Archive for June, 2015

Jun 30 2015

Fishing Grounds Reopen After Refugio Oil Spill

To the surprise of pretty much everybody paying attention to the 138-square-mile closure of all fishing grounds in and around the May 19 Refugio Oil Spill site, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife reopened the closed region on Monday afternoon.

As of late last week, there was no indication that fishermen would be permitted access to the area any time soon. “Turnaround was incredibly quick and everybody was stoked that all those fish came in clean,” said commercial fisherman Michael Harrington, referring to the range of invertebrates and finfish that were collected and tested for contamination.

Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Alexia Retallack said that the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment “worked with the testing labs to expedite the process.” The emergency closure covered an area from Coal Oil Point to Hollister ranch, six miles out to sea.

Commercial and recreational fishing is still restricted within the Naples and Campus Point marine conservation areas, both of which were established in 2012. Also, the annual mussel quarantine — to protect the public against paralytic shellfish poisoning — is currently in effect and typically runs until the end of October.

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Jun 29 2015

A Tale of Two Whales: Seven-Year Study Indicates Steady and Upward Trends for Blue and Fin Whales in Southern California

Scripps-led study used acoustic data to provide the first detailed view of calling blue and fin whale distribution in the waters off Southern California

A fin whale.

A fin whale off Southern California. Photo taken under NMFS Permit No. 727-1915.


A new study led by researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego indicates a steady population trend for blue whales and an upward population trend for fin whales in Southern California.

Scripps marine acoustician Ana Širović and her colleagues in the Marine Bioacoustics Lab and Scripps Whale Acoustic Lab intermittently deployed 16 High-frequency Acoustic Recording Packages (HARPs)—devices that sit on the seafloor with a suspended hydrophone (an underwater microphone)—to collect acoustic data on whales off Southern California from 2006-2012.

Blue and fin whales are common inhabitants of the Southern California Bight, the curved region of California coastline with offshore waters extending from San Diego to Point Conception (near Santa Barbara, Calif.), but little is known about their use of the area.

As described in the June 24 issue of the journal Endangered Species Research, Širović and her colleagues analyzed seven years of acoustic data (26 instrument-years) to study the call abundance of blue and fin whales in the Southern California Bight. The study, largely supported by the Office of Naval Research, provides the first detailed view into the spatial use of Southern California waters by blue and fin whales, the two largest cetacean species in the world. Both are classified as endangered species.

Širović found that blue whale calls were more commonly detected at coastal sites and near the northern Channel Islands, while fin whale calls were detected further off shore, in central and southern areas.

The acoustic data indicate that the blue whale population in Southern California is relatively steady, while the fin whale population is increasing.

“I think it’s an interesting difference in trends because both of the species were subject to whaling earlier in the twentieth century, and now they’re clearly responding differently,” said Širović, assistant researcher in the Marine Physical Laboratory at Scripps.

The acoustic data and overall trends outlined in this study are consistent with another Scripps-led study, but one that used visual data collected from 2012-2013 in the same area as part of the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI). CalCOFI is a unique partnership led by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, NOAA Fisheries Service, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and it is considered to be one of the world’s most valuable marine observation programs.

Published in 2014, the Scripps research conducted through CalCOFI indicated that the blue whale population was relatively steady, while the fin whale population was increasing.

Širović cites the parallel findings between the two studies as evidence that passive acoustics can be used as a powerful tool to monitor population trends for these large marine mammals.

“I think it’s very exciting that we see the same trends in the visual and acoustic data, because it indicates the possibility of using acoustics to monitor long-term trends and changes,” said Širović.

Presence of a resident fin whale population in Southern California was previously suggested, and the recent study’s detection of fin whale calls year-round further supports this idea.

Researchers also found that blue whale calls in the region were generally detected between June and January, evidence that supports the known seasonal migration pattern of blue whales, which tend to migrate from off the coast Mexico (or even as far down as Costa Rica) to Southern California in the late spring. The whales forage through the fall, and then leave in early winter, but researchers aren’t certain where they go next.

Although researchers have studied blue and fin whales for years, Širović notes that both species are particularly mysterious, and scientists still don’t know some basic information about them, such as their mating system or breeding grounds.

The Southern California Bight is a highly productive ecological territory for many marine animals due to strong upwellings, but researchers have not found any evidence that blue or fin whales are breeding there.

The productivity of the coastal region also makes it a hotbed for human activity, with large cities onshore and ships, commercial fishing vessels, and other human impacts ever-present in the water. Since fin whales generally live further offshore, Širović posits that they might have a slight advantage over blue whales, which tend to inhabit areas where there is more ship traffic—increasing their chances for ship strikes.

“It seems that for fin whales, things are probably improving,” said Širović, noting that more research is needed to determine why the blue whale population is not increasing.

“For blue whales, it’s a little bit harder to tell. There is a question right now as to whether their population has grown to its maximum capacity, because there are many lines of evidence showing that their population is not growing currently,” said Širović. “So the question remains, is it because that’s just what their population size can be maximally, or are there factors that are keeping them from growing further?”

Širović hopes that future studies can help identify why there is this difference in population trends of blue and fin whales.  Now that she and her colleagues have taken a first look at the broad trends of the two species, they want to dig deeper and look into environmental drivers and other factors and features that may be causing some of the spatial distribution patterns and long-term changes of the whales.

Coauthors of the study included Ally Rice, Emily Chou, John Hildebrand, and Sean Wiggins of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Marie Roch of San Diego State University.

The analysis portion of this study was supported by the Office of Naval Research, with data collection and monitoring funded by Chief of Naval Operations N45 and the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

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Jun 29 2015

Book shows Monterey’s fishing, Italian history go hand in hand

MikeMike Ventimiglia talks about “Italians of the Monterey Peninsula” at the site where a plaque marks the approximate spot of his great uncle Salvatore Ventimiglia’s cannery on Cannery Row. (Vern Fisher — Monterey Herald)


MONTEREY >> The story of Italians in Monterey is the story of the local fishing industry.

Sicilians came here in waves in the early 1900s when a shift to sardine fishing required their special know-how. They kept Fisherman’s Wharf stocked and the canneries humming for nearly 50 years, turning Monterey into a boom town and establishing a cultural legacy that stands today.

Author Mike Ventimiglia chronicles their history in the recently published book “Italians of the Monterey Peninsula,” part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series. He will give a slide-illustrated talk and book signing at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Monterey Public Library.

Italian fishermen built on a foundation laid by Chinese immigrants, who commercialized fishing in Monterey Bay in the mid-1800s. Over half a century, squid and abalone gave way to salmon and sardines. When a Sicilian fisherman named Pietro Ferrante introduced lampara nets here, allowing for a bigger catch of sardines, the industry took off, sparking what came to be known as the Silver Harvest. Italian fishing families who had set up in Pittsburg, Martinez and other points north started flocking to the Monterey Peninsula.

Ventimiglia’s family was among them, moving here from Martinez in 1917. His father and uncles were fishermen, and his great uncle would eventually own a cannery here, near the present-day Monterey Bay Inn.

Two things were important to Italian fishermen, Ventimiglia said: their boats and their families.

“A fishing boat was probably the mainstay of most Italians,” he said. “The boats came before the house.”

The industry was on its way out by the time Ventimiglia was born in 1944, so his earliest memories of his father are not of him fishing on the Vagabond, but dealing cards on lower Alvarado Street.

Still, the feeling of a close-knit community ran deep.

“(My dad) was Sicilian, but he never spoke it in the house or around his children,” Ventimiglia said. “Then I would go down to the wharf with him and all of a sudden he’d start sputtering this weird language.”

Ventimiglia notes that Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf are still a major part of Monterey’s economy, with the emphasis now on tourism instead of fishing. He gives Italians credit for turning from fishermen into business owners.

“They were smart enough to switch gears,” he said.

Ventimiglia spent a year researching and writing the book. The hardest part, he said, was collating the hundreds of photos that are hallmarks of Arcadia books.

“I can get all the pictures of Italians in the world, but who are they?” he said “… I wanted to identify as many Italians as I could in the book, and that was the hard thing to get.”

The book covers Italians’ move to Monterey, the canneries, fishing boats and nets, and Santa Rosalia and other traditions. It has sparked another project to collect and publish a series of mini biographies of local Italians.

“To me what’s important is getting a piece of history out there,” Ventimiglia said.

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Jun 27 2015

Mackerel school in Monterey harbor; city tech protect them from suffocation.


These Pacific mackerel are swimming inside a Monterey Bay Aquarium tank, unlike their wild kin now schooling in Monterey Harbor.   — Merve Girgin Yanar


Steve Scheiblauer keeps a photo in his office of a bunch of dead sardines. As framed desktop photos go, it’s a bit macabre compared with the more standard child’s school portrait. But in its own way, Scheiblauer’s photo is feel-good, too.

It was October 1996, and Scheiblauer was less than a year into his job as Monterey harbormaster when thousands of sardine carcasses started floating up in the marina.

The walls of Fishermans Wharf, the commercial wharf and the harborfront connecting them form a three-sided enclosure, Scheiblauer explains. When fish school there, they become vulnerable because the tides don’t bring much fresh oxygen.

“This is not really unusual for harbor structures,” Scheiblauer says. “I basically knew what was happening and how to solve it, which was these aeration machines.”

Scheiblauer convinced Monterey City Council to approve a system of 15 aerators, at a cost of about $100,000, which was installed in early 1997. Since then, he says, the aerators have helped keep visiting schools of fish (mostly sardines) alive.

Nearly 20 years since that sardine die-off, Monterey Harbor is again hosting a visiting school of fish. In an unusual twist, the school is about 80-percent mackerel, Scheiblauer says, and only 20-percent sardines.

Two days ago, he had the aerators turned on.

Here’s the underwater GoPro video his employee, A.J. Young, recorded late yesterday afternoon. With the aerators blasting out fresh oxygen, it’ll hopefully be a pleasant visit for the fish.

Read the original post: Monterey County Weekly

Jun 27 2015

Holy mackerel! Monterey Harbor working to keep fish invasion from dying off

Monterey >> Beneath the still waters of the Monterey Harbor lurks a grave threat to the tranquility of the city’s picturesque waterfront.

Mackerel. Tons of them.

Oh, they may not look like much of a menace. And alive, they are no problem.

But dead, they can foul the water and air for days on end, a disaster the likes of which the harbor has not seen in 20 years. Right now, the only thing between a pleasant day at the wharf and walking around with clothespins on our noses are 15 high-powered aerators working overtime to pump enough oxygen into the water to keep the fish alive.

“They’re heavy-duty commercial machines,” said Harbormaster Steve Scheiblauer, who first noticed the invasion early this week. “In the 19 years or 18 years since we’ve put ‘em in, we’ve had at least a half a dozen very large schools of fish, mostly sardines, that have come in, and we feel they’ve kept them alive.”

Fish kills are a relatively common harbor phenomenon, occurring when enough fish swim into a harbor to use up all the oxygen. When they die, they sink. When they rise to the surface a few days later, they stink.

The long, narrow Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor has seen fish kills with relative frequency, including last year. To clear the mess takes a bucket brigade and volunteers with exceptional olfactory tolerance levels.

But Monterey’s harbor has not seen a problem since 1995, when sardines died off and yucked up the marina. In early 1997, the city spent about $100,000 to install the aerators.

“It was absolutely horrible,” Scheiblauer said, saying about 400 to 500 tons of fish were sent to a landfill.

On Wednesday night, part-time harbor employee A.J. Young dropped a camera into the water to see if he could find the fish. The video shows legions of them, packed gill to gill. A few sardines have also joined the mob.

Recent slack tides haven’t helped, but those are expected to change in the coming days. Scheiblauer said normal tides could signal the end of the siege.

“The tides will improve into more spring tides, real highs and real lows, and so that’ll help the oxygen in the water naturally,” he said.

mackerelWatch the video —

Read the original post: Monterey Herald

Jun 27 2015

NOAA Finds West Coast’s Massive Domoic Acid Bloom is Among Most Toxic Ever Recorded

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

Seafood NewsSEAFOODNEWS.COM [Phys Org] by Hannah Hickey and Michelle Ma – June 26, 2015

The bloom that began earlier this year and shut down several shellfish fisheries along the West Coast has grown into the largest and most severe in at least a decade.

UW research analyst Anthony Odell left June 15 from Newport, Oregon, aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s research vessel Bell M. Shimada. He is part of a NOAA-led team of harmful algae experts who are surveying the extent of the patch and searching for “hot spots”—swirling eddies where previous research from the UW and NOAA shows the algae can grow and become toxic to marine animals and humans.

“The current bloom of Pseudo-nitzschia spp., the diatom responsible for domoic acid and amnesic shellfish poisoning, appears to be the biggest spatially we have ever observed,” Odell said. “It has also lasted for an incredibly long time—months, instead of the usual week or two.”

Odell is the coastal sampling coordinator at the UW’s Olympic Natural Resources Center in Forks, Washington, part of the UW College of the Environment. From his base in Hoquiam, Odell samples shellfish, phytoplankton and water quality, and responds to toxic algae bloom events along Washington’s outer coast.

Now he is doing toxin sampling on the three-week first leg of the NOAA voyage, from San Diego to San Francisco. Three more legs will continue through mid-September, surveying up to the north end of Vancouver Island.

The first samples collected from near San Diego were fairly clean, Odell said, suggesting they were still south of the patch. More recent samples collected this week from near Santa Barbara showed the first signs of the harmful algae. The massive bloom is known to extend at least from central California to Vancouver Island, with reports coming from as far north as Alaska.

As the ship travels north it is making a large back-and-forth grid, sampling the water from very near shore to several miles offshore. NOAA scientists initially scheduled the cruise to survey sardine and hake. Researchers from the UW, NOAA and other partners were invited to join and use the opportunity to conduct a large-scale sampling for marine toxins.

The bloom includes some of the highest toxin levels ever recorded in Monterey Bay, California, and along the central Oregon coast. All of Washington’s razor clamming beaches are currently closed, and the southern coast of Washington has the largest-ever closure of our state’s Dungeness crab fishery.

For the past 12 years, Odell has been a research analyst for the UW-led Olympic Region Harmful Algal Bloom Partnership. The organization provides monitoring data and other information about toxic algae blooms to coastal communities on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

The UW’s Washington Sea Grant is involved in a similar monitoring effort for Puget Sound, SoundToxins, which has some 50 volunteers monitor 33 sites weekly throughout the sound.

The massive bloom that emerged this spring comes after a few relatively quiet years. While the phenomenon is natural and cannot be prevented, better knowledge could help to predict and prepare for its effects.

In recent years, UW oceanographers including Barbara Hickey and Ryan McCabe sampled coastal waters to help identify the origin of toxic Pseudo-nitzschia cells on the Washington and Oregon coasts. The studies resulted in the development of computer models that can simulate how the blooms travel.

Researchers pinpoint massive harmful algal bloom

Computer-based forecasts rely on continuous observations from onshore sampling efforts and offshore buoys. A regional ocean-observing data portal led by Jan Newton, an oceanographer at the UW Applied Physics Laboratory, combines water observations from federal, state and other agencies and provides that information and some forecasts to users in real time.

“Such observations are critical to understanding what new elements in the coastal ocean produced such a massive toxic bloom this year, and whether we should expect these conditions to continue,” Hickey said.

The main culprit for the current toxicity is Pseudo-nitzschia, a tiny algae that under certain conditions releases an acid that acts as a neurotoxin. On campus, UW oceanographers are using genetic tools to better understand these microscopic creatures and learn how they respond to changing conditions.

What caused the current bloom remains a mystery. Nick Bond, a research meteorologist at the UW Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, coined the term “the blob” for the current huge patch of unusually warm water off the West Coast, and has studied its origins. Whether warm water is connected to the algal bloom is unknown.

“Our goal is to try to put this story together once we have data from the cruises,” Vera Trainer, a NOAA scientist and UW affiliate professor of aquatic and fisheries sciences, told the Seattle Times. She manages the Harmful Algal Blooms Program at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center and is overseeing the current sampling effort.

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Jun 23 2015

Letters: Grossman Article on Reasons for Sardine Decline Inaccurate

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


SEAFOODNEWS.COM [Letters] – June 23, 2015

Editor’s Note: The following letter from D.B. Pleschner was reviewed and supported by Mike Okoniewski of Pacific Seafoods.

To the Editor: I take exception to your statement:  “The author of this piece, Elizabeth Grossman, buys into the argument, but in a fair article.”

In no way was this “fair” reporting.   She selectively quotes (essentially misquotes) both Mike Okoniewski and me (and this after I spent more than an hour with her on the phone, and shared with her the statements of Ray Hilborn, assessment author Kevin Hill and other noted scientists.) She does not balance the article but rather fails to emphasize the NOAA best science in favor of the Demer-Zwolinski paper, published in NAS by NOAA scientists who did not follow protocol for internal review before submitting to NAS (which would have caught many misstatements before they saw print).

NOAA’s Alec MacCall later printed a clarification (in essence a rebuttal) in NAS, which pointed out the errors and stated that the conclusions in the Demer paper were “one man’s opinion”.

Oceana especially has widely touted that paper, notwithstanding the fact that the SWFSC Center Director also needed to testify before the PFMC twice, stating that the paper’s findings did not represent NOAA’s scientific thinking.

After the Oceana brouhaha following the sardine fishery closure, NOAA Assistant Administrator Eileen Sobeck issued a statement. SWFSC Director Cisco Werner wrote to us in response to our request to submit Eileen’s statement to the Yale and Food & Environment Reporting Network to set the record straight:

“The statement from the NMFS Assistant Administrator (Eileen Sobeck) was clear about what the agency’s best science has put forward regarding the decline in the Pacific Sardine population. Namely, without continued successful recruitment, the population of any spp. will decline – irrespective of imposed management strategies.”

It is also  important to note that we are working closely with the SWFSC and have worked collaboratively whenever possible.

I would greatly appreciate it if you would again post Sobeck’s statement to counter the inaccurate implications and misstatements in  Elizabeth Grossman’s piece.

Diane Pleschner-Steele
California Wet Fish Producers Association

PS:   I also informed Elizabeth Grossman when we talked that our coastal waters are now teeming with both sardines and anchovy, which the scientific surveys have been unable to document  because the research ships survey offshore and the fish are inshore.

Sobeck’s statement follows:

Researchers, Managers, and Industry Saw This Coming: Boom-Bust Cycle Is Not a New Scenario for Pacific Sardines
A Message from Eileen Sobeck, Head of NOAA Fisheries
Apri 23, 2015

Pacific sardines have a long and storied history in the United States. These pint-size powerhouses of the ocean have been — on and off — one of our most abundant fisheries. They support the larger ecosystem as a food source for other marine creatures, and they support a valuable commercial fishery.

When conditions are good, this small, highly productive species multiplies quickly. It can also decline sharply at other times, even in the absence of fishing. So it is known for wide swings in its population.

Recently, NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council received scientific information as a part of the ongoing study and annual assessment of this species. This information showed the sardine population had continued to decline.

It was not a surprise. Scientists, the Council, NOAA, and the industry were all aware of the downward trend over the past several years and have been following it carefully. Last week, the Council urged us to close the directed fishery on sardines for the 2015 fishing season.  NOAA Fisheries is also closing the fishery now for the remainder of the current fishing season to ensure the quota is not exceeded.

While these closures affect the fishing community, they also provide an example of our effective, dynamic fishery management process in action. Sardine fisheries management is designed around the natural variability of the species and its role in the ecosystem as forage for other species. It is driven by science and data, and catch levels are set far below levels needed to prevent overfishing.

In addition, a precautionary measure is built into sardine management to stop directed fishing when the population falls below 150,000 metric tons. The 2015 stock assessment resulted in a population estimate of 97,000 metric tons, below the fishing cutoff, thereby triggering the Council action.

The sardine population is presently not overfished and overfishing is not occurring. However, the continued lack of recruitment of young fish into the stock in the past few years would have decreased the population, even without fishing pressure. So, these closures were a “controlled landing”. We saw where this stock was heading several years ago and everyone was monitoring the situation closely.

This decline is a part of the natural cycle in the marine environment. And if there is a new piece to this puzzle — such as climate change — we will continue to work closely with our partners in the scientific and management communities, the industry, and fishermen to address it.


Read/Download Elizabeth Grossman’s article: Some Scientists and NGO’s Argue West Coast Sardine Closure was too Late

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Jun 22 2015

Pacific Council Declares Petrale Sole and Canary Rockfish Now Rebuilt to Sustainable Level

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

Copyright © 2015

Seafood News

SEAFOODNEWS.COM  By Peggy Parker  –  June 22, 2015

The Pacific Fishery Management Council announced last week that two formerly overfished West Coast groundfish stocks—canary rockfish and petrale sole—have now been rebuilt ahead of schedule.

The stocks have been the subject of strict rebuilding plans that severely constrained West Coast fisheries for more than a decade. Managing groundfish fisheries in the last 15 years, under the canary rockfish rebuilding plan in particular, has been an immense challenge for the Council and the National Marine Fisheries Service and has caused significant disruption of fisheries.

“This is a huge achievement and reflects many hard decisions made by the Council and its advisors, as well as difficult sacrifices by the fishermen and communities that depend on groundfish,” said Council Chair Dorothy Lowman. “While five groundfish stocks are still rebuilding, the Council looks forward to new fishing opportunities based on the fact that these two stocks have completely recovered.”

Canary rockfish, prized by both recreational and commercial fishermen, were declared overfished in 2000 and a rebuilding plan was put in place in 2001, affecting groundfish fisheries off Washington, Oregon, and California Because canary rockfish coexist with so many healthy groundfish stocks, they have been known as a “bottleneck species” limiting many fisheries.

Canary rockfish are a long-lived, slow-growing species, making them difficult to rebuild. Under the plan, catch quotas were dramatically reduced and large area closures put in place, and the stock was expected to rebuild by 2057.  However, the new 2015 canary rockfish assessment adopted by the Council last week shows the coastwide canary stock has already been rebuilt. The managers credit strict protections and good ocean conditions.

“This a big deal,” said former council chair Dan Wolford. “We now have six times more canary rockfish than when we scaled back so many fisheries. This shows the Pacific Council’s conservation policies work.”

Petrale sole, an important species for commercial fisheries, were declared overfished in 2010 after an assessment showed that the stock had fallen below the overfished threshold. Beginning in 2011, a rebuilding plan was put in place to rebuild the stock by 2016. The petrale sole harvest limit was cut by half, and fisheries in which petrale sole could be caught incidentally were also reduced and area closures were implemented. A stock assessment conducted this year shows that the rebuilding plan was successful and the stock has increased over the target level.

“Petrale sole is known as our Cadillac flatfish,” said Ralph Brown, a long-time commercial fisherman from Bookings, Oregon. “Restaurants will love that these fish are now back so strongly.”

The petrale sole and canary rockfish assessments were developed by scientists at NMFS and the University of Washington (in the case of petrale) and were reviewed by the Council’s scientific advisory bodies. The recommendation to declare these stocks rebuilt will be forwarded to the National Marine Fisheries Service for approval.

New harvest specifications and regulations informed by these assessments are expected to be put in place beginning in 2017.

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Jun 22 2015

Red crabs swarm Southern California, linked to ‘warm blob’ in Pacific

La Jolla, California, June 11, 2015. (Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego)

Red crabs, by the thousands, have invaded Southern California beaches, washing ashore from San Diego to Newport Beach.

Sea surface temperatures some 4-7 degrees warmer than normal, possibly connected to a radical change in a Pacific ocean weather pattern, are likely driving the crabs northward away from their typical habitat.

“Experts said the crabs … haven’t been seen in the area for decades,” reported the Orange County Register.

The crabs, resembling miniature lobsters too small to eat, are known as tuna crabs or pelagic red crabs.

“Typically such strandings of these species in large numbers are due to warm water intrusions,” said Linsey Sala of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

The crustaceans usually inhabit the west coast of Baja California, the Gulf of California, and the California Current (spanning from offshore the U.S. West coast down to southern Baja California), a Scripps news release said.

In addition to the crabs, the warm Pacific coastal waters have drawn northward a number of other creatures seldom or never previously seen, which last fall included: a live ocean sunfish and warm-water blue shark in the Gulf of Alaska, mahi mahi off the coast of Oregon, a Pacific sea turtle common in the Galapagos near San Francisco, and marlin in the waters off Southern California.

“In recent weeks, blue, jellyfish-like creatures known as ‘by-the-wind sailors’ have been spotted, and tropical fish like yellowtail and bluefin tuna are showing up earlier than normal this year,” the Orange County Register said.

The warm plume of water developed in the spring of 2014.

Sea surface temperature difference from normal June 15, 2015 (NOAA)

Nick Bond, a climatologist at the University of Washington, dubbed it “the blob” and published a study exploring its origins. “[The study] finds that it relates to a persistent high-pressure ridge that caused a calmer ocean during the past two winters, so less heat was lost to cold air above,” explained a University of Washington news release. “The warmer temperatures we see now aren’t due to more heating, but less winter cooling.”

The blob has been linked to the weather pattern that has led to drought in California, and much colder than normal conditions during winter in the eastern U.S. the past two years.

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Jun 19 2015

West Coast Fish Species Recovers Decades Ahead Of Schedule

fishFishery managers say canary rockfish have recovered from being overfished decades ahead of schedule.

Fishery managers say two valuable West Coast groundfish have recovered ahead of schedule: canary rockfish and petrale sole.

That’s good news for the fishing industry. The fleet has been restricted from catching healthy stocks of fish that swim alongside these protected species at the bottom of the ocean.

For more than a decade, canary rockfish have been what’s considered a “choke” species. That is, protecting them choked off fishing access to other valuable species like Dover sole and black cod.

There were so few canaries left, no one was allowed to catch very many, according to John DeVore, a groundfish manager with the Pacific Fishery Management Council. Assessments in 2000 found the canary rockfish population was down to 6.6 percent of the “unfished biomass” or what it was estimated to be before people started fishing it. It was hard to catch other fish at the bottom of the ocean without the risk of also catching a canary.

“It really affected our fisheries as dramatically as any species ever has,” he said. “These fish tend to be found in lots of different places. A lot of our conservation management measures were affected by canary rockfish.”

Efforts to rebuild canary rockfish led managers to close entire sections of the ocean to fishing. They also contributed to a total redesign of the commercial trawl fishery. The new fishery gives fishing boats ownership shares of the available catch. It’s designed to give fishers a financial incentive to avoid protected species like canary rockfish. The latest assessment shows canary rockfish have increased by roughly sixfold since 2000.

Managers didn’t expect the canaries to rebound until 2057. So, they’re way ahead of schedule. Another valuable ground fish, petrale sole, was declared overfished five years ago. And stock assessments show it’s already rebuilt as well.

Other species, including yelloweye rockfish, are still considered overfished. But fishermen say they’re looking forward to having fewer restrictions and higher catch limits now that two key species have been restored.

Brad Pettinger, director of the Oregon Trawl Commission, said at one point the canary rockfish catch limit for the entire West Coast was just 40 tons while the limits for other species were 10,000-20,000 tons. If the fleet caught too many canaries while targeting other fish, the entire fishery would be shut down.

“We used to catch 400,000 tons of canary rockfish back in the heyday,” he said. “It’s not like we want to go out and catch that many as soon as it’s rebuilt, but this should open up a lot of opportunity to catch other fish. It is good news, and we’re darn thankful.”

The process of protecting and rebuilding overfished stocks has taken a big toll on the number of groundfish boats in operation on the West Coast. Before 1994, Pettinger said, there were 500 trawl vessels catching groundfish. Now, he said, the fleet is down to about 70 boats coastwide.

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