Archive for September, 2015

Sep 23 2015

‘The Blob’ Fueling Drastic Changes Under The Sea Ahead Of El Niño

It’s the crack of dawn on a recent morning at Fisherman’s Landing in Point Loma, and the docks are bustling.

Dozens of enthusiastic anglers have just returned with a boatload of bluefin tuna, dorado and yellowtail.

It’s been a banner season, said Andrew Dalo, who books reservations for Point Loma Sportfishing.

“I’ve got overnight and day-and-a-half boats that are catching 100- to almost 200-pound bluefin tuna up off our coast here, out west and up north,” Dalo said. “And that’s stuff that we don’t even normally see up here, let alone go after.”

A group of anglers on a Point Loma Sportfishing expedition pose with their bluefin tuna catches, weighing 100 to 200 pounds each, July 29, 2015.

Point Loma Sportfishing – A group of anglers on a Point Loma Sportfishing expedition pose with their bluefin tuna catches, weighing 100 to 200 pounds each, July 29, 2015.

The tropical fish are typically reeled in off Mexico and far off-shore, Dalo said. Now they’re being hooked as close as 10-20 miles off of San Diego, where water temperatures are exceptionally warm.

“Right now we’re 4 to 5 degrees above normal, which to you and me doesn’t seem like much, but if you’re an animal living in the sea and you live at that temperature — that’s a huge change,” said Toby Garfield, director of the Environmental Research Division at Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla.

The warm water, which scientists have named “the blob,” formed two years ago near Alaska and has spread down the West Coast. Garfield said the warm conditions have sent mother nature into disarray.

“In fact, having this additional warm water has changed the winds a little bit,” Garfield explained. “The upwelling winds really drive the productivity along the California coast. So if you reduce that productivity, you start changing a lot of different parts of the whole ecosystem.”

Much of the fishery population has shifted north, and El Niño hasn’t even arrived yet, said Garfield, who analyzes ocean conditions and reports his findings to the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

“If you go out and do an assessment and you’re not sure where that population is from, you can get some erroneous results in terms of how you’re going to divide up the fisheries,” Garfield said. “And remember, the fish don’t know there’s a Mexican border or Canadian border.”

“We really do have a front row seat on a fascinating change,” Garfield added. “We haven’t seen it this anomalously warm in the record, and at the same time, we’re having a developing El Niño.”

Garfield said he sees two possible scenarios playing out this winter: El Niño’s storm energy will stir up the water, causing the cool water from the ocean depths to mix with and cool the water at the surface.

“That’s one scenario — that it may disappear and will go back to more normal temperatures,” Garfield explained. “The other scenario is that the two will reinforce each other and we’ll have even warmer conditions, and the weather patterns will be different than we expect with a normal El Niño.”

Garfield says additional heat from El Niño could produce storms with higher energy and moisture.

Meanwhile, the telltale signs of current ocean water temperatures from “the blob” have appeared in recent months along San Diego’s shores. The unusual visitors range from hammerhead sharks to tropical fish to millions of red tuna crabs.

“We’ve also seen ‘by the wind sailors’ that have occurred en masse on the shores here on La Jolla and elsewhere,” said David Checkley, a professor of marine biology at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Checkley said the reduction in upwelling of cold water nutrients from the ocean floor has drastically altered the food web.

“At the base of the food chain it’s been observed that the amount of chlorophyll or phytoplankton is lower than normal because we have fewer nutrients brought up into the surface waters,” Checkley said.

Phytoplankton provide food for a wide range of sea creatures including whales, shrimp, snails, and jellyfish, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

“The continued poor health of the California sea lion population is likely due to a lack of forage — anchovy, sardines… perhaps squid,” Checkley said.

An algal bloom occurring along the West Coast from California up to Alaska is also a growing concern.

“Those harmful algal blooms sometimes come with toxins — demoic acid that can poison marine mammals that eat fish that consume those algae,” he said.

Checkley said water temperatures will likely eventually return to normal, but he can’t help but look at the conditions as a harbinger of the future.

“What perhaps is worrisome is if you think of things such as this and a long-term trend in a rise in temperatures associated with the climate warming or climate change,” Checkley said.

He predicts some sea creatures will suffer through El Niño.

“The winners are the recreational fishermen,” Checkley said.

San Diego’s sportfishing season usually wraps up in September, but not this year.

“We’re hoping this stuff stays around,” Dalo said. “If it stays up here, we can fish in U.S. waters. You bet. We’ll fish into October. We’ll fish into November.”


This map of the West Coast shows sea surface temperature anomalies in the Pacific Ocean in March 2015. They show how much above (red) or below (blue) water temperatures were compared to the long-term average from 2003 to 2012.

NASA – This map of the West Coast shows sea surface temperature anomalies in the Pacific Ocean in March 2015. They show how much above (red) or below (blue) water temperatures were compared to the long-term average from 2003 to 2012.

Tuna crabs blanket the shoreline at Ocean Beach in San Diego, June 12, 2015. By Susan Murphy – Tuna crabs blanket the shoreline at Ocean Beach in San Diego, June 12, 2015.

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Sep 17 2015

Monterey Bay fishermen secure $1M in fishing rights

fishingThe bright afternoon sun beats down on a fisherman as he casts his line off the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf on Tuesday. (Kevin Johnson — Santa Cruz Sentinel)

MONTEREY >> A big benefit for the local community, Monterey Bay anglers now will have permanent access to more than $1 million in commercial groundfish fishing quota thanks to a recent acquisition by the Monterey Bay Fish Trust.

“Oftentimes, it is extremely difficult to get quota,” said Giuseppe Pennisi, a local commercial fisherman. “Having access to quota is the only way that we can fish consistently.”

West Coast groundfish numbers have struggled for years, and so have the livelihoods of many fishermen with it. More than a decade after the federal government declared the groundfish fishery a disaster, new regulations rolled out to help the fish and fishermen rebound.

Since 2011, the fishery has been subject to a “catch share” system. Now fisherman no longer have to race against one another, trying to catch as many fish as possible before the entire fishery’s quota is reached. Instead, they’re allotted a share of the quota and can fish at their own speed.

The program, which is highly regulated and includes a bycatch quota as well, has been successful in terms of conservation. In 2014, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program upgraded 21 groundfish species from the “avoid” list to “good alterative” or “best choice.”

But a concern of the “catch share” system is that fisherman can sell their quota allocations on the open market to the highest bidder. It leaves smaller fishing communities like the Monterey Bay in jeopardy of losing out to bigger markets and businesses in the Pacific Northwest that have more money to buy the quota shares.

“The big fish companies hoard their fishing quotas, which then become unavailable to independent fishermen,” Pennisi said.

To protect local fishing businesses, the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust was created to manage and lease groundfish quota to fishermen here, while working to improve the economic and environmental aspects of the fishery.

The nonprofit secured the $1 million in fishing rights from the Nature Conservancy, which purchased quota shares from willing sellers to lease them back to local fisherman who operate more sustainably before the “catch share” system — and a cap on the amount of shares any individual or entity can hold — was implemented. So the Nature Conservancy has been divesting shares to local community organizations focused on conservation as well.

“Now local fishermen will know that they have access to this supply of quota, they don’t have to compete for it on the open market and they don’t have to compete with bigger businesses,” said Sherry Flumerfelt, executive director of Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust.

The acquisition equates to about 4.2 million pounds of different groundfish species, including sable fish, rockfish and petrale sole. Though the amount is a major boost for Monterey Bay fishing industry, commercial fishers still can’t afford all the quota shares they need.

“It sounds like an awful lot and it’s a good start, but it’s not enough,” Flumerfelt said. “We’re looking to buy more.”

Last month, the Monterey City Council allocated $225,000 to purchase additional groundfish quota.

Monterey Bay fishermen need an estimated 6 million to 10 million pounds worth of quota to maintain a sustainable economy. However, it’s a tricky number to pin down because some species of groundfish are worth more than others.

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Sep 11 2015

Zeke Grader, Lifetime Advocate for Fish and Fishermen, Died at 68


Zeke Grader, who was born into the fishing industry, spent a lifetime representing fishermen and was a staunch advocate for sustainable seafood, died Monday of pancreatic cancer at a San Francisco hospice. The longtime Sausalito resident was 68.

For almost 40 years, Mr. Grader served as executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, the largest trade group of commercial fishermen on the West Coast. He retired this summer. Since 1992, he had also been executive director of the Institute for Fisheries Resources.

“There are a lot of guys who would say that there wouldn’t have been any small boat commercial salmon fishermen for 20 years at least if not for Zeke Grader,” said Tim Sloane, who took over Grader’s post as head of the Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “He built bridges between fishermen, policy folks, environmentalists and the scientific community. His ability to unite people around preserving the fisheries was unmatched.”

The son of a Fort Bragg fish broker, Mr. Grader was an early advocate of seafood sustainability, and was particularly passionate about protecting wild salmon.

“I think it was not so much a conscious decision of wanting to be a conservationist or an environmentalist; it was simply an economic necessity,” he once said in an interview with the Seafood Choices Alliance. “It was pretty clear to myself and a number of others that it didn’t matter what government or others did. If you didn’t have fish, you didn’t have fishing.”

At a tribute to Mr. Grader at the Bay Model in Sausalito in April, Rep. Jared Huffman recalled Mr. Grader’s 2009 appearance on Sean Hannity’s conservative Fox News show. Hannity argued on behalf of government-subsidized fish farmers while Mr. Grader spoke forcefully for North Coast commercial fishermen.

“Sean Hannity barely got a word in,” Huffman told the amused gathering.

The congressman also commended Mr. Grader for helping stop the expansion of offshore oil drilling on the North Coast and for his role in the legal action to restore the San Joaquin River.

Former congressman and secretary of state Leon Panetta spoke in a video tribute. In his blog, Lee Crockett of the Pew Charitable Trust quoted Panetta as saying, “If our oceans are the salt in our veins, Zeke Grader is the fire in our spirit.”

Environmental journalist Dan Bacher wrote in the liberal political blog the Daily Kos that Mr. Grader “was one of the most quotable and witty people I’ve ever met.” He recalled his trenchant response to a 2006 federal government attempt to close the North Coast salmon season, ostensibly to protect the Klamath River.

Bacher wrote:“Zeke pointed out that without efforts to address the root causes of the salmon fishery’s decline, ‘Putting fish back into a river that’s killing them makes as much sense as tossing virgins into a volcano.”

Mr. Grader’s wife of 40 years, Sausalito attorney Lois Prentice, said that her husband was tireless in his efforts to protect the world’s oceans and rivers. Before he became ill, she said, “He was working on forming a worldwide organization for fisheries, to fight for clean water and against pollution. As a result, it would have a lot of clout and get a lot more done.”

A Marine Corps veteran, Mr. Grader was a graduate of Sonoma State University and earned a law degree from the University of San Francisco.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his mother, Geraldine Grader of Fort Bragg, sisters Allison Grader of Reston, Virginia, and Lindsay Grader of Sacramento, and a brother, Samuel Grader of Fort Bragg.

A memorial is being planned.

Sep 6 2015

Massive Fish Farm Proposed Off San Diego’s Coast

Don Kent peers into a water tank about the size of a backyard swimming pool and watches as a school of 10 yellowtails swim by, each about 4 feet long.

“There are some big guys in there. There they come,” he said. “That’s a big fish right there.”

I ask if he has names for them.

“I try not to have names for things I eat,” he said.

Kent won’t be eating these fish, but he hopes we’ll all be chowing down on their offspring in a few years.

Kent is president and CEO of the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, a research nonprofit partially funded by SeaWorld. Hubbs-SeaWorld is partnering with a private investment firm to create the largest fish farm in America.

The proposed Rose Canyon Fisheries aquaculture project would be built 4 miles off San Diego’s coast. It could have a footprint on the ocean floor that’s slightly smaller than Balboa Park, and could produce 11 million pounds of yellowtail and sea bass each year.

Kent said this country needs the project because 91 percent of its seafood is imported, and countries like China that produce a lot of fish are now keeping more for themselves.

“The price of seafood is going up higher and higher for people like us who have to import it,” he said. “So the big advantage we have over those other supplies is from the fact that we can grow it locally.”

But some environmentalists equate it to a large industrial farm.


The proposed location of the Rose Canyon Fisheries aquaculture project off San Diego’s coast.

How big is it?

Rose Canyon Fisheries would consist of 48 cages, each about 11,000 cubic meters, or 4.4 olympic swimming pools.


Potential designs of the fish cages in the proposed Rose Canyon Fisheries aquaculture project.

The cages would be divided into two grids that together cover an area about the same size as the parking lot around Qualcomm stadium.

Anchor lines would run from the cages to the bottom of the ocean. Those lines extend out, so the project’s footprint on the ocean floor would cover about 1.3 square miles.

The project would span the waters from Sunset Cliffs to Pacific Beach. Its cages could have poles that extend 16 feet above the water, but Kent said we won’t see them from shore. He has computer modeling that shows the cages will be below the horizon.

To test that out, I did some trigonometry. My calculations showed if you’re lying on the ground at the ocean’s edge, you’d see the top third of a 16-foot pole. If you’re standing up, you could see more.

Environmental group San Diego Coastkeeper is concerned about the scale of the project. They took out their boat 4 miles off of Ocean Beach and held up a pole. I went to Sunset Cliffs and looked for it.

The boat was visible, but looked like a small dot on the horizon. So passersby could maybe see a grid of 42 poles, but they also might not notice them.

Environmental concerns

Matt O’Malley, a lawyer with San Diego Coastkeeper, also took me out on the boat to the spot where Rose Canyon Fisheries would go. After 45 minutes of riding through very choppy waters, he cut the engine.

“You come out to a place like this, you can see how quiet, how pristine, how beautiful it is,” he said. Then he looked at the houses on shore.

“You just know that some of these people are going to be out here looking at this,” he said.

But O’Malley’s problems don’t end with beach homes’ views.

“We’re talking about putting a floating factory farm right off the coast of San Diego,” he said.

Matt O'Malley, a lawyer with San Diego Coastkeeper, takes a boat with Chris Gunst to the proposed location of Rose Canyon Fisheries, July 27, 2015.

Matt O’Malley, a lawyer with San Diego Coastkeeper, takes a boat with Chris Gunst to the proposed location of Rose Canyon Fisheries, July 27, 2015.

O’Malley points out 11 million pounds of fish would create a lot of, well, fish poop, and said that waste could change the chemistry in the water below the farm and on the ocean floor, and could lead to algae blooms.

He also worries fish could escape the cages and spread diseases or breed with wild populations, hurting genetic diversity. Plus, he worries seals and sea lions would be attracted to all of those caged fish and get entangled in nets and ropes, and that the farm could change whale migrations and wild fish behavior.

Kent with the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute doesn’t dispute calling the project an industrial farm, but doesn’t see that as a negative.

“If people were to sit down to their breakfast and say, I’m not going to eat anything farmed, then it’s going to be a pretty light breakfast,” he said.

He said Rose Canyon Fisheries won’t hurt the environment. The project would use thick rope lines and plastic nets that won’t entangle marine mammals, he said. He also described computer modeling that shows the farm is in deep enough water to dilute the fish poop. The cages are designed so the fish won’t escape, he said, and even if they did they won’t have diseases to spread.

As for the inbreeding concern, he said the farm’s fish would be offspring of wild fish and that the farmed fish would be harvested before they breed with each other.

“You can create a brood stock bred for faster growth, but before we go down that road, we want to make sure escapement isn’t a problem,” he said. “We want to be sure inbred fish isn’t a threat to wild population.”

New ground for federal agencies

Kent said he’d scale up Rose Canyon Fisheries slowly over eight years and monitor its environmental impacts along the way.

But the project’s permits are for its full size. So if it’s approved, it could begin churning out more fish before the impacts are fully known.

While there are other fish farms in the United States, this is the first on this scale that will be built in federal waters, said Diane Windham, the 3rd Regional Aquaculture Coordinator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That means federal agencies, not California, will have ultimate authority over it.


Rose Canyon EPA Permit

Rose Canyon EPA Permit

The application for an EPA permit from Rose Canyon Fisheries.


But because Rose Canyon Fisheries is the first of its kind, there is not an established system for which agency will review its permits.

“There was a fairly lengthy, I don’t want to say debate, but thoughtful discussion about who should lead this,” Windham said.

It was recently decided that the Environmental Protection Agency will review whether the project follows the National Environmental Policy Act, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) adding input. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the California Coastal Commission will also likely review portions of the project.

“A lot of people would assume NOAA has permitting authority because aquaculture is one of our national priorities and have a lot of expertise,” Windham said. “Everyone is learning as they go. This project definitely brought the issue to light as to why doesn’t NOAA have permitting authority and how could that be achieved.”

She said federal legislation could give her agency control over aquaculture projects. Right now the only proposed legislation regarding aquaculture is a bill from an Alaska congressman to ban fish farming entirely from federal waters.

NOAA has long been pushing for aquaculture projects in federal waters because state regulations are generally stricter, said food journalist Paul Greenberg.

The idea is to “go around state regulatory processes and speed up the process,” he said.

O’Malley with Coastkeeper called the permitting system a “regulatory black hole” and said Coastkeeper will do whatever it can to ensure the project is vetted, including suing if necessary.

“This is our backyard and this is a project that’s massive, and has a lot of potential impact,” he said. “We think as a community, if we’re going to be embarking on a project like this, we want to make damn sure the environment is protected in the process.”

Seafood swap

Kent hopes the project is approved soon to correct what he calls America’s seafood imbalance: exports to the U.S. are dwindling as the global population grows and more people eat fish.

But the United States does produce some fish. It’s just that Americans don’t always want to eat it. While 91 percent of this country’s seafood is imported, about one-third of the seafood Americans catch is sold to other countries.


A school of yellowtail swim in this undated photo.

That’s because imported seafood is often cheaper, and Americans tend to prefer the taste of foreign fish to the fish native to our coasts, journalist Greenberg said. His book American Catch describes a seafood swap.

“We tend to export stronger tasting things like mackerel, black cod, a lot of squid, and then we import shrimp, tilapia, neutral tasting things we can kind of deep fry and use in the American-palate-friendly sandwich,” he said.

Aquaculture can help correct this imbalance, but “rather than trying to start up new and complicated ventures, first off let’s try to eat the fish we’ve already got,” Greenberg said.

But aquaculture solves more global problems than Americans not liking fishy fish, Kent said.

“There’s 7 billion people on earth now and there’s going to be 9 billion people in your lifetime, very soon,” he said. “How are we going to feed those extra 2 billion people?”

One way to do that is through aquaculture, he said.

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Sep 6 2015

Estero Bay, Pismo Beach are hotspots for shark bites on otters, study finds

Sea otters rest just inside the mouth of the Morro Bay harbor. JOE JOHNSTON — |Buy Photo


White sharks are taking a heavy toll on California’s sea otter population.

A recent article for the journal Marine Mammal Science concluded that the Estero Bay and Pismo Beach areas are hotspots for shark bites on sea otters. The article written by four sea otter biologists noted an eightfold increase in shark bites along the sea otters’ southern range, which stretches from Cayucos to Point Conception.

“Over the past 10 to 15 years the number of shark-bitten sea otters in California has increased with shark-related injuries becoming the most frequently identified primary cause of death in the assemblage of beach-cast carcasses,” the article concluded.

White shark bites now are found on more than 50 percent of recovered otter carcasses, the study said.

The trend is puzzling because sea otters are not considered a prey species for white sharks. The biologists concluded that the bites, while fatal, were exploratory only and the sharks did not intend to eat the otters.

The trend is also troubling because it threatens to stop the recovery of sea otters in California, said Mike Harris, a sea otter biologist in Morro Bay with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, who co-wrote the article.

“It’s happening in the part of the otters’ range in the north and south where we need population growth,” he said. “Shark-bite mortality is essentially keeping the otter population from expanding into new habitat.”

The trend shows no sign of letting up. On Monday, Harris recovered a shark-bitten sea otter carcass from Morro Strand State Beach, not far from where a shark bit a chunk out of a woman’s surfboard on Saturday.

California sea otters range from Pigeon Point south of San Francisco in the north to Point Conception in the south. A census in 2014 put the otter population at 2,944, up five animals from the previous year.

Sea otters are making a slow recovery after being hunted to near extinction for their luxurious fur during the 18th and 19th centuries. A small colony survived in Big Sur.

In addition to shark bites, sea otters suffer from many other causes of death, including microbial toxins from polluted runoff and brain infections contracted from the feces of wild and domestic cats.

The animals have been listed since 1977 as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. Their population would have to exceed 3,090 for three consecutive years to have them removed from the list.

In the heart of their range, from Monterey to Cayucos, the otter population is stable and at the carrying capacity of their habitat. However, otter populations in the southern extent of their range have dropped by 3.3 percent in the past five years, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, which conducts an annual sea otter population count.

The cause of this increased shark-bite mortality is unclear, Harris said. The most common explanation is that the population of white sharks is increasing, although there is little data to corroborate that.

White sharks have been fully protected in California since 1994. The sharks feed primarily on seals, which are thriving. Northern elephant seals, sea lions and harbor seals have all experienced population increases in recent decades.

“Their main prey base is very robust and growing,” Harris said.

A 2014 study put the shark population at 2,400.

The authors of the article studied the reports on 1,870 otter carcasses collected since 1985. A sharp increase in shark bites on otters began in 2003.

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Sep 3 2015

Restaurants Begin Pilot Program Dock to Dish in Southern California

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

Copyright © 2015

Seafood News


Nearly 100 pounds of gleaming, fresh-caught California yellowtail and white sea bass arrived at Chef Michael Cimarusti’s Los Angeles-based restaurant Providence on Wednesday morning. But this wasn’t just another ho-hum seafood delivery.

The pile of fish marks an important step toward a fundamentally different way that prominent chefs are beginning to source American seafood: the restaurant-supported fishery.

Call it an evolutionary leap from community-supported-agriculture programs, which support local farmers, and community-supported fisheries, which support small-scale fishermen. Both models rely on members who share the risks of food production by pre-buying weekly subscriptions.

But chefs buy seafood in quantities that dwarf what individuals or families can purchase, so restaurant-supported fisheries could take the concept to a whole new level.

Cimarusti is acting as the pilot chef for California’s first such fishery, run by an organization called Dock To Dish.

[Dock to Dish started a restaurant program in New York in 2014.  Last year in New York restaurants paid $2,500 per month for a weekly delivery of 100 pounds. On the East Coast, they get 50 pounds of premium catch, which might include scallops, striped bass or bigeye tuna, and 50 pounds of bycatch, like porgy, skate or sea robin.]
To start, Cimarusti has agreed to buy at least 300 pounds of whole, unprocessed, fresh seafood a month from 16 Santa Barbara-based fishermen participating in the program — approximately a four-day supply for his restaurant.

Cimarusti is a longtime advocate for sustainable seafood. Participating in the program guarantees he’ll have consistent access to the freshest California fish available, caught by small-scale fishermen using sustainable gear including hook and line, traps and spear. What the chef won’t have is any control over the species that will land in his kitchen each week.

“With this model, the chefs aren’t telling us what they want — whether it’s good weather or fish are biting,” says 39-year-old fisherman Eric Hodge. Instead, Hodge and other local fishermen will supply Cimarusti and future participating chefs with whatever nature, skill, and a little luck land for them each week. And because the chefs will buy the fish whole, hours of intense labor — cleaning, gutting and filleting — will now fall to restaurant kitchen staff, instead of the fishermen.

This week, Cimarusti is scoring some gorgeous yellowtail and white sea bass. But at other times there’s a strong possibility the chef may have to persuade his customers to choose less familiar, but locally caught, sheepshead or shovelnose guitarfish instead of the usual halibut or salmon. And species like mackerel, anchovies and market squid — which diners might think of as bait — may also end up on his menu frequently. He’ll have to think fast on his feet about how to transform the unfamiliar into the enticing.

Fisherman Eric Hodge is participating in the pilot Dock to Dish program in California. “We have a 10-year repertoire of dishes we can call upon,” says Cimarusti. “Necessity is the mother of invention. Maybe the excitement of bringing in all these new things will spark inspiration. When 75 pounds of fish shows up at the back door and you have to do something with it, it’s an exciting challenge.”

The idea behind the restaurant-supported fishery isn’t only about moving chefs away from the mostly imported seafood we typically eat: shrimp, tuna, tilapia and farmed salmon. For fishermen like Hodge, it means he will be able to consistently sell his catch at a higher price than he can get from a wholesaler, enabling him to keep the Myrna Louise, his 17-foot, biodiesel-powered skiff named for his mother, afloat. And that’s a compelling draw for Cimarusti.

“I’m so often asked about issues of seafood sustainability, and I always feel that it’s incredibly important. But the side that is seldom discussed is about those who rely on the sea to make their living. We’re hoping to keep American fishermen on the water,” says Cimarusti.

While Cimarusti is testing the waters on the concept in LA, it’s already a success in New York, where Dock to Dish co-founder Sean Barrett launched the restaurant program in 2013. Today, 15 chefs — including powerhouses like Dan Barber, April Bloomfield and Eric Ripert — pay $3,225 a month for 300 pounds of locally caught fish. More than 60 restaurants are on the waiting list clamoring for a spot, including Craft Restaurant, owned by celebrity chef Tom Colicchio.

Paul Greenberg says the decline of local fish markets, and the resulting sequestration of seafood to a corner of our supermarkets, has contributed to “the facelessness and comodification of seafood.” THE SALT ‘The Great Fish Swap’: How America Is Downgrading Its Seafood Supply Chef Dan Barber, of Blue Hill restaurant and author of The Third Plate, says the entire concept of moving a CSF-style program to the restaurant level isn’t simply about chefs having a more diverse seafood menu or about fishermen catching “fish at the best possible moment, because they’ll know they have a market for it and will get paid extra for it.” He says Dock to Dish radically upends the economic model for how fish are sold and distributed.

“This is a different paradigm — and it’s a little bit shocking” for chefs, says Barber. He says it’s very likely that a chef could, at some point, end up with a week of sardines and anchovies.

Barrett is confident the idea will flourish in LA, and he has partnered with Sarah Rathbone, co-founder of Community Seafood in Santa Barbara, to run the program. Rathbone has been operating a CSF with local fishermen for several years. She and Barrett decided to partner on bringing Dock to Dish to the West Coast after meeting at a sustainable seafood conference two years ago.

Rathbone says they won’t sign up other chefs until the pilot program with Cimarusti has had time to work out any problems, but excitement over the concept is already growing.

“I was approached by a chef from a restaurant who wanted to be part of the program. He said, ‘Tell me what you want me to do? Do I need to audition for you?'” says Rathbone. “That immediately touched me and shows the love for what we do.”

Keith and Tiffani Andrews fish for ridgeback shrimp on the fishing vessel Alamo. Keith and Tiffani Andrews fish for ridgeback shrimp on the fishing vessel Alamo. Courtesy of Sarah Rathbone/Community Seafood Barrett says there’s huge demand for dock-to-dish-style seafood. But unlike Chefs Collaborative, a nonprofit that promotes the use of underutilized fish by holding a series of “Trash Fish Dinners,” Barrett is adamant that the term “trash fish” undermines the value of these lesser-known species. (He isn’t alone.)

He says the restaurant-supported-fishery model elevates those fish from trash to treasures, by making them the centerpieces of fine dining — while also supporting American fishermen.

“Diners want a good seafood dish, but they want to feel good about it, too, and this aligns with their values,” he says.

Clare Leschin-Hoar is a journalist based in San Diego who covers food policy and sustainability issues.

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Sep 3 2015

D.B. PLESCHNER: Recent Fishery Study Debunked by 1,400 Years of Data

September 2, 2015 — The following op-ed by D.B. Pleschner was submitted to Saving Seafood:

In an article in International Business Times (August 5, 2015), Aditya Tejas quoted researcher Malin Pinsky in his recently published paper that claims smaller, faster-growing fish like sardines and anchovies are more vulnerable to population collapses than larger fish.

“Climate variations or natural boom-and-bust cycles contribute to population fluctuation in small fast-growing fish,” Pinsky said, “but when they are not overfished, our data showed that their populations didn’t have any more tendency to collapse than other fish.” He called these findings counterintuitive because the opposite dynamic holds true on land: “Mice thrive while lions, tigers and elephants are endangered,” he said.

While it’s common these days to blame the ocean’s woes on overfishing, the truth is Pinsky’s conclusions don’t paint a complete picture. Fortunately, we do have an accurate picture and it’s definitely better than the proverbial thousand words.

The picture is a graph (adapted from Baumgartner et al in CalCOFI Reports 1992, attached) that shows sardine booms and busts for the past 1,400 years. The data were extracted from an anaerobic trench in the Santa Barbara Channel which correlated sardine and anchovy recoveries and collapses with oceanic cycles.


It’s important to note that most of sardine collapses in this timeframe occurred when there was virtually no commercial fishing. The best science now attributes great fluctuations and collapses experienced by sardines to be part of a natural cycle.

“Pinsky has never been a terrestrial biologist or naturalist or he would have known that small rodents have boom and bust cycles brought about by combinations of environmental conditions and the mice’s early maturity and high fecundity rates,” says Dr. Richard Parrish, an expert in population dynamics now retired from the National Marine Fisheries Service, .

“All fish stocks show boom and bust cycles in recruitment unrelated to fishing,” says Dr. Ray Hilborn, internationally respected fisheries scientist from the University of Washington. “Sardines in particular have been shown to have very great fluctuations and collapses long before commercial fishing. Fast growing, short-lived species will be much more likely to decline to a level called “collapse” when recruitment fluctuates because they are short lived — longer lived species won’t decline as much.”

As a further poke in the eye to the truth, Pinsky cites sardines off the coast of Southern California as a species that has seen fluctuations for thousands of years, but “not at the levels that they’ve experienced in recent decades due to overfishing.”

Again, this simply is not true.

Since the fishery reopened in 1987, Pacific sardines have been perhaps the best-managed fishery in the world – the poster fish for effective ecosystem-based management. The current harvest control rule, updated to be even more precautionary in 2014, sets a strict harvest guideline that considers ocean conditions and automatically reduces the catch limit as the biomass declines.

If the temperature is cold – which scientists believe hampers sardine recruitment – the harvest is reduced. And if the population size declines, both the harvest rate and the allowable catch will automatically decrease, and directed fishing will be stopped entirely when biomass declines below 150,000 mt.

In fact, the current sardine harvest rule is actually more precautionary than the original rule it replaced. It does this by producing an average long-term population size at 75 percent of the unfished size, leaving even more fish in the water, vs. 67 percent in the original rule. The original harvest rule reduced the minimum harvest rate to 5 percent during cold periods. The present has a minimum rate of 0 percent during cold periods.

Compare this to the 1940s and ’50s when the fishery harvest averaged 43 percent or more of the standing sardine stock with little regulatory oversight and no limit on the annual catch. This, coupled with unfavorable ocean conditions, culminated in the historic sardine fishery collapse that devastated Monterey’s Cannery Row.

But that was nearly 70 years ago, not “recent decades.” Our current fishery harvest is less than a quarter of the rate observed during that historical sardine collapse.

As a scientist, Pinsky should be aware of the complex, proactive management efforts that have been in place for decades to prevent overfishing in California and the west coast. He should also be aware of the data from Baumgartner that contradicts his faulty conclusions.

D.B. Pleschner is executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association, a nonprofit dedicated to research and to promote sustainable Wetfish resources.

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Sep 2 2015

Climate change will irreversibly force key ocean bacteria into overdrive

 Scientists demonstrate that a key organism in the ocean’s food web will start reproducing at high speed as carbon dioxide levels rise, with no way to stop when nutrients become scarce
Trichodesmium thiebautii is a cyanobacterium, or blue-green alga, that forms colonies of cells.
Trichodesmium is one of the few organisms in the ocean that can “fix” atmospheric nitrogen gas. (Photo/Fish and Wildlife Research Institute)

Imagine being in a car with the gas pedal stuck to the floor, heading toward a cliff’s edge. Metaphorically speaking, that’s what climate change will do to the key group of ocean bacteria known as Trichodesmium, scientists have discovered.

Trichodesmium (called “Tricho” for short by researchers) is one of the few organisms in the ocean that can “fix” atmospheric nitrogen gas, making it available to other organisms. It is crucial because all life — from algae to whales — needs nitrogen to grow.

A new study from USC and the Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) shows that changing conditions due to climate change could send Tricho into overdrive with no way to stop — reproducing faster and generating lots more nitrogen. Without the ability to slow down, however, Tricho has the potential to gobble up all its available resources, which could trigger die-offs of the microorganism and the higher organisms that depend on it.

Amped-up bacteria

By breeding hundreds of generations of the bacteria over the course of nearly five years in high-carbon dioxide ocean conditions predicted for the year 2100, researchers found that increased ocean acidification evolved Tricho to work harder, producing 50 percent more nitrogen, and grow faster.

The problem is that these amped-up bacteria can’t turn it off even when they are placed in conditions with less carbon dioxide. Further, the adaptation can’t be reversed over time — something not seen before by evolutionary biologists, and worrisome to marine biologists, according to David Hutchins, lead author of the study.

“Losing the ability to regulate your growth rate is not a healthy thing,” said Hutchins, professor at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “The last thing you want is to be stuck with these high growth rates when there aren’t enough nutrients to go around. It’s a losing strategy in the struggle to survive.”

Tricho needs phosphorous and iron, which also exist in the ocean in limited supply. With no way to regulate its growth, the turbo-boosted Tricho could burn through all of its available nutrients too quickly and abruptly die off, which would be catastrophic for all other life forms in the ocean that need the nitrogen it would have produced to survive.

Some models predict that increasing ocean acidification will exacerbate the problem of nutrient scarcity by increasing stratification of the ocean — locking key nutrients away from the organisms that need them to survive.

What the future may hold

Hutchins is collaborating with Eric bbb of USC Dornsife and Mak Saito of WHOI to gain a better understanding of what the future ocean will look like, as it continues to be shaped by climate change. They were shocked by the discovery of an evolutionary change that appears to be permanent — something Hutchins described as “unprecedented.”

Tricho has been studied for ages. Nobody expected that it could do something so bizarre,” he said. “The evolutionary biologists are interested in it just to study this as a basic evolutionary principle.”

The team is now studying the DNA of Tricho to try to find out how and why the irreversible evolution occurs. Earlier this year, research led by Webb found that the organism’s DNA inexplicably contains elements that are usually only seen in higher life forms.

“Our results in this and the aforementioned study are truly surprising. Furthermore, they are giving us an improved view of how global climate change will impact Trichodesmium and the vital supplies of new nitrogen it provides to the rest of the marine food web in the future.” Webb said.

The research appears in Nature Communications on Sept. 1.

Hutchins, Webb and Saito collaborated with Nathan Walworth, Jasmine Gale and Fei-Xue Fu of USC; and Dawn Moran and Matthew McIlvin of WHOI. The work was funded by the National Science Foundation (grants OCE 1260490, OCE 1143760, OCE 1260233 and OCE OA 1220484); and the G.B. Moore Foundation (grants 3782 and 3934).

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Sep 2 2015

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary counts its victories.

 Point Sur Light Station: The Point Sur Light Station looks out over Point Sur State Marine Reserve, the most protected kind of marine protected area. – NOAA MBNMS


Nature shows so often follow the same script: The earth is amazing, but we humans are ruining it.

Big Blue Live, a PBS/BBC production, flips that script. It toasts Monterey Bay as a conservation success, a case study of how science-based ocean management is allowing a highly degraded ocean habitat to rebound.

That resilience will be on full, high-definition display when the show airs real-time footage of Monterey Bay sea life in the U.S. Aug. 31-Sept. 2.

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS), which is co-hosting with Monterey Bay Aquarium, is taking the occasion to count its victories since its 1992 designation, which brought with it a host of federal protections.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s latest status report on MBNMS includes some encouraging news, announced in a press release today. Among the highlights:

– Populations of elephant seals, blue whales and gray whales are stable or increasing. The sanctuary now counts more than 30,000 resident elephant seals, which were once close to extinction. Humpback whale numbers have bounced back so well, the local sub-population is proposed for removal from the endangered species list.

– Sea-floor habitats in and near the Davidson Seamount, an underwater mountain about 75 miles southwest of Monterey, are almost “pristine.”

– The kelp forests that shelter and feed many of Monterey Bay’s marine creatures are “generally abundant and stable.”

– Abundant forage species are feeding both marine animals and people. Fishermen have landed more than a billion pounds of sardines, anchovies and squid since the sanctuary was designated 23 years ago. That includes a local squid harvest of 90 million pounds last year alone.

– Brown pelicans made it off the federal endangered species list in 2009, rebounding from a low of less than 1,000 breeding pairs in the 1970s to almost 11,700 regional pairs in 2006.

– Southern sea otters have bounced back from about 1,800 to 2,900 within the sanctuary since 1992. That’s great for other kelp-forest species, since otters eat the sea urchins that mow down kelp.

– Local beaches are cleaner, thanks to sewer system improvements and reduced stormwater runoff.

The report, however, is not entirely rosy. Sewage spills and high coliform counts still occasionally pollute local beaches. Regulators are still finding contaminants in local waters. Marine animals are getting tangled in fishing gear and eating plastic litter, while sand mining continues to erode the Monterey Bay shoreline.

And climate change continues to threaten the sea—especially ocean acidification, which happens when elevated CO2 levels from fossil fuel burning cause the ocean’s pH to decline. That chemical shift is affecting the ability of some creatures to form or maintain their shells, which has ripple effects through the food web.

The full report, according to NOAA, will be available online this fall.

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Sep 1 2015

Ray Hilborn Says Recent Science Paper Makes Inflated Claim about Human Impacts on Marine Species

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

Copyright © 2015

Seafood News

Ray Hilborn sent a note regarding his comment on a paper in the August 21st issue of Science Magazine that makes the claim that humans take up to 14 times the amount of marine fish as other predators do.  The extrapolation is that humans are a super predator of marine life, and take an unsustainable proportion of the adult population of various species.

Ray says the authors made a mistake in only looking at individual predators and in not considering all predation on a given species.  He says that when all predation is considered, the results reverse themselves, and that natural predators take a larger proportion of adult marine fish than humans do.

His comment is below:

Comment by Ray Hilborn, University of Washington

This paper claims that humans have a up to 14 times higher exploitation rate than natural predators. There is a basic flaw in the analysis which diminishes the validity of the conclusions the authors come to. First the calculated predation rate of natural predators will depend on how many predators you look at. Dozens or even hundreds of species may prey upon a given species, most of them taking a trivial fraction of the prey. If you find data only for the most important predators (the ones that take the most of the prey species) you will estimate a high predation rate, but if you find data for all the species that prey upon a species the median will be much much lower.

In fact there are hundreds of potential predators for any species, most take none of the prey species, so if you had data for all of them you would say that the average predation rate was nearly zero for natural predators. Thus the more data on predation rate for individual species you can find, and the more you find predation data for trivial predators, the lower you will estimate “average” predation. However, if you look at the predators who take the most of the specific prey the fraction of the prey will be much higher and often more than humans.

Chart from Darimont Paper, Science Magazine

The more important question is what is the total predation rate compared to the human exploitation rate? One has to read the Darimont paper carefully to realize they are talking about rates of individual predatory species, not rates of predators as a whole. For instance their abstract says “humans kill adult prey… at much higher median rates than other predators (up to 14 times higher). ” Thus they are comparing the rates of all other predatory species taken one at a time to that of humans. There may be natural predators who have a very high predation rate (higher than humans), but they are masked by the average of other predators with low rates. The clear implication is that we take more adults than do predators. Much of the media coverage interprets their results this way.

This is absolutely not true as shown in the analysis below which shows that humans take about ½ as many adult fish as marine predators.

Chart: Ray Hilborn

To compare the rates of fishing mortality to rates of natural mortality (almost all of which is from predation), I used the RAM Legacy Stock Assessment Data Base ( the same data base used by Dairmont et al. to obtain fishing mortality rates. I selected the 223 fish stocks for which we had both natural mortality and human exploitation rates, and plot the distribution of the two in the graph below. We find that fishing mortality on adult fish is on average roughly ½ of the predation rate — not 14 times higher as the abstract of their paper would leave you to believe. Remember Dairmont were not looking at all of predation, but counting each predator as an individual data point. In aggregate predators take far more adult fish than do humans, but you would not understand that by reading the Dairmont paper.

The authors conclude that argument that globally humans are unsustainable predators. This flies in the face of the fact that we have considerable empirical evidence that we can sustainably harvest fish and wildlife populations. The basic key to sustainable harvesting is keeping the fraction exploited at a level that can be sustained in the long term, and adjusting harvest up and down as populations fluctuate. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations provides the most comprehensive analysis of the status of global fisheries and estimates than about 30% of global fish stocks are overexploited – the other 70% are at levels of abundance that are generally considered sustainable.

Many fisheries are evaluated by independent organizations like the Marine Stewardship Council and Monterey Bay Aquarium and classified as “sustainable” yet Dairmont and co-authors suggest that no fisheries are sustainably managed.

As an example, sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay Alaska have been sustainably managed for over a century, have been evaluated as sustainable by every independent organization, and the key is limiting harvest so that enough fish reach the spawning grounds to replenish the species. In this case humans take about 2/3 of the returning adult salmon – a much higher fraction than the predators, but it is sustainable and stocks are at record abundance.

Darimont and coauthors suggest we need to reduce exploitation pressure by as much as 10 fold. This may be true in some places but in the US we manage fisheries quite successfully. We agree with the authors that management is key to keeping healthy and sustainable populations of fish and wildlife. However, instead of “emulating natural predators” and decreasing human exploitation across the board, we need to work to use our knowledge to expand good management practices to more species and areas of the world.

Dairmont and co authors argue that humans should act more like natural predators, without giving any justification for this. Boris Worm provided a comment also published in the same issue of Science in which he said “we have the unusual ability to analyze and consciously adjust our behavior to minimize deleterious consequences. ” I couldn’t agree more. We manage our fisheries to balance benefits to humans and maintain healthy ecosystems. We know how to sustainably manage fisheries and wildlife and in many places are doing a very good job at it.

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