Archive for May, 2015

May 27 2015

Beach balls the latest weapon against sea lions in Astoria

Add beach balls to the list of sea lion deterrants used by the Port of Astoria.

Beach balls are fun for seals, but apparently scary for sea lions.

Visitors lined up Sunday along the Port of Astoria’s East End Mooring Basin causeway to watch the sea lions on the docks below. Among them moved Jim Knight, the Port’s executive director, clutching a string of twine attached to a small, multicolored beach ball, the latest and possibly weirdest weapon used to evict the stubborn pinnipeds.

Knight scaled the barriers set up on P Dock, followed by Robert Evert, his permit and project manager, and Bill MacDonald, a Cannery Lofts resident who had suggested the beach balls.

“The idea is to just tie up some of these cheap things along the docks,” MacDonald explained, comparing the practice to putting milk jugs on fences to keep deer out.

Unlike seals, who like to play with beach balls, MacDonald said he discovered that sea lions are frightened of the inflatable toys.

Sea lions scattered Sunday at the sight of the beach balls, whether tossed off the causeway or carried out onto the docks by MacDonald and Port staff.

“They’re only a buck apiece,” Knight said. “So for $20, I can get a couple docks covered.”

The Port has tried several methods to evict the sea lions, from the brightly colored surveying tape and pennants lining a couple of the docks near the basin’s breakwater to lightly electrified mats being designed by Smith-Root Fisheries Technology and the chicken wire fencing erected at the foot of P Dock.

By Tuesday evening, beach balls bobbed in the moorages up and down the finger piers of P Dock, almost entirely emptied of sea lions except for one or two stragglers.


Willy coming after Goonies


If beach balls are not a quirky enough sea lion deterrent, a fake, fiberglass orca will soon join the party at the basin.

Knight said the 36-foot fiberglass whale, used as an advertisement and parade gimmick by Island Mariner, which runs whale-watching trips out of Bellingham, Wash., will arrive around June 12, the weekend after the “The Goonies” 30th anniversary extravaganza.

In the meantime, Island Mariner owner Terry Buzzard is making the whale remote-controlled.

“It accidentally was used in Bellingham,” Buzzard said of the whale’s effectiveness. “We were playing with it, and it seemed to scare the sea lions away. They left, but we don’t have any reason why. That’s why I told Jim, ‘I’m not making any promises.’”


Mixed welcome


Sea lions at the basin continue drawing visitors, despite creative attempts by the Port to remove them from the docks and possible retaliation by people not so enamored with the fish-eating pinnipeds. The sea lion population has boomed since their protection under the Marine Mammal Protection Act started in 1972.

Reports have been coming in from people finding dead sea lions on the beach and along the Astoria waterfront, some with possible bullet wounds. The Sea Lion Defense Brigade, which for years has monitored sea lions from Astoria to Bonneville Dam, reported finding 11 shell casings from a .44-caliber weapon at the basin last week, along with a sea lion with a serious eye wound.

The finding comes more than a month after the group reported finding 19 casings from a .306-caliber weapon at the basin. After the discovery, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Law Enforcement in Portland launched an investigation.

The discoveries are somewhat of a mystery. Sean Stanley, a federal officer with NOAA who confirmed in April his office had opened an investigation, would neither confirm nor deny the most recent discovery of shell casings. Meanwhile, there were no reports of gunfire to the police around either time the Sea Lion Defense Brigade said it discovered shell casings.

The Port turned over security footage to investigators after the first discovery. Members of the brigade and other watchdogs have also asked for the footage, which the agency has so far declined to provide.

“They’re surveillance tapes, and I don’t want people to know what our capacity for surveillance is,” Knight said, adding the light at the basin is not good enough for useful nighttime footage. “We talked to our lawyers, and it’s excluded from public records.”

Knight said the basin is not the place for sea lions to live, with health and safety issues from the high concentration of them in close proximity to people. Evert has said the natural environment for sea lions is the rock breakwaters surrounding the basin. Letting them live on docks, he added, is akin to domesticating them.

Knight said he has talked with Veronica Montoya, a member of the brigade who said she has discovered (gun) shells and sea lions that look like they have been shot, about the Port’s need to get sea lions off the docks.

Montoya, watching Tuesday as the Port laid out the beach balls, said she understands the agency’s position. But she added the Port needs to do more to protect the animals, and people need to look beyond their hatred of sea lions to see their benefit.

“I guess if it works, it’s OK; as long as it doesn’t hurt the sea lions,” Montoya said of the beach balls. “But I think that they should leave these animals alone, because they’re such a huge draw.”

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May 23 2015

In the same boat: Breaking bread and stereotypes with Monterey fishermen

From left, Sicilian fishermen Sal Tringali, Anthony Russo, Neil Guglielmo, Sam Mercurio and John Aliotti stand in front of Guglielmo’s boat, the Trionfo, at the Monterey Harbor. With them is Russo’s dog, Diesel. (David Royal — Monterey Herald)


Monterey >> When seven Sicilian fishermen invite me to lunch I happily accept, even when it’s clear they seem perturbed by media misrepresentation and daily threats to their livelihood.

“Why do they want to have lunch with you?” asks my adoring wife, eyebrows arched.

“It’s an offer I can’t refuse.”

“If you’re not home in an hour I’m going to worry.”

Three hours later we’re deep into our 10th course at Domenico’s on the Wharf, hosted by restaurateur and fisherman Sam Mercurio. At this point my bilge is full, and more than a few empty wine bottles stand as sentries to a ceremonial clearing of stereotypes.

There is no anger here — perhaps exasperation. These men are intelligent, charismatic, hilariously witty, and care deeply about protecting the oceans for future generations. They fit none of our ignorant labels save a few: They love to talk and eat, often at the same time.

Meet Neil Guglielmo. He’s widely known as The Anchovy King. For 57 years he’s fished the Pacific Ocean for everything from anchovies to barracuda. At the helm of his fishing vessel Trionfo, Guglielmo makes a living up and down our coast.

Guglielmo has a weathered face brightened by lively eyes that reflect something deeper. He’s affable and funny and you aren’t surprised to discover he spent several years on Broadway performing in musicals such as “Mamma Mia” and “Phantom of the Opera.”

We start our feast with fresh-caught anchovies, lightly floured and fried … headless. I grab them by the tail and devour them like French fries. A mound disappears as Guglielmo recounts the record squid catch of last year.

“There’s a lot of life on the bay right now,” he said. “The squid will come.”

That’s debatable. The ocean is fickle, and under attack. Take the sardines. After record seasons over the last decade, the Pacific Fishery Management Council canceled the upcoming season due to declining populations.

The fishermen agree with such management, and see the value in closing the sardine fishery this year. They just resent being blamed for the problem, especially when many scientists agree that the marine environment, predation and ocean temperatures lead to periodic sardine population fluctuations.

What bothers these tablemates most (rounding out the group are Sal P. Tringali, Anthony Tringali and Sal M. Tringali, owners of Monterey Fish Co.) are the accusations made by groups they feel are threatening their livelihood and reputations.

“Oceana said we overfished the sardines. That’s an outright lie, and irresponsible to report that in the paper,” said Anthony Russo, the outspoken captain of the vessel King Phillip.

Table silence.

“And they said we’re responsible for sea lions dying off,” he said. “That’s wrong, too. People write whatever they want to write. We’re busy working. We’re tired of hearing that fishermen are outlaws raping the ocean. We live here. Raise families here. The ocean is our livelihood and we see value in protecting it. Of course we do.”

They point to the rockfish fishery, which has made a comeback in large part because of fishermen who used their boats to work with scientists to monitor the fishery. Fishermen raised funds to purchase other boats and licenses to make the current fishery a limited entry. It proved that fishermen, government agencies and scientists could work together in an effective way.

The bad vibes dissipate with the arrival of a gigantic antipasti platter, laden with lightly fried calamari, pickled celery and plump Sicilian olives. Another pulled cork. Another story, this one about sustainability.

John Aliotti is practically the poster boy for the movement. He’s just finished the spot prawn season aboard his vessel Defense. His family helped start this fishery, creating special handmade traps that capture the spot prawns in the water column (around 800 feet deep off Carmel Canyon near Point Lobos). The pots allow smaller prawns to escape, limit by-catch and don’t destroy the sea bottom.

“We are here to preserve the fishery, catch enough to make a living and make sure we protect it for the future,” he said, slurping sweet Fanny Bay oysters from the shell along with the rest of us.

During the season Aliotti sets his pots six days a week at 2 a.m., and works through holidays and weekends. “If you have 30K worth of gear in the water, you can’t leave,” he said. “It’s your life.”

The Japanese call spot prawns “amaebi,” meaning “sweet shrimp,” and Aliotti sells much of his haul to Asian markets in San Jose because they will buy in large quantities. Monterey restaurants stand second in line, but friends such as Mercurio get their share.

“I haul them up in buckets right from the boat to the restaurant,” Mercurio said.

No spot prawns on the menu this day, but Mercurio brings out sand dabs, breaded and sautéed, spritzed with fresh lemon. Simple. Bacon-wrapped scallops and long spears of asparagus share the plate.

Next, oysters Rockefeller. This decadent spin on a classic includes spinach, pancetta, Parmesan and hollandaise, with a splash of Pernod in the mix, and a dollop of caviar on top.

At this point I’m listing considerably, and fear an actual coma. The stories continue. They talk seasickness, dogs, poetry, falling asleep at the wheel, the rising cost of fuel and the many perils at sea.

More food. Tiny pearls of acini de pepe pasta with Dungeness crab, roasted corn, garlic, lemon, tomatoes, scallions and Reggiano Parmigiano. Even a watchful pelican perched on a post outside the window seems impressed.

Thankfully, a palate cleanser (housemade orange sorbet) primes us for the finale: enormous Alaskan king crab legs from the Bering Sea, caught by some other fishermen friends of Mercurio, Jonathan and Andy Hillstrand from the vessel Time Bandit (and the popular TV show “Deadliest Catch”).

“Doesn’t need butter,” Mercurio said. “It’s so fresh you want to taste the crab.” He’s right.

Someone pours a round of Averna, a Sicilian liqueur that aids digestion. I hear my chair groan. Maybe it’s me. My notebook is filled with hieroglyphics. I will have to interpret another day.

I vaguely remember eating a few cannoli. Finally I rise with a wobble to excuse myself.

I leave with a new appreciation for commercial fishermen, their lives and their daily conundrum: They live to fish, and fish to live, but if they catch them all then all is lost. No boat, no income, no seafood feasts with friends.

“I’m the only one left, third generation from the old country,” Russo said. “It’s over after me. In the end we just want to be seen for who we are and what we stand for.”

Anthony Russo, left, and Neil Guglielmo talk about where the fish are while standing on a walkway at the Monterey Harbor. Russo owns the King Phillip and the Sea Wave, docked in Moss Landing Harbor. Guglielmo owns the Trionfo, docked in Monterey. (David Royal — Monterey Herald)

May 23 2015

This Smart, Data-Collecting, Wave-Predicting Surfboard Will Save Our Oceans

It maps waves, predicts conditions, turns surfers into citizen scientists, and could be the data-collecting tool climate scientists need to study our rapidly acidifying oceans.

As the Internet of Things inches its way into every corner of our lives, no one would blame you for rolling your eyes at the suggestion that even a surfboard should be embedded with sensors and smartphone connectivity.

Don’t. That surfboard is real. And it’s helping scientists better understand the impact climate change is having on our oceans.

In 2010, Andrew Stern, a former professor of neurology at the University of Rochester who’s now an environmental filmmaker and advocate, realized that surfers could serve as citizen scientists. Simply based on how much time they spend in the ocean, they could help collect data while on the water.

One of his filmmaker friends had recently met Benjamin Thompson, a surfer pursuing a PhD in structural engineering at the University of California, San Diego. Thompson was studying fluid-structure interactions, research that involved embedding sensors into boards. “It was mostly about tracking the performance of board,” he says. Thompson’s goal: to help the surfboard industry make better boards, and maybe use sensors to help surfers better understand (and improve) how they surf.

But after meeting Stern, Thompson realized he could use sensors as mini data loggers, collecting information about water chemistry as well as wave mechanics. He’d embed the electronics into a surfboard’s fin. Thus the project, named Smartphin, was born.

“My intention with this was to use it as a tool to inform people about the environment and specifically the oceans,” says Stern, who provided a home for Smartphin at the Lost Bird Project, his environmental filmmaking organization. “So I made a map with 17 surf spots around the world and said we’ll deploy to these places as many sensors as the scientists say we’ll need there [to collect] data.”

  Photo: Smartphin

Their original intent was to embed sensors to track water temperature, salinity (conductivity), and acidity, an important metric for climate scientists. Oceans have absorbed about a third of the carbon dioxide we’ve emitted since the dawn of the industrial age, making them around 25 percent more acidic than they were then. That lower pH (higher acidity) impedes the growth of calcium carbonate and is already harming shellfish fisheries and coral reefs. “But pH is hard to track, so we tackled temperature and conductivity first, and then planned on adding a pH sensor later,” Stern explains.

Earlier this year, the team competed in a $2 million competition hosted by the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE to inspire innovation of accurate, durable, and affordable pH sensors to help scientists better track and study ocean acidification. They suddenly found themselves not only in the running for the top prize but also in the company of a gaggle of climate scientists and technologists who could help Thompson design a pH sensor for the fin. Smartphin even made it all the way to the semi-finals, where it competed against teams of scientists from universities and research centers all over the world, before being eliminated before the final round.

Stern and Thompson are now looking for a way to get the Smartphin into surfers’ quivers.

Though no formal agreements have been made, Intel is interested in joining the project to provide its chip and sensor acumen to the effort. And starting in November, the first Smartphin pilot project will begin, with 50 scientists and researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego screwing Smartphin prototypes into their boards and taking to the waters outside their workplace.

  Photo: Smartphin

The scientists will compare the data—on water temperature, salinity, and acidity—that they collect from the Smartphins with data collected from the same types of sensors affixed to a pier, Stern explains.

Of course, to better understand acidification along coastlines, scientists need to collect as much data in as many places as possible. And that raises the question: How do you get millions of surfers to swap out their fins for Smartphins? And why would they buy a Smartphin if, say, a nonprofit couldn’t cover the costs?

Thompson says he’s built some extra technology into Smartphin that will compel surfers to use it for their own selfish reasons: To know where and when waves are good and to track their own surfing performance.

Motion sensors integrated into the fin will generate high-resolution tracking data that a smartphone app, which the fin communicates with via Bluetooth, will turn into reports similar to those surfers get from using the Trace sensor, Thompson asserts. Here’s the real kicker: the fins will also collect wave characterization data, or what he calls wave signatures.

“In Southern California, from Point Conception to Tijuana, there are probably a dozen buoys in the water that characterize waves,” says Thompson. These basically size the wave potential, based on the swells, and project that all the way to the shore. “And then Surfline says, ‘This is what we think the waves are doing,'” he says.

But by culling data from sensors that are actually inside the waves and all around a break, Smartphin can generate a more accurate signature for the waves at any given time that people are surfing, says Thompson.

“A lot happens between the deep water and the break zone. You can use models to predict it but you don’t have the best [granularity],” he says, “We’ll remove that by recording what is actually happening.”

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May 22 2015

Declaration of Fisheries Closure Due to a Public Health Threat Caused by an Oil Spill Affecting Marine Waters


UPDATE: Declaration of Fisheries Closure Due to a Public Health Threat Caused by an Oil Spill Affecting Marine Waters

On May 19, 2015 a pipeline break occurred near Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County, affecting shorelines to the east and west. The initial statement estimated that 500 barrels of heavy crude oil was released and the responsible party has been identified as Plains All American.

The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) was informed of this spill. OEHHA recommended that a fisheries closure be initiated. On May 19, 2015 a closure was issued, prohibiting the catch and consumption of finfish and shellfish in the area of the closure.

OEHHA has revised its recommendation regarding the  geographic boundaries of the closed area, and is advising that fishers avoid fishing in areas where there is visible sheen on the water. In consultation with OEHHA, the fishery closure area set on May 19, 2015 has been extended. The geographic boundaries of the closure include coastal areas from Canada de Alegeria at the western edge to Coal Oil Point at the eastern edge. The closure boundary includes the  shoreline and offshore areas between these points to 6 miles offshore. This closure is effective immediately. This closure prohibits the take of finfish and shellfish either from shorelines or from vessels on the water. An updated map is available online.


The official CDFW fisheries closure declaration is available online. For more information, please visit the CDFW Office of Spill Prevention and Response web page.



May 21 2015

CDFW Closes Fishery Following Spill in Santa Barbara


The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) closed fishing and shellfish harvesting in Santa Barbara County from 1 mile west of Refugio State Beach to 1 mile east of the beach at the recommendation of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) following the crude oil pipeline spill May 19.

The closure went into effect on May 19, 2015. It remains in place until OEHHA, part of the California Environmental Protection Agency, advises CDFW that it is safe for fishing to resume. Land markers for the closure are near the intersection of Highway 101 and Calle Real Road (west) to near the intersection of Highway 101 and Venadito Canyon Road (east). OEHHA also advises that anglers avoid fishing in areas where there is visible sheen on the water.

The United States Coast Guard and CDFW responded to the initial report of 21,000 gallon spill. The source was secured, but an unknown amount reached the Pacific Ocean.

Clean up operations and investigation into the incident is ongoing. The Oiled Wildlife Care Network has activated recovery teams to collect oiled animals. Anyone seeing oiled wildlife should report it to 1-877-UCD-OWCN (877-823-6926).

For a map of the fishery closure area and more information about this incident, please visit the CDFW Office of Spill Prevention and Response web page.
# # #


Alexia Retallack,
CDFW Office of Spill Prevention and Response
(916) 952-3317



May 19 2015

Drought-Stricken California Organizes Unprecedented Effort to Truck Hatchery Salmon to SF Bay

— Posted with permission of SEAFOODNEWS.COM. Please do not republish without their permission. —

Copyright © 2015


What do you do when you have 30 million young salmon ready for their big journeys downstream, but drought and development have dried your riverbeds to sauna rocks? In California this year, you give the fish a ride.

State and federal wildlife agencies in California are deploying what they say is the biggest fish-lift in the state’s history through this month, rolling out convoys of tanker trucks to transport a generation of hatchery salmon downstream to the San Francisco Bay. California is locked in its driest four-year stretch on record, making the river routes that the salmon normally take to the Pacific Ocean too warm and too shallow for them to survive.

“It’s huge. This is a massive effort statewide on multiple systems,” said Stafford Lehr, chief of fisheries for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which since February has been rolling out four to eight 35,000-gallon tanker trucks filled with baby salmon on their freeway-drive to freedom.

“We’re going to unprecedented drought,” Lehr said. “We’re forced to extreme measures.”

Drought and heavy use of water by farms and cities have devastated key native fish in California. Last year, for example, 95 percent of the state’s winter-run of Chinook salmon died. The fish is vital for California’s fishing industries and for the food chain of wildlife.

For the first time, all five big government hatcheries in California’s Central Valley for fall-run Chinook California salmon – a species of concern under the federal Endangered Species Act – are going to truck their young, release-ready salmon down to the Bay, rather than release them into rivers to make the trip themselves.

And California’s wild native fish should pack a sandwich and something to read; they’ll be spending a lot of the summer on the road too.

“Bone dry. Bone dry,” said fish biologist Don Portz of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, who is six years into an effort to restore the southernmost salmon stream in the U.S., the Central Valley’s San Joaquin River.

Drought, a dam and heavy use of the river’s water for irrigation have dried 60 miles of the San Joaquin. For the young salmon, whose life cycle for millions of years has involved travel from the river back and forth to the San Francisco Bay, that now means a 1 1/2-hour ride down California Highway 99 in a pickup-mounted fish tank.

“You give them that taxi ride down, they make it to the ocean, and come back” in a few years for trapping and a taxi ride back up to spawning grounds, Portz said.

The rolling fish rescues occurring up and down the West Coast haven’t always gone smoothly. In January, Oregon authorities charged a trucker with drunken driving after he hit a pole and flipped 11,000 juvenile salmon out on the roadway, where they died.

For some of California’s native fish, the rescue from drought often is by bucket, not truck.

Near the town of Lagunitas, in Northern California’s Marin County, watershed biologist Preston Brown stood ankle-high in a coastal tributary, searching for endangered California coastal Coho salmon and other, native fish. Decades ago, so many coho salmon filled the water that the noise of their jumping kept people in nearby houses up at night. On this day, Brown and his team find none.

Starting in June, months earlier than usual because of the drought, Brown and others with local environment group Salmon Protection and Watershed Network, will search the waterway. In cooperation with wildlife agencies, they will try to rescue coho and other fish stuck in drying pools of water 4- or 5 inches deep.

Sometimes, Brown said, the bucket brigades get there too late for the stranded salmon. “If they survived the raccoons” and other predators, “they dried up and died,” Brown said.

Lehr, the fisheries chief, expects some individual steelhead trout in Southern California will get truck rides two or three times this summer, as parts of rivers and creeks disappear.

As a last resort, when some rivers have no pools of water left to shelter fish, wildlife officials will remove survivors to a hatchery to wait out the drought. Two such isolated native species from dried-up waterways have been living in government hatcheries since last year, snacking on flies that rangers catch in bug-zappers for them, Lehr said, and waiting for wetter times.

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May 19 2015

Researchers discover world’s first warm-blooded fish

The opah, or moonfish, a large colourful fish living across the world’s oceans, has been found to have a warm heart and maintain a high body temperature, according to a report in the journal Science. It’s a zoological curiosity and a remarkable evolutionary development for fish.

In the cold darkness of the deep sea there is a clear advantage to being warm-blooded and able to move faster than all the other creatures in order to hunt them down or to avoid being eaten. Mammals such as seals or whales exploit this to great effect. They take a big breath and dive down, insulated from the cold by a thick layer of blubber, to snatch live food such as squids, fish and shrimps from the depths.

Until now it was thought that fish couldn’t keep warm in this way because instead of breathing air they extract oxygen directly from the water through their gills. The advantage of this is obvious: fish can stay underwater indefinitely. However, although their blood may be warmed by muscle activity on every circuit of the body as it comes gushing out of the heart it goes directly into the gills and is instantly cooled to ocean temperature.

The gills are intricate oxygen exchangers. A tiny membrane one thousandth of a millimetre thick is all that separates the blood and the sea, which ensures instant transfer of oxygen into the red blood cells. Heat flows faster than oxygen, so no matter how much heat the fish might be generating, its blood is automatically chilled with every heart beat.

The opah (Lampris guttatus) has evolved a unique solution to this problem. A team from the NOAA SouthWest Fisheries Science Center in California, led by Nicholas Wegner, discovered the fish has a special insulated network of blood vessels between the heart and the gills. These vessels act as a heat exchanger in which warm blood from the heart reheats oxygenated blood leaving the gills before it goes to the body. In this way heat is retained and not dissipated into the ocean.

This enables the opah to maintain a body temperature 5°C higher than the surrounding water and to dive 500 metres below the surface without cooling down. An insulating layer of fat in the skin keeps the heart, brain, muscles and vital organs warm.
Hiding in plain sight

This discovery is surprising since the opah is large and conspicuous; indeed, it’s already a favourite in fish markets and restaurants. Wegner and his colleagues deserve great credit for recognising and describing in detail the specialised gill heat exchangers that have been hidden right under the noses of fishermen and chefs for centuries.

The opah is shaped like a flattened disc with bright red fins. It grows up to two metres long and can weigh up to 80 kilograms. It’s a solitary fish, never caught in large numbers and is found in all oceans except polar seas. It swims by continuously flapping its pectoral fins in a similar way to the wings of a bird — and it is the energy from these muscles that provides most of the heat.

It has long been known that certain high-performance fishes such as sharks, tuna and swordfish can warm some muscles, the brain or their eyes using a dense web of warm and cold heat exchanging blood vessels around the area in question. However their blood is still cooled to ocean temperature each time it passes the gills, as in all other fishes. With its heart and all its vital organs working at an elevated temperature, the opah is the first fish that can be regarded as truly warm-blooded.

It is intriguing to speculate whether this is a new evolutionary trend for fish that in future might emulate the warm-bloodedness of birds and mammals. For most fishes living in tropical seas this adaptation is not necessary; the warm water temperature is ideal for life. But for the opah, which wants to stay down deeper for longer in order to hunt squid in cold waters, the warm-blood adaptation helps it outcompete partially heated rivals like the Albacore tuna.

The mechanism can only work for large-bodied fish with space for insulation, meaning heat loss to the surroundings can be controlled. Even with specialised heat-retaining gills like the opah has, a small fish the size of a mouse would quickly cool down, the heat absorbing capacity of water is too great for any small animal to retain body warmth.

Even the opah is not able to compete with warm-blooded diving foragers such as penguins and seals, or whales in the polar seas. The fish is a zoological oddity belonging to a group that appeared in the last 100m years at the same time as mammals and birds evolved. We cannot know if the fossil species were warm-blooded and if we search further we may find other species with similar adaptations.

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May 19 2015

“Deadliest catch”? Not even in the top three

deadliest_catch“Deadliest Catch” (Credit: Discovery Channel)

 Cod, scallop & Dungeness fisheries have Bering Sea crabbing beat as far as risk — but they’re all getting safer
Nick Rahaim

In the 11th season of Discovery Channel’s flagship show “The Deadliest Catch,” the title’s fallacy still goes largely unnoted. Crab fishing on the Bering Sea isn’t the deadliest fishery in the United States, and it hasn’t been for the entire run of the show; it’s not even in the top three. Two East Coast fisheries are the ones where fishermen are most likely to become fish food.

Groundfish—including cod and flounder—on the East Coast was the deadliest fishery in the U.S. from 2000 to 2009, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, followed by Atlantic scallops. The third, with which I have personal experience, is Dungeness crab fishing on the Oregon and Washington coasts. Data from 2010 to 2014 shows the trend continuing through this decade. The rankings are based on workforce estimates and their full-time equivalents.

Aside from an inaccurate title for a “reality” program, we should cheer the fact that fishing in an inhospitable environment is becoming safer by the year. Far fewer people are dying so vacationers in Las Vegas and affluent businessmen and bureaucrats in China can gorge themselves on what appear to be overgrown spiders. Commercial fishing is becoming safer. From 1990 to 2014 there was a 74 percent drop in commercial fishing fatalities in Alaska, according to NIOSH. Furthermore, in 2013 commercial fishing dropped to No. 2 — behind logging — in the list of deadliest occupations, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This is not to take away from the intensity of crab fishing on the Bering Sea: High seas, subfreezing temperatures, sleepless nights and heavy gear can fuck you up quickly. While I’ve never made my way to the Bering Sea for crab fishing, I did use those large, 7-by-7-foot, 700-pound traps while fishing for Pacific cod off the Alaskan Peninsula one March. As a trap swung from a picking boom above, I attempted to stabilize what seemed to be a gentle swing and was thrown back and sandwiched against another trap on deck, likely cracking one of my ribs — an injury that only added to the misery of the following weeks.

We, as audiences, love the death defiers, the risk-takers who throw themselves in harm’s way whether for a big payday or just an illusory and fleeting sense of glory. From the well-born Victorian adventurers to the modern-day action sports icons, those who needlessly put their lives in danger have captured the imagination and intrigue of the coddled, comfortable classes. The more danger, and the more inherent risk that’s displayed — deceptive or not — the more viewers tune in.
I once worked with a man who was on “The Deadliest Catch” for a season, a man infamous for getting fired on camera and then crying about it. From him and others I’ve heard that when the sea and wind come up and it gets too dangerous to fish, the show’s producers ask the crew to stay on deck and scurry around to get shots of “working” in big weather. I’ve also heard that some “dangerous situations” actually occur when the boat is safely tied up to the dock. Fishing stories perhaps … perhaps not.

More than half of the deaths in the commercial fishing industry, 51 percent, are caused by vessel disasters: flooding, instability and rogue waves. The second leading cause of death is falling overboard, coming in at 31 percent. Of the 178 people who died from overboard falls from 2000 to 2009, not one was wearing a portable floatation device. Another unsubstantiated bit of fishing lore: Most of those found dead in the water have their fly unzipped — relieving oneself over the side of the boat can be pretty dangerous if no one’s looking. In the golden age of Bering Sea crabbing, paychecks were big and lives were cheap. Crab fishing in the Bering Sea and the Aleutian Islands was likely once the deadliest fishery in the United States, but data on commercial fishing deaths were not recorded nationally until 2000. In the 1990s an average of more than eight people a year died on the Bering Sea fishing for crab.

“There were people dying left and right in the 1970s and ’80s,” says Scott Wilmert, a commercial fishing vessel safety manager with the United States Coast Guard. In 1999 the Coast Guard stepped in and began mandatory annual safety and stability checks on the crab boats. In the years since there have been a total of nine deaths, compared to 50 deaths in the Atlantic scallop fishery over the same time period. But fear not, human life has no bearing on the ecological health of a fishery so Atlantic scallops are in the process of being listed as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council and are currently listed as a “Good Alternative” by Seafood Watch.

Crabbing on the Bering Sea went through a drastic change in management after the first season of “The Deadliest Catch.” In 2005, crab fishing was rationalized, where the chaotic, derby-style management was replaced with an individual fishing quota. Instead of having just a few weeks to catch all the crab they could, causing boats to fish around the clock, often in dangerous weather, under the quota system boats have months to catch their limit and can avoid working in the most dangerous conditions. Rationalization has also shrunk the fleet from more than 250 boats in the early 2000s to roughly 85 well-capitalized and better-maintained boats. This also caused hundreds of deckhands to lose their jobs and made millionaires of captains overnight.

Commercial fishing in the U.S. is one of the last bastions of laissez-faire self-regulation. There has been no significant labor law in the industry since the Jones Act of 1920, and that only allowed seamen to make claims for damages if the captain was negligent or the vessel was unseaworthy. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has no jurisdiction over most boats fishing in U.S. waters, and until this year the United States Coast Guard didn’t perform mandatory vessel inspections on fishing boats.

The vast majority of captains have understood the value of having properly functioning safety equipment: immersion suits, life rafts, electronic emergency beacons and high-water alarms. Those who have ignored basic safety — going by the tired trope, “I’ve done more with less” — have at times caused themselves and their crew to lose their lives on the water.

Nevertheless, commercial fishing will always carry an inherent risk that cannot be fully mitigated by regulation and safety protocol. It is that very risk that will continue to draw some people to the profession and capture the imaginations of audiences with romanticized stories of life at sea — true or not.

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May 18 2015

Fishermen, Businesses, and Fishing Organizations Support House Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization Bill


WASHINGTON (Saving Seafood) – May 18, 2015

On Saturday, May 16, a diverse group of 20 businesses, 51 organizations, and 80 individuals representing fishermen and fishing communities from the East, West, and Gulf Coasts jointly signed a letter delivered to Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT), the Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, supporting HR 1335, the “Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act,” which would reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The supporters of the reauthorization, which was authored by Alaska Congressman Don Young (R-AK), state that it will maintain the successful aspects of fisheries management under Magnuson-Stevens, while providing much-needed flexibility and economic relief to hard-working fishing communities.

According to the signatories of the letter, HR 1335 will “continue the rebuilding of depleted fish stocks, provide transparency, streamline the management process, and ensure that more scientific information is available to deal with data-poor fish stocks.” This, the signatories contend, will strike the appropriate “balance” between addressing the ecological needs of fish stocks, the conservation goals of management, and the economic needs of fishing communities that are not being met by the current Act’s rigid stock rebuilding requirements.

The signatories of the letter are geographically diverse, representing the following states: Arizona, Alaska, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. They represent many of the major fisheries and fishing regions of the United States, and while on the surface these groups may seem to have little in common, they are united in their desire to see reasonable reforms to the Magnuson-Stevens Act and additional flexibility brought to the management process.

In addition to supporting greater flexibility in federal fisheries management, the letter also opposes attempts to transfer the management of the commercial red snapper fishery from the federal to the state level. This proposed change, supported largely by recreational fishing interests, would, according to the signatories of the letter, undermine the “process in place under existing law to deal with the complex issues surrounding this fishery.”

HR 1335 was approved by the House Natural Resources Committee on April 30, and will be considered by the House Rules Committee on Tuesday, May 19 at 3:00 PM. The full House is expected to vote on the bill sometime in the near future.

View the letter to Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop here —PDF (check your downloads).

May 16 2015

4 Questions with David Battisti on El Niño and Climate Variability

This year’s spring Houghton Lecturer is David Battisti, a professor of atmospheric sciences and the Tamaki Endowed Chair at the University of Washington. As the scientist-in-residence within MIT’s Program of Atmospheres, Oceans, and Climate (PAOC), Battisti has spent the semester giving a series of talks on natural variability in the climate system. Some of his main research interests include illuminating the processes that underlay past and present climates, understanding how interactions between the ocean, atmosphere, land, and sea ice lead to climate variability on different timescales, and improving El Niño models and their forecast skill—something that is becoming increasingly relevant in a warming world.

ElNino_arrivesCredit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The Pacific Ocean is primed for a powerful double El Niño—a rare phenomenon in which there are two consecutive years of episodic warming of sea surface temperatures—according to some scientists. It’s been a few years since the Pacific Ocean experienced one strong warming event, let alone an event that spanned two consecutive years. A double El Niño could have large ripple effects in weather systems around the globe, from summer monsoons and hurricanes to winter storms in the Northern Hemisphere. Meanwhile, some scientists think it may signal the beginning of the end of the warming hiatus. Oceans at MIT asked Battisti about this phenomenon and what it does and doesn’t tell us about climate change.

How rare are double El Niños and what are the expected effects?

[Double El Niños] are not unheard of, but the last time it stayed warm for nearly two full years was back in the early 80s. In the tropics, climate anomalies associated with a typical El Niño event will persists as long as the event persists. For example, El Niño warm and cold events explain the lion’s share of the variance in monsoon onset date: conditions in late boreal summer causes a delay in the onset of the monsoon in Indonesia, which greatly reduces the annual production of the country’s staple food, rice. If El Niño conditions persist for two years spanning the onset time for the Indonesia monsoon, monsoon onset will very likely be delayed for two consecutive years.

In the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, where we live, El Niño affects the climate by issuing persistent, large scale atmospheric waves from the tropical Pacific to the North Pacific and over most of North America. These waves are most efficient at reaching the mid-latitudes during our wintertime. If El Niño conditions span two consecutive northern hemisphere winters, we should expect the winter climate in these regions to be affected similarly over two consecutive winters.
During an El Niño event, there is a greater than normal chance for an unusually warm winter in the Pacific Northwest and in the north central US, and for a colder and wetter than normal winter in southern Florida. Alternately, El Niño has little impact on winter weather in New England. It also greatly affects precipitation in Southern California and the southwestern US — El Niño years are reliably wetter than normal, but just how much wetter than normal is very unpredictable.

Why haven’t we seen a strong El Niño in nearly two decades?

A large El Niño event is characterized by exceptionally warm conditions in the tropical Pacific, or by very warm conditions that persist for 18 months or so – about nine months longer than normal. It’s been over 20 years since we’ve seen a very large warm event, but it is not known how frequently very strong and exceptionally long events happen.

We categorize El Niño events (and their cold event siblings) by measuring sea surface temperature and zonal surface wind stress along the equator in the tropical Pacific. Good data to construct these indices extend back to the early 20th Century. Unfortunately, we can’t answer this question by examining the behavior of the high-end climate models because about only two high-end climate models in the world feature El Niño warm and cold events that are consistent with observations. However, the observational record shows three El Niño events with exceptionally large amplitude that were exceptionally long lived since 1950s, so a 20-year gap since the last large warm event is not surprising.

What does the hiatus refer to, and is it related to the El Niño phenomenon? The whole hiatus idea is based on the expectation that as carbon dioxide increases, so to should the global average temperature. And indeed, the global averaged temperature has increased over the course of the 20th Century by approximately 0.85 degrees Celsius. And climate models support that the primary reason the 20th Century increase is rising concentrations of greenhouse gases associated with human activity. However, over the past dozen years or so, the global average temperature has not increased – hence the moniker ‘the hiatus’.

The decade long hiatus isn’t inconsistent from what we would expect from natural variability and human forced climate change. For example, a typical El Niño cycle features a very warm year, followed by a moderately cold year, and then nothing happens for a while. Somewhere between three and seven years later there’s another warm event followed by a cold event, but the duration between these events  is quite random. Selecting any single period—for example, the last 10 years—we would expect decades in which the global average temperature fluctuates by 0.15 degrees Celsius or so due to the randomness in natural climate variability. The regional patterns of temperature change and the hiatus in global average temperature over the past decade aren’t distinguishable from a superposition of the cold phase of natural variability with the expected warming due to human activity.

Is this a sign that the warming hiatus is coming to an end?

El Niño does increase the global average temperature so we will see the average global temperature spike a bit this year compared to the last few years, which will bring us back up toward what the models say is the forced warming response. But El Niño events are not predictable more than a year or so in advance, so it is not possible to say what will happen over the next few years, or even the next decade.

On the other hand, if you view the change in global average temperature over the past thirty years as being a superposition of a steady increase due to human-induced forcing and decade-long periods of warm (the 1980’s and 1990’s) and cold (the 2002-2013) anomalies due to natural variability including El Niño, then decade-long periods of very large warming and very weak warming or even weak cooling should be expected. Exactly when these periods end is only obvious in retrospect.

For 25 years, Henry Houghton served as Head of the Department of Meteorology—today known as PAOC. During his tenure, the department established an unsurpassed standard of excellence in these fields. The Houghton Fund was established to continue that legacy through support of students and the Houghton Lecture Series. Since its 1995 inception, more than two dozen scientists from around the world representing a wide range of disciplines within the fields of Atmosphere, Ocean and Climate have visited and shared their expertise with the MIT community.

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