Archive for November, 2015

Nov 27 2015

El Nino pushes California calamari landings down

calamarilandingsA stand-up paddler strokes past squid boats anchored off of the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf. (Shmuel Thaler — Santa Cruz Sentinel)

SANTA CRUZ >> After several years of bounty, California’s commercial landings of market squid — the species better known to hungry diners as calamari — are down by about two-thirds compared to this time last year.

The squid are responding to this year’s El Nino conditions, scientists say, but whether their numbers are declining or they’re simply eluding fishermen is unknown, according to California Department of Fish and Wildlife environmental scientist Laura Ryley.

Commercial fishermen brought in about 114,000 tons of market squid last year, generating more than $72 million. That was about 30 percent of California’s commercial fishing income for the year, according to the California Department of Fish and Game. Fishermen landed about 107,000 tons by the end of October last year, compared to only about 34,000 tons by the end of October this year.

“When we look for squid during or shortly after El Nino events, we find less of them,” said Louis Zeidberg, a professor at Cal State Monterey Bay.

El Nino conditions are caused by higher than average surface water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Those higher temperatures may be altering the briny buffet of krill and other small crustaceans that market squid eat, Zeidberg said.

“The simplest conclusion is that what these guys like to eat gets scarcer during El Nino years, and what is there is crappier,” Zeidberg said. “They’re most likely starving to death.”

Fishermen typically catch market squid when they congregate in shallow, near-shore areas to spawn. Some squid may be seeking out cooler, deeper water and evading fishermen in the process, said Ryley.

“We’ve had anecdotal reports from fisherman that they’ve gone deeper,” Ryley said. “They’re deeper than their fishing gear can reach.”

But if market squid deposit their eggs in water that’s too cold, the eggs might take longer than the typical two-week period to develop, said Stanford University biology professor William Gilly.

“Just because the eggs are out of danger doesn’t mean they’re not in another kind of stress,” Gilly said. If eggs take more time to develop, hatchlings may emerge during the wrong season, and the next generation’s life cycle may be thrown out of whack.

Another theory is that market squid move off shore, Ryley said, or they may not be as successful at spawning during El Nino years. There may be a combination of factors at play, Zeidberg said, with some squid starving and the survivors swimming to deeper water.

The decline in market squid landings this year did not catch fishermen by surprise, said Diane Pleschner-Steele, executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association.

“They know when El Nino comes they’re not going to see squid,” Pleschner-Steele said. “We’re resilient, as long as the regulators allow enough flexibility for us to go from one fishery to another.”

Read the original post:

Nov 24 2015

Crab Fishermen Train as First Responders for Entangled Whales

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

Copyright © 2015

Seafood News


SEAFOODNEWS.COM [Mongabay] Kim Smuga-otto – November 24, 2015


Mid-November marks the start of California’s commercial Dungeness crab season and in the month that follows, crab fishermen spend long hours along the coast checking their crab pots, repairing gear, and making the most of the lucrative beginning to the season. Last year the crab industry brought in almost $60 million in profits, most of that garnered in the first 15 days of the season.

But this October, around 100 fishermen from three ports near San Francisco took time away from their preparations to learn a new set of skills — how to identify, report, and monitor humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae), and gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) trapped by fishing gear. The training is part of a larger collaboration between the fishermen, regulators, and conservancy groups to better understand how and where whales are likely to become entangled and what can be done to minimize the harm done to these animals. It’s an attempt by environmental advocates and those who make a living from the ocean to strike a balance that preserves the industry while protecting the world’s largest mammals.

“No one wants to tangle a whale,” crab fisherman Geoff Bettencourt told Mongabay.

But evidence shows that whales regularly get caught by fishing gear or marine debris. According to a detailed study of humpback fluke photographs taken in feeding and mating grounds in the Pacific Ocean, between 20 and 60 percent of the whales’ tails showed scarring patterns that indicated a past entanglement. And crab gear was involved in nearly half of the west coast whale entanglements reported during the past decade, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries.

Bettencourt is a fourth-generation fisherman out of the port of Half Moon Bay, a small town 30 miles south of San Francisco. In his more than 30 years on the ocean, neither he nor any of the other fishermen he knows have seen an entangled whale. But he has seen them in recent TV news stories and knew his industry had to respond. “If the whales are on an upswing, that’s a great thing. We just need to manage the fishing around that,” he said.

This year’s unusually warm ocean waters have brought whales in large numbers to the California coast, as well as a record number of sightings of whales trapped in or dragging fishing gear. So far, 46 entangled whales have been reported, four times the annual average for the entire continental west coast recorded by NOAA Fisheries between 2000 and 2012.

Unlike whale–boat collisions, which often result in a speedy death for the whale, entanglement can be a drawn-out process. Ropes from crab or lobster pots or fishing nets can catch on the whale’s flippers, flukes, or dorsal fin (for humpbacks) or become enmeshed in the baleen plates in its mouth. Dragging the gear can sap the animal’s strength and leave deep cuts in its skin. Large whales entangled in extensive gear have been spotted repeatedly over the course of weeks or months before disappearing and presumably dying. On the U.S. east coast, entanglement is the leading cause of death for large whales.

“One of the biggest problems facing large whale conservation and welfare is whale entanglement,” Michael Moore, a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution veterinary scientist who has studied whales since 1978, told Mongabay.

The possibility of training the Dungeness crab fishermen to be first responders was suggested by Tom Dempsey, a senior fisheries project director for The Nature Conservancy (TNC), at an August informational meeting for crab fishermen hosted in Oakland by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California Ocean Protection Council, and NOAA Fisheries. In 2013, prior to joining TNC, Demspey helped the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance organize the training of 60 fishermen by the National Marine Mammal Entanglement Response Program.

The nationwide network is made up of primarily volunteers ranging from those who have attended an introductory session to learn how to document and report injured whales — level 1 — up to those with extensive hands-on training to maneuver a craft close enough to a whale and to be able to cut through the lines — levels 4 and 5. Dempsey likens the level-1 training the lobster fishermen received to a basic CPR course: they may never use it, but if they do encounter an entangled whale, they’ll know who to contact and to do it right away.

“In the past, we’d get notification [from fishermen spotting an entangled whale] after they had come in at the end of the day, we can’t do anything about that,” Pieter Folkens, a level-4 responder for California’s whale disentanglement program, the California Stranding Network, told Mongabay.

Folkens was invited to discuss the network and its goals at a follow-up meeting for crab fishermen in September. He remembered the meeting starting off with the fishermen expressing a lot of acrimony toward NOAA Fisheries. But as he explained that his organization wasn’t out to vilify the crab-fishing industry and that in fact it wanted the fishermen’s help to reduce entangled whale deaths, the atmosphere began to change. “By the end of the day, they were buying us beers and asking us questions,” he said.

This enthusiasm resulted in the October session held in Half Moon Bay and live-streamed to ports in San Francisco and Bodega Bay, 60 miles north of the city. Justin Viezbicke, the coordinator for the California Stranding Network and a level-4 responder, presented an overview of his organization and ways that the crab fishermen could help.

“We want to build out the capacity to respond to these events,” he told Mongabay, adding “we need to have as many people lined up as we can because [entanglements] happen at the most inopportune times.” He noted that the fishermen present at the training would increase his volunteer base by over 10 percent.

The most useful help the fishermen can offer, Viezbicke told the crowd, is to report to his group an injured whale when they sight it and, if possible, to stay with the animal until another boat can arrive. “Once we lose the whale, it’s a needle in a really large haystack,” Viezbicke said.

Also important is to assess the situation, explained Viezbicke: identify the whale, note its condition, what gear is attached, and how. Because fishermen are familiar with the gear, they are well equipped to report this. And the information is valuable beyond saving the whale. “The biggest part of our program right now is documentation and learning about what’s going on out there,” he said.

Figuring out what circumstances lead to crab gear entangling whales is a principal goal of a working group set up this spring by California’s Dungeness Crab Task Force, the government-mandated body that reviews and makes recommendations on the management of the state’s Dungeness crab fisheries. The working group is composed of fishermen and representatives from three government regulatory groups and four conservation organizations.

Based on evidence from the U.S. east coast that whales can avoid lobster-pot lines better when they are vertical and taut in the water than when they are running horizontally or slack, the California working group will study how weighted or floating crab-pot lines behave in the water under different conditions. They plan to test the strength of these lines to find out how easily a whale can break free from them or a whale rescuer’s knife can cut them.

They also want to collect data on the distribution and density of pots, as well as their proximity to whales. To help with this, the coast guard will perform helicopter flyovers during the first weekend of the Dungeness crab season. “We can see right here right now where the pots are, and where the whales are,” Jim Anderson, a crab fisherman and member of both the task force and working group, told Mongabay.

Other fishing ports have requested first responder training sessions, which the working group hopes to organize later in the season. For now, a best practices guide to help Dungeness crab fishermen avoid entangling whales and report distressed whales is available on the California Ocean Protection Council’s website.

Fishermen like Bettencourt believe this collaborative approach is the best chance for the whales, and his industry, to thrive. “The newer generation fishermen realize that the only survivability is in that new way of thinking. It has to be sustainable, it has to be right, it has to have the science to protect it,” he said.

The Dungeness crab season was scheduled to open this year on November 15, but the Department of Fish and Wildlife delayed it indefinitely due to a toxic algal bloom. Andersen told Mongabay that the working group’s ideas will be implemented when the season begins.


Nov 23 2015

Ocean activists, fishers and scientists differ on heavy anchovy declines

Longtime bait fisherman, Mike Spears near the net aboard the In-Seine off the shores of Marina del Rey.

A new, beautifully produced but troubling public service announcement from Oceana features “Glee” television actress and singer Jenna Ushkowitz diving with sea lions off Santa Barbara.

Fishing, she says, decimated Southern California’s historically booming stocks of Pacific sardine and Northern anchovy, a major food source for top ocean predators. Those stocks have dropped dramatically in the past decade, prompting reduced fishing quotas as starved sea lion pups and California brown pelican chicks die in record numbers.

“Sea lions rely on forage fish for survival. But years of overfishing have put this important food source in jeopardy,” Ushkowitz narrates while underwater footage shows her swimming through kelp. “Join Oceana and help protect forage fish in the Pacific. … We need to stop this and replenish.”

The West Coast’s leading fishery scientists, however, disagree. They believe the fish are most likely enduring natural population fluctuations and are on the cusp of making a big comeback.

Oceana, a nonprofit advocacy organization favored by celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio, insists that fishing is the primary problem. The group lobbied aggressively to close the West Coast anchovy fishery, delivering nearly 40,000 letters from concerned citizens nationwide to the Pacific Fishery Management Council, a 14-member body that sets fishing policy for California, Oregon and Washington, before its meeting last week.

“We are greatly concerned that management of the commercial forage fisheries off California, Oregon and Washington is leaving ocean wildlife without enough fish to eat,” said Oceana’s form letter to the council, signed by thousands of citizens. “Approximately three times as many sea lions washed ashore in 2015 compared to 2013. Similarly, California brown pelicans have been abandoning their nests due to lack of forage fish.”

Oceana helped to close the Pacific sardine fishery earlier than usual this year by stoking public concern about declining stocks of the important food source. They hoped to do the same for Northern anchovies, but the council decided to allow anchovy fishing to continue this season until the current, relatively low quota of 25,000 metric tons is reached.

Sardine fishing will not resume until researchers complete another assessment of their population numbers, though fishers report seeing tons of them in the water.

Corbin Hanson, a fisherman who supplies Tri Marine Fish Co. on Terminal Island with catch from his family-run fishing boat, the Eileen, said anchovies and sardines are plentiful.

“Anchovies are still here in large volumes,” Hanson said. “I was just driving through them (Thursday) night. To say there are no anchovies in this water is absurd. It comes from such an obtuse perspective on our ecosystem.

“The anchovy population ebbs and flows a lot and, as fishermen, we know that it’s going to come back. The volatility in the anchovy stocks is present with or without commercial fishing.

“I don’t find it comforting that organizations (like Oceana) can make knee-jerk decisions about our coastal ecosystem when they’re not even on the water. The research they’re using to formulate their opinion isn’t even recent.”

Researchers agree environmental changes, not fishers, caused the population crash. New evidence points to a record-breaking boom in young anchovies and sardines farther north this year in Central and Northern California, and on the Oregon border, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center. Researchers say that they appear to have eluded study because the fish changed their spawning times and locations with the sustained warmer ocean temperatures.

But the intense public scrutiny prompted fishery managers last week to re-evaluate how they count the fish in an effort to find out whether overfishing is truly a problem. They will hold a spring workshop to determine the best, most accurate way to estimate their numbers. They’re hoping to strengthen partnerships with Canadian and Mexican fishery managers to best estimate how many fish are out there. These fish are difficult to track because they often don’t travel in schools, and they move quickly with changing environmental conditions, researchers say.

Historically, they’ve relied on landing data, and the acoustic-trawl method of using echo-sounding and sonar beams to develop underwater maps of fish densities. They also collect egg samples to determine how many fish are likely to be born in a season, and take aerial and ship surveys.

“The fish move north, south, onshore, offshore, up and down in the water column. They’re here one day and gone the next. And they’re subject to big population swings, so it’s hard to get a true picture of the biomass at any time,” said Kerry Griffin, a staff officer for the council.

“There are weird things going on in the ocean right now, with the ‘warm blob,’ El Niño, ocean acidification and toxic algae up and down the coast,” Griffin said. “We are gradually incorporating ecosystem-based management into our fishery-management plans.

“And paying more attention to environmental and oceanic patterns is the first step to getting a better understanding of relationships between species and the environment.”

Read the original post:

Nov 21 2015

Are “Strongly Protected” MPAs the Future of Ocean Conservation?

A new paper in science by Jane Lubchenco and Kirsten Grorud-Colvert discusses the recent progress and advocates for creating and enforcing “strongly protected” marine protected areas (MPAs). For the purposes of this paper, strongly protected MPAs are those that restrict all commercial activity and allow only light recreational or subsistence fishing. Today only 3.5% of the ocean is protected but only 1.6% is strongly protected. The 10% protection goal for coastal marine areas by 2020 decided recently at the Convention on Biological Diversity is too loosely defined and should be specific to strongly protected MPAs or marine reserves. However it should be noted that significant progress has been made in establishing more strongly protected MPAs in the past decade, which, “reflects increasingly strong scientific evidence about the social, economic and environmental benefits of full protection.”

The authors highlight seven key findings suggesting that such MPAs are indeed needed in a greater percentage of global oceans. Successful MPA programs must be integrated across political boundaries but also with the ecosystems they assist – an ecosystem-based management approach is essential. Engaging users almost always improves outcomes. MPAs may improve resilience to future effects of climate change, but there is no question that, “Full protection works,” such that primary ecological goals are almost always met with strongly protected MPAs.

In conclusion, six political recommendations are outlined. An integrated approach is equally important in the political balance for successful MPAs – other management schemes must be considered and dynamic planning is most effective in preparation for changing ecological systems. There is no one-size-fits-all method for MPAs. Top-down or bottom-up approaches have been successful and to determine the right strategy stakeholders should always be involved in the process. Perhaps most importantly, user incentives need to be changed in order to alleviate the economic trauma of short-term losers.

Comment by Robert Kearney, Emeritus Professor,  University of Canberra

Lubchenco and Grorud-Colvert espouse a relationship between the declaration of “totally protected” areas and the science and politics of the provision of ocean protection. However, in the absence of description of the relationship between the threats to oceans and the protection being attempted, coupled with the lack of assessment of the effectiveness of outcomes, the association they assert is unjustified.

Ocean protection is indeed an issue of immense global importance. The myriad reports of declines in ocean health confirm that opportunities for policy progress need to be pursued.

Assessment of the effectiveness of the “science and politics” in any discipline is dependent on evaluation of outcomes against clearly defined objectives. Unlike politicians, scientists have a responsibility to define objectives and strategies unambiguously. The objective of the provision of “ocean protection” is not immune from this requirement.

Dictionaries define ‘protection’ as the action of protecting, with the clear implication (usually stated) that it is the result of action against a real or perceived threat or threats. In the absence of a threat ‘protection’ has no relevance. Evaluation of actual, or even anticipated, outcomes, such as the provision of protection, has little credibility in the absence of evidence-based assessment of cause and effect.

Normal scientific process dictates that determination of the appropriate ‘actions of protecting’ would be preceded by determination of the threats to whatever it is that is to be protected. Presumably the interests of efficient provision of protection would be influenced by addressing threats in some priority order, commonly related to the severity of the threat. The effectiveness of the provision of protection should then be based on assessment of the degree to which all threats, or at least those that pose the greatest threat, have been ameliorated.

While there is not international agreement on the ordering of the threats to the world’s oceans there is acceptance that they are many. They include: chemical and physical pollution in many forms, ocean warming, increased acidification, sea-level rise, destructive practices and alterations to physical habitats, inadequately regulated fishing and introduced and artificially translocated species. As the priorities for addressing threats are influenced by the perceptions of those informing management the projection of inadequately researched advice, and/or the provision of mis-information, to managers including politicians, are themselves also threats.

The Lubchenco and Grorud-Colvert article does not prioritise the many threats to oceans. The authors do, however, unambiguously give selected prominence to the regulation of extraction. Areas are stated to be “fully protected” if extraction is excluded. The primacy they attach to having more areas closed to extraction is confirmed by the signal prominence of their figure depicting “Growing Protection”. Their measure of ‘protection’ is the amount of area claimed as ‘fully protected’, i.e. all extraction is prohibited. This measure is, unfortunately, merely a descriptor of one form of input. It is not a measure of the level of protection (the required outcome) actually provided.

When directly addressing interpretation of ‘protection’ the authors lament the ‘loose definition’ provided in the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD). They provide as an alternative definition a series of degrees of protection based exclusively on the regulation of levels of extraction from selected areas. Importantly, they assert that areas be considered “fully protected” if there are “no extractive activities allowed”. Several forms of fishing are the only extractions specifically mentioned.

There are several fundamental inconsistencies in this basic assertion:

  1. Regardless of the absolute priority that might be given to individual threats to oceans there is no doubt that injection into oceans of many anthropogenic outputs (most obviously within the generic category of ‘pollutants’) constitutes great threat. In the light of growing recognition of the impacts of pollution, including the secondary effects on ocean warming and acidification, and in the absence of evidence to the contrary, injection directly and indirectly into marine environments should not be considered a lesser threat to total “ocean protection” than extraction from selected areas.
  2. Unless all threats are addressed and outcomes demonstrated to be effective an area should not be espoused to be “fully protected”. In the absence of demonstrated amelioration of at least the major threats categorisation as even “strongly protected” is highly questionable.
  3. Exclusion of even all fishing (and/or other forms of extraction) from part of an area does not render even that part of the total area ‘fully protected’, even from the impacts of fishing and/or other forms of extraction. Unmanaged fishing and numerous other forms of extraction adjacent to closed areas can significantly impact the contents of those areas and thus the level of ‘protection’ achieved.

Lubchenco and Grorud-Colvert acknowledge that “reserves cannot address all stressors.” They accept the need to “integrate reserves with other management measures” specifically identifying “issues such as bycatch, unsustainable and IUU fishing, climate change and ocean acidification.” Again the prominence they have given to fishing activities confirms bias in their prioritising of threats and objectives. It is surprising that the authors’ recognition that such fundament fishing activities as bycatch and unsustainable fishing will not be adequately addressed by reserves has not shaken their belief that even selected areas will be “totally protected” and effective “ocean protection” provided by regulating extraction.

The assertion that even parts of oceans can be “fully protected” by regulating extraction is not consistent with the available evidence. Acceptance of it distracts “the science and politics of ocean protection” away from evidence-based pursuit of amelioration of the real threats to the world’s marine environments.

Robert Kearney is an emeritus professor at the Fisheries Institute for Applied Ecology at the University of Canberra.

Read the original post:


Nov 18 2015

CWPA News Release: Council action on northern anchovy

CWPA Logo - June 2013November 16, 2015
Contact:  Diane Pleschner-Steele
(805) 693-5430



On Sunday November 15, the Pacific Fishery Management Council received a presentation from the Southwest Fishery Science Center, stating that recent year field surveys, particularly in 2015, have documented record abundance of eggs and juvenile anchovies along the entire west coast.  The Center also signaled their intent to conduct a stock assessment in 2016, preceded by a scientific workshop to determine the best method to assess anchovy fluctuations, as recommended by the Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC).   The management team and advisory subpanel supported this stepwise scientific approach, noting that even though anchovy landings ticked upward in 2015, the small fishery in Monterey was well below harvest limits, and recent surveys signaling significant new recruitment were optimistic signs of increased abundance.

Environmental activists, while pleased with news of the upcoming stock assessment, pleaded for the Council to establish interim measures in the meantime, using the “point of .concern” framework built into the CPS management plan to reduce the harvest limit, which would likely close the fishery until the stock assessment was completed.  Public testimony concluded with statements from several fishermen from Monterey and southern California, along with two spotter pilots, who testified to the amazing abundance of anchovy they have witnessed in recent years.  In addition to Monterey fishermen who have fished anchovies for 50 years, Corbin Hanson, a southern California fisherman who saw literally miles of anchovies along the central coast when he drove his vessel from southern California to Monterey this summer, testified: “Anchovies are probably the most abundant fish in our waters!  I spend the majority of my time fishing these waters and can testify to this fact.”

The Council deliberated on the anchovy issue on Monday morning, November 16.   They ultimately decided to proceed with the stepwise approach supported by the management team, advisory subpanel and the SSC.   This will assure that recent year data will be incorporated into the stock assessment.  The Council also asked the CPS management team to analyze various options for active management.

This analysis will require significant work, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife will need to age the backlog of anchovy samples in time for the workshop next spring.  However, this scientific approach is the best approach to quantify the current abundance of anchovy, and will lead to a new assessment that will benefit both the ecosystem and the fishing community.  California anchovy fishermen and processors appreciate the consideration that Council members gave to fishermen’s testimony.  “Even though landings are small, the anchovy fishery is very important to Monterey’s wetfish industry,” says Diane Pleschner-Steele, executive director of the non-profit California Wetfish Producers Association.  “We all thank the Council for using science, not politics, in its decision.  Council members recognized that a sound management decision requires that all evidence of recent anchovy recruitment be considered.”


Nov 18 2015

El Niño could be the most powerful on record, scientists say


A key location of the Pacific Ocean is now hotter than recorded in at least 25 years, surpassing the temperatures during the record 1997 El Niño.

Some scientists say their measurements show that this year’s El Niño could be among the most powerful on record — and even toppling the 1997 event from its pedestal.

“This thing is still growing and it’s definitely warmer than it was in 1997,” said Bill Patzert, climatologist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. As far as the temperature readings go, “it’s now bypassed the previous champ of the modern satellite era — the 1997 El Niño has just been toppled by 2015.”

Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at Stanford University, called the temperature reading significant. It is the highest such weekly temperature above the average in 25 years of modern record keeping in this key region of the Pacific Ocean west of Peru.

“This is a very impressive number,” Swain said, adding that data suggest that this El Niño is still warming up. “It does look like it’s possible that there’s still additional warming” to come.

“We’re definitely in the top tier of El Niño events,” Swain said.

Temperatures in this key area of the Pacific Ocean rose to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit above average for the week of Nov. 11. That exceeds the highest comparable reading for the most powerful El Niño on record, when temperatures rose 5 degrees Fahrenheit above the average the week of Thanksgiving in 1997.

The 5.4 degree Fahrenheit recording above the average temperature is the highest such number since 1990 in this area of the Pacific Ocean, according to the National Weather Service.

El Niño is a weather phenomenon involving a section of the Pacific Ocean west of Peru that warms up, causing alterations in the atmosphere that can cause dramatic changes in weather patterns globally.

For the United States, El Niño can shift the winter track of storms that normally keeps the jungles of southern Mexico and Central America wet and moves them over California and the southern United States. The northern United States, like the Midwest and Northeast, typically see milder winters during El Niño.

The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center has already forecast a higher chance of a wet winter for almost all of California and the southern United States.

But the center’s deputy director, Mike Halpert, cautioned against reading too much into the record-breaking weekly temperature data.

El Niño has so far been underperforming in other respects involving changes in the atmosphere important to the winter climate forecast for California, he said.

One example: tropical rainfall has not extended from the International Date Line and eastward, approaching South America, as it did by this time in 1997.

“In 1997, that pattern has largely established itself,” Halpert said, but that pattern so far is “significantly weaker” than it was back then.

Still, Halpert said, “it’s not too late for things to develop.”

Patzert, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory climatologist, said the increase in ocean temperatures west of Peru was a result of a dramatic weakening of the normal east-to-west trade winds in the Pacific Ocean that were observed in October around the International Date Line.

That allowed the warm, tropical ocean waters in the western Pacific Ocean to surge to the Americas, leading to this increase in ocean temperatures observed last week.

The 1997 El Niño has been considered the strongest such event since the 1950s. The modern era of El Niño tracking came after the 1982-83 event, which came as a surprise and is considered the second strongest on record.

The 1997 El Niño was considered so strong and that scientists have been impressed that this El Niño could top that event.

Patzert likened it to the shocking defeat of the previously unbeaten Ultimate Fighting Championship champion Ronda Rousey over the weekend by Holly Holm. Or, he added, like the dethroning of a grand champion in sumo wrestling.

This El Niño “just flipped the 1997-98 El Niño out of the ring,” Patzert said.

El Niño is already being blamed for drought and wildfires in Indonesia, and the United Nations is warning about millions at risk from hunger in eastern and southern Africa and Central America from drought.

El Niño is believed to have played a role in the storms this spring that caused floods and ended droughts in Colorado, Texas and Oklahoma. It’s also a factor in the fewer number of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean while there has been more of them in the eastern Pacific.

The unusually active hurricane season has already had impacts on California. Remnants of a summertime hurricane caused so much rain to pour down in Riverside County that an Interstate 10 bridge collapsed. It dumped so much hail near Lake Tahoe that snowplows were called to clear Interstate 80. Last month, an eastern Pacific hurricane, Patricia, became the strongest such cyclone recorded in the Western Hemisphere before it slammed into Mexico.

“It’s not as if we’re waiting for El Niño to actually manifest itself — it has in many ways already,” Patzert said. “There is no doubt: It’s coming.”

The big question is whether the above-average ocean temperatures will cause the mountains of Northern California — a critical source for the state’s largest reservoirs — to get rain instead of snow. Too much rain in those mountains would not be good for the state; snow is better because it can melt slowly in the spring and summer, gradually refilling reservoirs at a gentle pace. But precipitation coming down as rain there can force dam managers to flush out water to sea to keep reservoirs from overflowing dams.

“The really high elevations in the Sierra Nevada will do well,” Swain said, but it’s unknown whether the more important mid-level elevations will get rain or snow.

Scientists say they expect El Niño rains to be concentrated in the months of January, February and March.

“At some point, during December, we’ll transition to a much more active pattern” for storms, Swain said. “And by the end of December, and certainly by January, February and March, we’ll see above average precipitation, potentially well-above average.”

“El Niño is going to be a dominant factor this winter,” Swain said.

El Niño is also expected to provide once-in-a-generation waves on beaches not seen since the 1997-98 event, Patzert said, affecting the entire west coast of North America, “from British Columbia all the way down to Costa Rica.”

“The best surfing waves often precede the storms,” Patzert said. “If you have a great day of surfing — Malibu or Mavericks or someplace — during an El Niño, then in the next day or two you can expect a big storm.”


Read the original post:

Nov 18 2015

Bay Area Dungeness crab fishermen stoic despite financial hardship

PRINCETON-BY-THE-SEA — This was supposed to be the winter Braeden Breton finally realized his dream of running his own crab fishing boat. After putting down $7,500 in April toward a commercial permit, he was counting on earning enough money as a deckhand this fall to pay off the rest and begin setting his own traps after the new year.

Now the indefinite postponement of the commercial Dungeness crab season has thrown that plan into disarray. Like hundreds of other fishermen in the Bay Area, Breton finds himself scrambling to pay the bills.

Breton, of El Granada, and a partner must make monthly payments on the $20,000 they still owe for the permit. He may head north this month in the hope of finding work on a boat in Oregon, where the Dungeness crab season is tentatively slated to open Dec. 1 on the northern half of the coast.

Don Marshall ponders the future of the postponed crab season while moored at the Pillar Point dock in Half Moon Bay, Calif., Wednesday morning, Nov. 11,

Don Marshall ponders the future of the postponed crab season while moored at the Pillar Point dock in Half Moon Bay, Calif., Wednesday morning, Nov. 11, 2015. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) ( Karl Mondon )

“It’s hard on everyone around me, and it’s hard on me as well,” Breton, 23, said of the delay. “I have to keep up with my payments or I’ll lose my permit.”

More than a week after the California Department of Fish and Wildlife shut down the commercial season because of high levels of neurotoxins in the crab, the outlook for California fishermen is as murky as the ocean depths where the prized crustaceans scuttle and scavenge.

All eyes are on the state Department of Public Health, which will release the latest results this week of tests showing how much domoic acid, a naturally occurring toxin caused by a type of microscopic algae called pseudo-nitzschia, remains in the crab. When consumed by humans, shellfish contaminated by domoic acid can cause gastrointestinal illness or, in rare cases, death.

The closure is a tough break for an industry that brought fishermen nearly $67 million last year, as well as for restaurants and markets that sell the delicacy. Consumers will almost certainly miss out on fresh local crab for Thanksgiving, though crab from Oregon and Washington, where domoic acid levels right now are lower, should be available for the winter holidays.

Fisherman Jake Bunch waits for the postponed crab season to hopefully resume while docked at the Pillar Point dock in Half Moon Bay, Calif., Wednesday

Fisherman Jake Bunch waits for the postponed crab season to hopefully resume while docked at the Pillar Point dock in Half Moon Bay, Calif., Wednesday morning, Nov. 11, 2015. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) ( Karl Mondon )

Some fishermen at Pillar Point Harbor near Half Moon Bay are holding out hope that the season could open in time for the lucrative Christmas market, but many worry the delay could continue well into the new year. Experts say domoic acid can linger for months in bottom-dwelling creatures and ocean sediment.

The pier at Pillar Point Harbor, usually bustling this time of year with dozens of boat operators and crew members rigging their vessels, has been quiet. Most of the deckhands who would normally be here either scattered in search of work or never came in the first place.

For now, fishermen are keeping themselves busy catching up on boat maintenance. But many will eventually need to find other work. Some will pursue construction jobs as far away as Sacramento.

Pete the Greek unloads a catch of surf smelt at Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay, Calif., Wednesday morning, Nov. 11, 2015. With the local crab season

Pete the Greek unloads a catch of surf smelt at Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay, Calif., Wednesday morning, Nov. 11, 2015. With the local crab season on hold, his catch was the only activity seen at the pier Wednesday morning. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) ( Karl Mondon )

Don Marshall, a leader of the young generation of Pillar Point fishermen, was working Wednesday on the hydraulic system of a boat he bought for $50,000 in July, a purchase he now regrets. He offered a visitor his left hand, protecting his right, which he broke this summer while salmon trolling. Instead of resting to let the break heal, Marshall kept fishing. He needed the money.

But even this year’s commercial chinook salmon season was poor — largely because California’s historic drought has lowered water levels in the rivers where the fish spawn and hatch. Preliminary figures from Fish and Wildlife show just 114,000 salmon were caught in California, down roughly 25 percent from 2014. And the fish were small at an average of 10.5 pounds, about 3 pounds lighter than the average over the past five years, according to Jennifer Simon, one of the agency’s environmental scientists.

The lackluster salmon fishing will exacerbate the financial toll of the crab closure. And the crab season may not be so great once it opens. Fishermen will likely contend with El Niño storms and prices that are undercut by a lack of holiday demand.

“It’s probably going to be the hardest winter we’ve ever seen,” said Marshall, who at 33 is president of the California Small Boat Trollers Association.

Results from the most recent round of tests, conducted around the end of October, show domoic acid levels were much higher in Humboldt and Del Norte counties than along the Central Coast, an encouraging sign for fishermen in San Francisco, Half Moon Bay, Moss Landing and Monterey.

But a 1997 laboratory study suggested it takes three weeks or more from the point crabs are exposed to domoic acid for the chemical to leave their systems. Many crabs off the California coast are likely still eating snails and other food sources that are contaminated.

Domoic acid is always present in the food web, but at safe amounts, scientists say. This year’s extraordinary levels of the biotoxin were caused by an unusually vast and persistent algal bloom, which was bolstered by record-breaking high temperatures in the Pacific Ocean.

Harmful algal blooms are on the rise around the globe, a phenomenon that could be linked to climate change, said Raphael Kudela, a phytoplankton ecologist at UC Santa Cruz.

Water samples show this year’s bloom has died off along the California coast, though it may still lurk farther out to sea, Kudela said. And the outlook for 2016 is poor.

“We don’t have a crystal ball,” said Kudela, “but our best guess is next year we’ll see another toxic bloom, and it may be as big as this year’s.”

And, while it’s too early to say for sure, the 2016 salmon season may not be so great, either.

“We’re not anticipating a high abundance of fish available for harvest,” said Simon, of Fish and Wildlife.

Despite the gloom, fishermen at Pillar Point are confident in their ability to roll with Mother Nature’s punches. Those jabs and hooks may come in faster, less predictable combinations as the climate grows hotter.

Breton, who began working as a deckhand when he was 16, has no plans to stop fishing.

“This is kind of what I was raised into,” Breton said, “so I don’t see myself doing anything else. You adapt.”

Read the original post:

Nov 16 2015

Saving Seafood Announces the National Coalition of Fishing Communities


WASHINGTON (Saving Seafood) — November 16, 2015 — The National Coalition of Fishing Communities (NCFC) has been organized to meet the challenges of modern communication for the commercial fishing industry and related business and civic communities. NCFC is a unique partnership of seafood interests, dedicated to transmitting the voices of fishermen and their communities. NCFC will ensure that fisheries managers, scientists, academics and elected officials understand the positions of our members, and address their concerns. We will accomplish this through dialogue, education and outreach.


“This is a very exciting time for us,” says Sarah Garcia, former Harbor Planning Director of Gloucester, Massachusetts and the Director of Outreach and Membership for NCFC. “The strength and diversity of NCFC can make a big impact in the way fishing communities deliver their message in Washington.”


The Coalition will formally launch during the next U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting, to be held in Washington, DC on January 19, 2016, and is currently engaged in a membership drive. Already, over 60 members have signed up, drawn from America’s top commercial fishing ports, leading fishing businesses, and regional associations.


Saving Seafood will provide the communication and media relations in numerous forms and venues, creating the opportunity for our messages to be received. Too often, misleading information about the industry makes its way into print, and the media hear only one side of the story. The NCFC allows its members to make their positions clear, and deliver their messages to a wider audience of media, policymakers, and likeminded industry members.


“Five years ago, Saving Seafood began as a trade news and information organization, aimed at telling the truth about our industry,” said Greg DiDomenico, Executive Director of New Jersey’s Garden State Seafood Association. “They have proven to be capable of helping the industry, and can assist locally, nationally, and globally”


The Coalition is made up of different types of communities. In addition tomunicipalities with economic, social, and cultural ties to the fishing industry, NCFC includes associations who represent and are supported directly by working commercial fishing families; businesses who are involved in the harvesting, processing, distributing, marketing, and serving of seafood; and individuals in fishing communities across the country who see first-hand the necessity of local knowledge informing policy.


“America’s fishing communities and seafood industry have been maligned by special interest groups working in collusion, who have slandered hard-working Americans with outrageous claims and misrepresentations,” says Saving Seafood Executive Director Bob Vanasse. “We’re aiming to bring the entire supply chain of fishermen, shoreside businesses, processors, markets, and restaurants together to join this effort to move the national conversation in a positive direction.”


Members can join at the NCFC website,, and choose one of the three membership plans that best suits their needs, with plans for individuals, small business, and corporations starting at $10, $100, and $500 per month levels.


Members receive the NCFC’s newsletter, which contains the most up-to-date information on current events, and through the NCFC mailing list will be connected to a nation-wide effort to make sure their concerns are communicated to policymakers, media and the public, to bring a new perspective to important industry issues that have been overwhelmed by special interest campaigns.


“An umbrella group like NCFC makes it easier for fishing organizations around the country to be vocally involved in the management process,” said Rod Moore of West Coast Seafood Processors Association in Portland, Oregon and a NCFC member. “The Coalition is a platform through which we can speak out about issues that are important to our members.”


Like Saving Seafood, NCFC is committed to the proper implementation of U.S. fisheries management law, which requires that regulators take into account “the social and economic needs of the States.” [Magnuson-Stevens Act (2)(b)(5), Public Law 101-627]


NCFC is founded on the principles of integrating the needs of communities with the goals of conservation, utilizing the best available science, and connecting members of the national fishing community to each other. The Coalition will create a proper understanding of the struggles of our community, and articulate our message.


Join us now to be a part of the movement. Visit to support America’s fisheries and let your voice be heard.


Saving Seafood is a 501(c)(6) Washington, DC – based non-profit that conducts media and public outreach on behalf of fishing communities, and keeps the public informed on fisheries issues. Saving Seafood’s national reach and influence provides fishermen with a recognized voice in the nation’s capital to communicate their concerns and build public awareness of the industry’s priorities.

View a PDF of the release here

Nov 16 2015

Anchovy “collapse” a manufactured ‘crisis’

D.B. Pleschner:
Anchovy “collapse” a manufactured ‘crisis’

Saving Seafood has covered issues related to the various “forage fish” campaigns of the past several years, which have been organized by interest groups in the wake of the Lenfest Report, “Little Fish, Big Impact.”  In today’s Santa Cruz Sentinal, Diane Pleschner, executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association, addresses a recent campaign regarding anchovy fishing in the Monterey Bay area. In her essay, Ms. Pleschner argues that a controversial recent study is based on outdated samples, ignoring the latest observations.  The Pacific Fishery Management Council votes on the issue later today.The California Wetfish Producers Association is a nonprofit dedicated to research and to promote sustainable wetfish resources.


SANTA CRUZ, California (November 15, 2015) — If you follow news about the Monterey Bay, you’ve undoubtedly heard the recent outcry by environmentalists in the media claiming the anchovy population in California has collapsed and the fishery must be closed immediately.

The current controversy stems largely from a study funded by environmental interests that claims an apocalyptic decline of 99 percent of the anchovy population from 1951 to 2011.

However, fishermen have seen a surge in anchovies in recent years. Data collected at the near shore Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System stations and other recent surveys also document a big upswing in anchovy numbers. For example, a 2015 NOAA rockfish cruise report found that “catches of [Pacific sardine and northern anchovy] larvae and pelagic juveniles were the highest ever in the core [Monterey Bay to Point Reyes] and north and still relatively high in the south.” Yet the recent study bases its conclusion on outdated historic anchovy egg and larval samples, not recent observation.

Outdated data didn’t stop extremists from seizing on the study to manufacture an anti-fishing crisis for anchovy where none exists. They’re now lobbying the Pacific Fishery Management Council for an emergency closure of the small anchovy fishery in Monterey Bay, saying the current anchovy catch limit of 25,000 metric tons is dangerously high.

In reality, anchovy management employs an extremely precautionary approach, capping the allowed harvest at 25 percent of the estimated population. Josh Lindsay, policy analyst for the National Marine Fisheries Service, which enforces the fishing cap, says, “We took the overfishing limit and told the fishing fleet that they could only catch 25,000 metric tons. That’s a pretty large buffer built into our management.”

Wetfish fishermen fish on a complex of species including sardine, mackerel and squid. Anchovy is a small – but important – part of the complex, a fill-in for Monterey fishermen when other species are not available. Environmental extremists ignore the fact the anchovy harvest has totaled less than half the allowed limit in the past two decades. The light effort is one reason why the fisheries service has not formally assessed the species since 1995, focusing limited research dollars on more active fisheries.

The big increase in anchovy abundance in nearshore waters in recent years has precipitated a record whale-watching spectacle in Monterey and along the Central Coast. Despite allegations to the contrary, whales and other marine life gorging on anchovies are oblivious to the fishery. In October 2013, for example, Monterrey Bay had record sightings of humpback whales, while fishing vessels caught more than 3,000 tons of anchovy.

Consider reports from fishermen:
  • Corbin Hanson, a southern California fisherman, saw a large volume of anchovy show up on the Southern California coast beginning around 2011. “The largest volume of anchovy I’ve ever seen was running up coast from Point Conception to Monterey this summer – miles of anchovies. … We couldn’t escape them. We drove through hundreds of thousands of tons in one night this summer. Other fishermen saw the same thing I did – whales, birds, seals all gorging on anchovy.”
  • Tom Noto has fished in Monterey for more than 30 years, one of only about eight fishermen who fish anchovy in on the edge of Monterey canyon. He says, “Anchovies like to dive deep. Our sonars mark anchovy in on the edge of Monterey canyon. He says, “Anchovies like to dive deep. Our sonars mark schools that are hundreds of feet thick, but our nets just skim the surface of these schools. … They’re are everywhere, but we only fish them in Monterey Bay.”
  • Fisherman Neil Guglielmo told the Santa Cruz Sentinel, “I’ve been fishing anchovies since 1959, and I don’t see any problem with the anchovies for the whales. … The [claim] that we’re scaring whales or catching their food source is ridiculous.”
When the Pacific Fishery Management Council convenes Nov. 15, to discuss anchovy, we hope sanity and best available common sense will prevail, in addition to “best available science.” Council members need to incorporate evidence of recent anchovy (and sardine) recruitment into future management decisions.
Nov 15 2015

Letters: Plentiful anchovies far from collapse

Plentiful anchovies far from collapse

I’ve been fishing for more than 50 years up and down the West Coast and I’m shocked at all the hysterical claims I’ve read in the media recently about the anchovy “collapse.” Much of the hype stemmed from an anchovy study still in peer review, but the truth of the matter is that its conclusions are disastrously wrong!

I’m one of a handful of fishermen who fish anchovy in Monterey. I’m on the water nearly every day and I’ve seen a big surge in the anchovy population in recent years. Anchovies now stretch from the “pinheads” fishermen see in Southern California all the way up the coast past Half Moon Bay, where a large group of whales was recently spotted feeding on anchovies.

Our fishery simply skims the surface of anchovy schools that often run hundreds of feet deep. The allowed anchovy harvest is limited at 25,000 tons, leaving 75 percent of the biomass in the ocean as forage. Bottom line: There are plenty of anchovies in the sea.

I hope sanity prevails when the Pacific Council meets to decide the fate of the few Monterey fishermen who need to fish anchovy to pay our bills.

— Aniello Guglielmo, Camarillo