish, hatchetfish, razor-mouthed dragonfish, and even minnow-like lampfish.

All are significant parts of the seafood buffet that supports life in the eastern Pacific, and all are declining dramatically with the vertical rise of low-oxygen water.

“If it was a 10 percent change, it wouldn’t have been worth noting, but they’ve declined by 63 percent,” says Koslow, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. And “what’s been amazing is it’s across the board—eight major groups of deep-sea fishes declining together—and it’s strongly correlated with declining oxygen.”

Most of these fish spend their days swimming hundreds of feet down, just above low-oxygen water. Many are black, camouflaged by the dark, deep waters where light never reaches. They rise at night to feed on plankton.

As lower oxygen levels drive fish closer to the surface, many, including this viperfish and the hatchetfish it is chasing, may spend more time in areas where light penetrates. That can make them far more vulnerable to predators.
Photograph by Norber Wu, Minden/Corbis

Koslow can’t say precisely why these fish populations have collapsed. But he suspects they, too, now spend more time closer to the surface seeking oxygen. That puts these fish during the day in a region where light penetrates, making them easier pickings for birds, marine mammals, rockfish, and other sight-feeders.

If that’s the case, Koslow says, “the ramifications would be huge.”

Such tiny fish are a massive food source around the world. Globally, they account for far more mass in the sea than the entire world’s catch of fish combined. But there isn’t enough historical data in other parts of the world to determine if the trend is unique to California.

“They are central to the ecology of the world’s oceans,” Koslow says.

Scientists suspect these fish already may be partly responsible for at least one surprising change—a massive northward expansion between 1997 and 2010 of the northern Pacific Ocean’s most ravenous visitor, the Humboldt squid.

Once found from South America to Mexico, with occasional forays into California, the Humboldt squid has moved so far north that in recent years it has been seen off Alaska. Researchers tested squid in tanks and found low oxygen was hard on them, too, even though the jumbo squid could slow its metabolism. Yet here they were, faring so well at the edge of low-oxygen areas they had become a master predator of midwater fish.

“These squid are out-competing all the tunas and sharks and marine mammals that may want to feed in this zone,” Stanford’s Gilly says.

Researchers did not directly connect the expansion of the squid’s feeding area to rising oxygen-poor water. But Koslow linked low-oxygen water to shifts in where the midwater fish on the squid’s menu live. And scientists now can draw a direct line between where those fish went and the squid’s northward march, Gilly says.

“I think there might be a sweet spot for Humboldt squid, where low oxygen, food, and light are in perfect balance—and that’s accounting for their expansion,” Gilly says.

Still, the squid’s expansion was not subtle. Tracking its causes almost certainly is simpler than unspooling other impacts. And oxygen loss exacerbates other issues. Marine creatures need more oxygen in warmer waters, for example. Climate change means they increasingly will have less.

From 1997 to 2010, Humboldt squid expanded their range in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Scientists suspect changing oxygen levels may have played an important role.
Photograph by Carrie Vonderhaar, Ocean Futures Society/National Geographic

“I think we are changing the world; I just don’t think the responses are going to be as predictable as we think,” says Francisco Chavez, senior scientist with California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. “I think there are a slew of surprises ahead.”

And how low-oxygen areas will affect everything else depends on how much they spread.

Looking Back to See Ahead

To answer that question, scientists recently examined marine sediment cores from a period of glacial melt 17,000 to 11,000 years ago.

During that time, global average air temperatures rose 3 to 4 degrees Celsius, the closest historical analog for the projected future, says study co-author Tessa Hill, of the Bodega Marine Laboratory. “The idea here is … let’s take an interval with somewhat analogous warming and see how low-oxygen zones responded,” Hill says.

The results: Low-oxygen areas exploded around the world.

“What we found is that their expansion was just extremely large and abrupt,” says lead author Moffitt. “Their footprint across ocean basins grew much more than we had anticipated.”

One low-oxygen region off Chile and Peru—combined, the two countries now have an anchovy fleet that makes up the world’s largest single-species fishery—was much larger then, thousands of years ago. It stretched from 9,800 feet (3,000 meters) deep to within 490 feet (150 meters) of the surface. And off California, low-oxygen waters came far closer to the surface than they do today.

Their research showed that “environments we might think of as stable, like the deep ocean, may not be so stable at all,” Moffitt says.

In the blink of an eye, geologically speaking, entire ocean basins changed. And many scientists suspect they are doing so once again, at a cost they can’t yet quantify.

Original post: National Geographic

Mar 14 2015

Updating the Master Plan for Marine Protected Areas


statewide-mpa-networkCalifornia’s MPA network

This year, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is updating the 2008 Master Plan for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The updated 2015 Master Plan will be a guidance document that shifts the focus from designing and siting California’s MPA network to setting a statewide framework for MPA management. CDFW will welcome input on the updated 2015 Master Plan through a public process which starts at the Aug. 2015 meeting of the California Fish and Game Commission.

California is home to the largest scientifically designed network of MPAs in the United States. This accomplishment was the result of the State Legislature passing the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), which required CDFW to redesign California’s system of MPAs through a highly participatory and stakeholder-driven MPA design and siting process that spanned eight years and four coastal regions.

The MLPA also required CDFW to develop a “master plan” to guide the adoption and implementation of MPAs. This master plan framework guided the incremental development of alternative MPA proposals in the first MLPA planning region on the central coast. Following the adoption of the central coast MPAs, the Master Plan for MPAs was approved as a living document by the California Fish and Game Commission in February 2008. The 2008 Master Plan then guided the development of alternative MPA proposals in the north central, south, and north coast regions.

CDFW anticipates taking a 4-step approach to update the Master Plan by the end of the year. This approach includes:

1. Working with Tribal governments over the next couple of months
2. Presenting a first draft to the Fish and Game Commission at their August 2015 meeting
3. Providing an update at the October 2015 Commission meeting, and
4. Presenting a final draft to the Commission for consideration of approval at their December 2015 meeting

For more information about the Master Plan for Marine Protected Areas and California’s network of MPAs, please visit the California Marine Protected Area website.

Read the original post:

Mar 13 2015

Trawling has “negligible” effect on soft-bottom

petralesolePetrale sole, a flatfish caught by trawling on soft-bottom seafloor. Credit: The Nature Conservancy

A groundbreaking new study recently conducted by California fishermen, The Nature Conservancy and CSU Monterey Bay indicates that bottom trawling only has a “negligible effect” on the seafloor and fish habitat in certain types of soft sea bottom.

Trawling is continually criticised by environmental advocates for the damage it causes to rocky marine habitats and the long-lived animals that occur in them. However, important questions remain about the extent of any damage to sandy and muddy environments.

During the three-year study, fishermen trawled patches of the ocean floor off Morro Bay. Those areas were analysed by underwater photos and video and compared with nearby areas that were untouched.

Their peer-reviewed work, published in the Fishery Bulletin, found that California’s largely soft-bottom seafloor saw little lasting impacts from trawling with a small-footrope trawl.

The researchers say that their study adds to a growing body of literature from around the world showing trawling impacts are context-dependent – the impacts depend on the type of gear used, the types of habitats trawled and how often trawling occurs.

The scientists point out that their study does not imply that all soft-bottom habitats should be open to trawling; but, with new research and technology, “we can fine-tune our fishery regulations to protect truly vulnerable habitats.”

One of the researchers, Dr. James Lindholm has been studying marine ecosystems for 20 years and this autumn he will conduct a similar experiment off Half Moon Bay using trawling nets of different sizes. Commercial fishermen will also be involved.

Read the original post:

Mar 13 2015

Congress Proposes Relaxing Sea Lion Protections


The Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act, a proposed amendment to the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, could soon give tribal members and government fishery managers in the Columbia River Basin authority to kill sea lions threatening endangered salmon populations.

U.S. Reps Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR) introduced the amendment on January 27.

The legislation is intended to improve the ability of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington State to manage growing sea lion populations because they are reducing steelhead and salmon stocks. The Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs, and Yakama tribes will also be eligible for expedited lethal take permits.

Nearly identical legislation introduced each year from 2012 to 2014 was never allowed a vote under the then-Democrat-controlled Senate.

Beutler says the voracious sea lions threaten the fishing culture and economy of the Northwest. “Salmon are part of the very fabric of the Pacific Northwest, which is why significant resources are spent making sure they survive and can continue to support recreational, cultural, and economic interests,” Beutler said.

Sea Lion’s Threaten Salmon

Sea lion predation of migrating fish has steadily increased since 2002. Before that, it was uncommon for sea lions to travel up the Columbia River. Now biologists estimate sea lions kill 20 percent of the fish traveling to their Bonneville Dam spawning grounds.

Since 1972, when the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) was passed the California sea lion population has grown 5.4 percent per year. The population now tops 300,000.Over the same time period, the Steller sea lion population grew between 3 and 5 percent per year, resulting in a current population of up to 78,000 animals.

The legislation would allow lethal take permit holders to remove up to 1 percent of the annual Potential Biological Removal (PBR) level, the total number of marine mammals that may be removed from the population while allowing the stock to reach or maintain its optimal sustainable population.

At present population levels, permit holders would be allowed to take 92 California sea lions and 15 Stellar sea lions.

Calls for Market Solutions

William A. Dunn Fellow Terry Anderson of the Property and Environment Research Center opposes the legislation, saying, “Maybe the only thing more stupid is shooting barred owls which are taking over the infamous spotted owl’s territory in the Pacific Northwest.” Although Anderson agrees conservation of the fish species is important, he argues underlying incentives created by various wildlife protection laws put marine mammals and salmon at risk and require a more comprehensive, market-oriented solution.

For now, local biologists and tribal fishery managers argue killing the right number of sea lions will restore ecological balance, thus protecting endangered fish.

John J. Jackson, chairman of Conservation Force, agrees safeguarding the steelhead and other salmon populations requires culling the sea lions.

Jackson said, “If vice-versa, imagine salmon eating too many sea lions. We would support control of the salmon. Same for the sea lion.”


Nate Wilson ( is an editor and research analyst at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Read the original post:

Mar 12 2015

OSU and NOAA Researchers Expect Low Oxygen Waters to Expand off West Coast Affecting Fisheries

Copyright © 2015 | Posted with permission

Seafood News

SEAFOODNEWS.COM [SeafoodNews] – March 12, 2015

When low-oxygen “dead zones” began appearing off the Oregon Coast in the early 2000’s, photos of the ocean floor revealed bottom-dwelling crabs that could not escape the suffocating conditions and died by the thousands.

But the question everyone asked was, “What about the fish?” recalls Oregon State University oceanographer Jack Barth. “We didn’t really know the impacts on fish. We couldn’t see them.”

Scientists from NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Oregon State have begun to answer that question with a new paper published in the journal Fisheries Oceanography. The paper finds that low-oxygen waters projected to expand with climate change create winners and losers among fish, with some adapted to handle low-oxygen conditions that drive other species away.

Generally the number of fish species declines with oxygen levels as sensitive species leave the area, said Aimee Keller, a fisheries biologist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and lead author of the new paper. But a few species such as Dover sole and greenstriped rockfish appear largely unaffected.

“One of our main questions was, ‘Are there fewer species present in an area when the oxygen drops?’ and yes, we definitely see that,” Keller said. “As it goes lower and lower you see more and more correlation between species and oxygen levels.”

Deep waters off the West Coast have long been known to be naturally low in oxygen. But the new findings show that the spread of lower oxygen conditions, which have been documented closer to shore and off Washington and California, could redistribute fish in ways that affect fishing fleets as well as the marine food chain.

The lower the oxygen levels, for example, the more effort fishing boats will have to invest to find enough fish.

“We may see fish sensitive to oxygen levels may be pushed into habitat that’s less desirable and they may grow more slowly in those areas,” Keller said.

Researchers examined the effect of low-oxygen waters with the help of West Coast trawl surveys conducted every year by the Northwest Fisheries Science Center to assess the status of groundfish stocks. They developed a sturdy, protective housing for oxygen sensors that could be attached to the trawl nets to determine what species the nets swept up in areas of different oxygen concentrations.


Mar 10 2015

Action Taken To Protect Fish At Bottom Of Ocean Food Chain


The Council took action to prohibit new directed fisheries on a list of  currently unmanaged, largely unfished forage species this week which brings the following species and species groups into all four of the Council’s FMPs as ecosystem component (EC) species:
• Round herring (Etrumeus teres) and thread herring (Opisthonema libertate and O. medirastre)
• Mesopelagic fishes of the families Myctophidae, Bathylagidae, Paralepididae, and Gonostomatidae
• Pacific sand lance (Ammodytes hexapterus)
• Pacific saury (Cololabis saira)
• Silversides (family Atherinopsidae)
• Smelts of the family Osmeridae
• Pelagic squids (families: Cranchiidae, Gonatidae, Histioteuthidae, Octopoteuthidae, Ommastrephidae (except Humboldt squid, Dosidicus gigas), Onychoteuthidae, and Thysanoteuthidae)

The above species would be known as “Shared EC Species,” meaning that they are shared between all of the FMPs 

silversidesA new rule prohibits new fisheries on forage fish species including silversides, shown here.
Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble/Flickr


by Cassandra Profita OPB

West Coast fishery managers adopted a new rule Tuesday that protects many species of forage fish at the bottom of the ocean food chain.

The rule prohibits commercial fishing of  herring, smelt, squid and other small fish that aren’t currently targeted by fishermen. It sets up new, more protective regulations for anyone who might want to start fishing for those species in the future.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council unanimously voted to adopt the rule at a meeting in Vancouver, Washington. The council sets ocean fishing seasons off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California.

The idea behind the new rule is to preserve so-called forage fish so they’re available for the bigger fish, birds and whales that prey on them. It’s part of a larger push by the council to examine the entire ocean ecosystem when setting fishing seasons.

Environmentalists who have been advocating for the rule for years celebrated the approval.

“If we’re going to have a healthy ocean ecosystem in the long term, we have to protect that forage base,” said Ben Enticknap of the environmental group Oceana. “These are the backbone of a healthy ocean ecosystem.”

Enticknap said many of the forage fish subject to the new rule are already being fished elsewhere in the world. Little fish at the bottom of the food chain are used to make fish meal for aquaculture, and they’re increasingly in demand as food for people as other fish populations decline.

Previous rules only required managers to be notified of a new fishery on non-managed forage fish species. Now, the council will require a more rigorous scientific review to prove that the new fishery won’t harm the ecosystem before it is allowed.

“Really, it’s being precautionary,” said Enticknap. “It’s getting out ahead of a crisis rather than waiting for a stock to collapse and then having to have serious consequences for fisheries after the fact.”

The rule has gained broad support — even from the fishing industry, according to Steve Marx of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Valuable commercial fish such as rockfish, salmon, halibut and tuna all prey on forage fish.

“The fishing industry support has been pretty strong because everybody understands how important these small forage fish are to the fish they like, that they make a living off of,” he said.

Rod Moore, executive director of the West Coast Seafood Processors Association, congratulated the council on moving forward with the rule.

“It’s rare to get this sort of consensus support from commercial, environmental and recreational sectors, and I think you have it on this one,” he said.

Before voting, council members discussed the best way to allow existing fisheries to catch some of the forage fish species incidentally – as they’re targeting other fish.

The council directed staff to continue developing the details of the rule so that it doesn’t constrain existing fisheries, but it does discourage fishing boats from targeting forage fish.

Councilors instructed staff to hold fishing boats accountable the forage fish they catch and consider discouraging development of at-sea processing of forage fish species into fish meal.

Read original post:



Mar 9 2015

Whale of a time being had on Monterey Bay

By Tom Stienstra |

628x471A humpback whale, spending the winter in Monterey Bay, breaches just a short distance from the shoreline.
Photo: Giancarlo Thomae/Sanctuary Cruis / Giancarlo Thomae/Sanctuary Cruis

Outside the mouth of the harbor at Moss Landing, a scene unfolded Thursday morning that was like nothing seen in the past 200 years there in late winter: as many as 30 humpback whales spouting, lunge-feeding and breaching.

The show just a half mile out was easy to see from the jetty.

A vast swarm of anchovies dimpled the water. Pelicans dived to scoop up the small fish. Dolphins were also feeding and jumping like hurdlers in a track meet. A gray whale emerged alongside.

“It’s unheard of,” said Dorris Welch, a marine biologist for Sanctuary Cruises. “Our historical records come from whaling ships that go back to the late 1700s. Going back more than 200 years, no whale records exist that show humpbacks wintering in Monterey Bay.

“In my entire life here, working on the bay, to see this now is a phenomenon.”

It felt like Hawaii. At 10 a.m., the air temperature was already 70 degrees, with an azure sky and calm seas extending across Monterey Bay. From a kayak or boat, with 15 to 20 feet of clarity, you could look down into the water and watch murres and dolphins feed on anchovies, and see the sun reflect off the sides of the whales.

The water was warm, too, for March — 60 degrees as the old sea continues its El Niño trend.

“From the jetty at the mouth of the harbor, you can stand and watch what hasn’t been seen this time of year in recorded history,” said Giancarlo Thomae, a marine biologist and photographer with Sanctuary Cruises. “A lot of days have been flat calm for kayaking and taking photos. A lot of us can’t believe what we’re seeing.”

As with most wildlife, a key is food. Huge numbers of anchovies, with acres of “pinheads,” or juvenile anchovies, have drawn the whales and marine birds to inshore waters.

This is a prime site because of the contours of the sea bottom. The Monterey Submarine Canyon narrows and rises from 1,400 feet a few miles offshore to 800 feet deep within a mile, and then to 100 feet at the harbor entrance. Breezes push nutrient-rich seawater into the canyon and toward land, and as the canyon narrows and rises up, the nutrients are pushed to the surface. It’s the trigger point for one of the richest marine food chains on the Pacific Coast.

Yet even in the days of Cannery Row in Monterey, with some of the largest sardine populations in the world, the events of the past two months never occurred.

One reason is the resurgence of humpback whales, once decimated by whaling. “Populations were estimated as low as 1,200 animals in the entire North Pacific,” Welch said. “Now we think there are close to 20,000.”

The other shift is the amount of food and pristine water quality.

“We think the humpback whales are staying here to replenish and store up fat, to keep feeding,” she said. “There are also immature humpback whales that aren’t ready to breed. They stay instead of migrating south to the breeding and calving grounds in Mexico. It’s part of a phenomenon.”

Last week, a migrating gray whale was also seen joining a pod of six humpbacks in a feeding frenzy, right outside the Moss Landing Harbor entrance.

“It went on for more than an hour,” Welch said. “I’ve never seen that before, a gray whale and humpbacks feeding together, and I can’t find records of that ever happening.”

Another anomaly involves large numbers of long-beaked common dolphins feeding with the whales.

“It’s very unusual to see the dolphins feeding right alongside the whales for long durations,” Welch said. “We had more common dolphins here this winter than we’ve seen in Monterey Bay in the past five years.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be Monterey Bay and Moss Landing without sea otters, many of which are feeding in the channel at the mouth of the harbor. They love eating clams, crabs and fat innkeeper worms. The latest counts showed 144 resident otters at Moss Landing channel and harbor and adjoining Elkhorn Slough.

The anticipation is that female gray whales with calves will arrive in Monterey Bay in April. In turn, orcas, or killer whales, will follow them and provide a once-a-year spring spectacle. The orcas often try to separate juvenile gray whales from their mothers, and then attack and eat them.

For now, you can see much of the action from Moss Landing jetty — bringing binoculars is recommended but not necessary to see the good stuff. On calm days, experts can kayak outside the harbor. Newcomers can rent a kayak and watch from the mouth of the harbor. Whale-watching trips are also available out of Moss Landing and other harbors on Monterey Bay.

In a powerboat or kayak, if you find whales that suddenly emerge in your vicinity, just float, or go into neutral, and enjoy the show. Do not approach closer than 100 yards or do anything that changes their behavior.

On one trip, I was paddling toward some spouts several miles away when a superpod of dolphins started vaulting on my right. A moment later, three humpbacks emerged on my left, so close I could smell their breath from their blowholes. Thousands of pinhead anchovies were suddenly all around me. I took my paddle out of the water and found myself floating amid the scene, euphoric to be so lucky to be alive on this planet.

read the original post: