Archive for December, 2015

Dec 17 2015

Fish Stocks Are Declining Worldwide, And Climate Change Is on the Hook

A fisherman shovels grey sole, a type of flounder, out of the hold of a ship at the Portland Fish Pier in Maine, September 2015. New research finds the ability of fish populations to reproduce and replenish themselves is declining across the globe. The worst news comes from the North Atlantic, where most species are declining. (Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

For anyone paying attention, it’s no secret there’s a lot of weird stuff going on in the oceans right now. We’ve got a monster El Niño looming in the Pacific. Ocean acidification is prompting handwringing among oyster lovers. Migrating fish populations have caused tensions between countries over fishing rights. And fishermen say they’re seeing unusual patterns in fish stocks they haven’t seen before.

Researchers now have more grim news to add to the mix. An analysis published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that the ability of fish populations to reproduce and replenish themselves is declining across the globe.

“This, as far as we know, is the first global-scale study that documents the actual productivity of fish stocks is in decline,” says lead author Gregory L. Britten, a doctoral student at the University of California, Irvine.

Britten and some fellow researchers looked at data from a global database of 262 commercial fish stocks in dozens of large marine ecosystems across the globe. They say they’ve identified a pattern of decline in juvenile fish (young fish that have not yet reached reproductive age) that is closely tied to a decline in the amount of phytoplankton, or microalgae, in the water.

“We think it is a lack of food availability for these small fish,” says Britten. “When fish are young, their primary food is phytoplankton and microscopic animals. If they don’t find food in a matter of days, they can die.”

The worst news comes from the North Atlantic, where the vast majority of species, including Atlantic cod, European and American plaice, and sole are declining. In this case, Britten says historically heavy fishing may also play a role. Large fish, able to produce the biggest, most robust eggs, are harvested from the water. At the same time, documented declines of phytoplankton made it much more difficult for those fish stocks to bounce back when they did reproduce, despite aggressive fishery management efforts, says Britten.

When the researchers looked at plankton and fish reproduction declines in individual ecosystems, the results varied. In the North Pacific — for example, the Gulf of Alaska — there were no significant declines. But in other regions of the world, like Australia and South America, it was clear that the lack of phytoplankton was the strongest driver in diminishing fish populations.

“When you averaged globally, there was a decline,” says Britten. “Decline in phytoplankton was a factor in all species. It was a consistent variable.”

And it’s directly linked to climate change: Change in ocean temperature affects the phytoplankton population, which is impacting fish stocks, he says.

Food sources for fish in their larval stage were also a focus of research published earlier this summer by Rebecca Asch, now a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University. Asch studied data from 1951 to 2008 on 43 species of fish collected off the Southern California coast and found that many fish have changed the season when they spawn. When fish spawned too early or too late in the season, there can be less plankton available to them, shrinking their chance of survival. She calls it a “mismatch” between when the fish spawn and when seasonal plankton blooms.

Knowing just how vulnerable our fisheries are to potential climate change is on the radar of NOAA Fisheries. The agency has put together a Fish Stock Climate Vulnerability Assessment report expected to be released in early 2016. And like many things associated with climate change, there will be winners and losers.

Jon Hare is the oceanography branch chief for NOAA Fisheries’ Northeast Fisheries Science Center and a lead researcher on the agency’s assessment. He says they looked at 82 fish and invertebrate species in the Northeast. About half of the species, including Atlantic cod, were determined to be negatively impacted by climate change in the Northeast U.S. Approximately 20 percent of the species are likely to be positively impacted — like the Atlantic croaker. The remainder species were considered neutral.

Similar assessments are underway in the California Current and the Bering Sea, and eventually in all of the nation’s large marine ecosystems.

“This is where the idea of ecosystem-based management comes in. It’s not only fishing that is impacting these resources,” says Hare. “We need to take a more holistic view of these resources and include that in our management.”

Britten says the fact that productivity of a fishery can change should be an eye-opener for fisheries management.

“It’s no longer just pull back on fishing and watch the stock rebound. It’s also a question of monitoring and understanding the ability of stocks to rebound, and that’s what we demonstrated in this study. The rebound potential is affected as well,” says Britten.

Original story: Copyright 2015 NPR.

Dec 16 2015

Crab pots lie empty, boats idled as toxic algae stalls a San Francisco tradition

 Dungeness crabs


It was quiet on Pier 45. Crab pots were stacked neatly in rows. Idled fishing vessels bobbed at their berths. One of the few dock workers present made small talk on his cellphone. Another puttered by on an empty forklift.

It was just after dawn on a recent weekday. Larry Collins, a veteran of San Francisco’s crab industry, sat in his small shed of an office in a wharf warehouse and made note of the absence of activity at what should have been the frenetic advent of another San Francisco Dungeness crab season.

“There’s nothing going on right now,” Collins said. “Nobody’s working. By now, we would be bustling here. Working until midnight. Every night working on our boats. Forklifts moving product. Everybody would be working. Now, nobody’s working.”

The pause in the crab season can be traced to a toxic algae that is rare to the coastal waters outside San Francisco Bay but bloomed this year amid rising ocean temperatures. The algae produces a neurotoxin, domoic acid, that doesn’t faze crabs, but can sicken and even kill humans.

Acting on a state health advisory, the Department of California Fish and Wildlife has suspended indefinitely the commercial and recreational Dungeness crab seasons, which traditionally open in mid-November.

Weekly tests on crab samples have showed reductions in domoic acid levels in some stretches offshore. Still, not enough improvement has been made to open the season.

This has left Collins and others who catch, market, cook and consume what in San Francisco is a celebrated birthright foodstuff all caught in a state of crustaceous interruptus. Thanksgiving is gone. Christmas is going. Maybe by New Year’s, goes the optimists’ new mantra.

“Crab here is like a religion,” said Collins, a 58-year-old walrus of a man who fished out of San Francisco with his wife for more than three decades. A younger man now operates Collins’ 46-foot vessel, the Autumn Gale.

His time is occupied running the Crab Boat Owners Assn., along with building up a fishing cooperative that allows members to market their catches more directly, eliminating some middle links in the economic food chain.

Collins and other wharf denizens paint the opening of crab seasons past as a festival, with widows of fishermen tossing wreaths into the water, a priest blessing the fleet and vessels racing to be the first to return to the docks with crabs.

“When a crab boat came in,” said Angela Cincotta, a fourth-generation proprietor at the Alioto-Lazio Fish Co., “you would see people running from three blocks away just to see the boat unload.”

Not this season, she said: “There is no buzz on the street, no people, no excitement.”

Restaurants that typically order crabs by the thousands still call for the Alaskan crabs she keeps live in a tank. But they only want one or two. And given all the public discussion of domoic acid here, Cincotta said, some of her customers seem wary of eating any fish caught in Pacific waters.

Like many San Franciscans, Collins and his companions in the fish trade have absorbed wave after wave of change, a transformation of what once was a working city into a pricey hybrid enclave for tourists and new money types from Silicon Valley who can afford rents that have climbed halfway to the stars and beyond.

Collins remembers when the Fisherman’s Wharf district was filled with machine shops that turned out custom replacement parts for the fleet. Today it might be tough to replace a broken water pump — but scoring a souvenir T-shirt or renting a Segway is a cinch.

“This was a small town,” he said. “We have lost a lot of that. Now it’s all techies with a lot of money.”

Even before this season’s suspension, the coastal fishing fleet up and down California had been challenged by diminished fish counts, heightened regulation and related economic challenges.

“We’ve gone in my 30 years from 5,000 boats to 500,” Collins said. “It’s not a pretty picture.”

He blamed increasing diversion of water over time for agriculture and urban populations, water that otherwise would flow from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, through the Delta and San Francisco Bay, and into the Pacific.

“You need the flows, you absolutely need the flows,” he said of water captured before it can complete its natural course to the sea. “It’s not wasted water. This is a whole ecosystem, a delicate ecosystem, and we have managed to screw it up. Thirty years ago, the catches were huge compared to now. Everybody wants to develop. They call it progress. That’s not progress.”

And yet for all the economic misery brought on by historic trends in general, and by a suspended crab season in particular, Collins and his colleagues are in no rush to harvest crabs this winter. They understand that losing public faith in the safety of their seafood would be a much bigger and lasting blow.

“We are not like the beef industry,” Collins said. “We don’t do recalls.”

It is good that patience is hard-wired into those who fish, for fun or commerce. In fact, the only allies California crabbers can count on now, like Tolstoy’s old general in “War and Peace,” are patience and time.

Warming water created the algae bloom and cooling water will erase it.

“Mother Nature bats first and last in this one,” Collins said. “Just like it always does.”

For now, all he and other acolytes of the San Francisco Dungeness crab can do for now is wait. That the waiting is necessary does not make it any easier.

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Dec 6 2015

Record-breaking Sea Levels in California


Re: Record-breaking Sea Levels in California
From: Abe Doherty, Climate Change Policy Advisor, California Ocean Protection Council
Date: December 3, 2015

California broke a record late last month: Sea levels at several tide stations in Southern California reached higher elevations than ever measured before, including during major storms. Water levels were higher than the “King Tides” that were predicted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), due to the ongoing El Niño, warm ocean temperatures and a minor storm. NOAA observations for San Diego, La Jolla and Santa Barbara show sea levels for November 25, 2015 higher than the maximum water levels ever recorded at these tide stations. The San Diego tide station has been recording sea levels since 1906, La Jolla since 1924 and Santa Barbara since 1974. San Diego experienced street flooding several miles inland when ocean water surged into the storm drain system.

During the past two years along the West Coast, surface waters have been unusually warm, which has contributed to higher coastal water levels. For example, the temperatures at the Santa Cruz wharf were as much as 9 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal, which is greater than the 1997-1998 El Niño. These warm ocean waters and other regional processes have caused an increase in water levels of an additional few inches of higher water levels beyond what was experienced during past strong El Niños. Sea levels recently have been up to a foot higher than expected. These elevated water levels are on top of the long term sea level rise trends that have occurred due to climate change, such as the eight inches of sea level rise that has been documented over the last century at the San Francisco tide station.

The current El Niño also has broken a record for one indicator of strength of El Niño conditions based on sea surface temperatures near the equator. Past strong El Niños in 1982-83 and 1997-98 produced 6 to 10 inches of elevated sea levels that persisted from fall until late spring and then became elevated again the following summer through fall. Winter storms during these past strong El Niños caused peak water levels of 1.5 to 3 feet above predicted levels, with high waves, storm surges and heavy precipitation resulting in disaster declarations for flooding in coastal counties. It is only prudent to assume that the current strong El Niño conditions could bring similar trouble.

Climate disruption is amplifying extreme events that threaten the health and safety of families and communities in California and around the world.

Scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading body on climate change assessment, tell us that climate change increases the intensity of drought, wildfire, and flooding. California recently earned an “A” grade in a national assessment of state efforts to prepare for climate change, and there is a lot of great work and collaboration happening at all levels in California to address sea-level rise. But the amount of sea-level rise will make a big difference in the success of our efforts to adapt. The State of California Sea-level Rise Guidance Document projects up to five and a half feet of sea-level rise by 2100. However, carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere have surpassed 400 parts per million. Scientists report that the last time the Earth had such levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, several million years ago, sea levels were more than twenty feet higher than current levels. The potential for sea-level rise greater than we now project is one of many reasons Californians take strong action to combat climate change.

Beyond adapting governance to an epoch of changing shoreline conditions, we also must be ready for floods, mudslides and coastal erosion during the current strong El Niño conditions. California state agencies have been working with emergency responders and local governments to prepare.

See for more information on California’s actions on climate.

See for information on preparedness for storm impacts.

See the California Ocean Protection Council website on El Niño for more information on elevated sea levels.

Dec 4 2015

Sour talk as lawmakers, crabbers meet over Dungeness shutdown

920x920In this photo taken Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015, crab pots fill a large section of a parking lot at Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay, Calif. California delayed the Nov. 15 start of its commercial crab season after finding dangerous levels of a toxin in crabs. Photo: Eric Risberg, Associated Press


Lawmakers joined scientists and fearful crabbers in an unusual meeting Thursday to fret over the continued closure of the Dungeness and rock crab fishing seasons, a major economic blow to the state that experts say could be just the beginning of ocean ecosystem trouble.

The legislative hearing by the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture was held in Santa Rosa to go over the financial impacts, public health issues and ocean conditions behind the recent shutdown of the recreational and commercial crab seasons.

The commercial fishery, which brings in from $60 million to $95 million a year, was closed before the scheduled opening on Nov. 15 after testing of crab by health officials showed toxic levels of domoic acid, a neurotoxin known to cause seizures, coma and even death when consumed by animals or humans.

The meeting, hosted by state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, was an attempt to give people information and hope that the beloved, historic crab fishing industry might eventually be restored. But most of the information given out was decidedly grim.

“This is a situation that is causing real harm to people we care about at our department … but public health and safety has to come first,” said Charlton Bonham, the director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “I’m intent on our department doing whatever it takes to get seasons open as soon as Mother Nature allows it.”

Recent crab samples indicate that the situation is improving, with domoic acid levels in Half Moon Bay, San Francisco and Morro Bay coming out clean. But the health advisory cannot be lifted until all samples collected from the entire region show safe levels of domoic acid for two weeks in a row.

Samples in Monterey and the northern part of the state, including Fort Bragg and Bodega Bay, are still showing high levels, according to the California Department of Public Health.

The problem is that poisonous algae known as pseudo-nitzschia has been multiplying in the ocean since April. It grew dramatically through August and has infected numerous marine species in addition to crab. Blooms have been estimated to be 40 miles wide, the biggest and most toxic bloom collectively that researchers have ever seen.

Domoic acid concentrations in Monterey Bay have measured 10 to 30 times the level considered toxic. Levels of 30 parts per million in the viscera and 20 parts per million in the meat of crabs are considered unsafe to eat, according to health officials.

This year, crab with domoic acid levels of 240 parts per million have not been unusual. One sample in the Channel Islands tested at 1,000 parts per million.

“It’s really like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” said Eric Sklar, a member of the California Fish and Game Commission. “This really is unprecedented and it’s important to remember that.”

Experts say the chief cause of the toxic blooms is consistently high ocean temperatures caused by climate aberrations that are being reinforced by a strengthening El Niño weather pattern in the tropics.

The waters off the West Coast have been as high as 6 degrees warmer than normal. The anomaly began a couple of years ago when the wall of atmospheric pressure over the Pacific that blocked storms from hitting California — and kicked off the drought — also kept cold, stormy air from stirring the ocean and moderating water temperatures.

“Ocean conditions are changing and they are changing fast,” said Sklar, who urged legislators to seek more funding for research. “I really look at this as a shot across the bow. We are going to see this more and more.”

Cat Kuhlman, executive director of the Ocean Protection Council, said the El Niño is not expected to alleviate the huge fluctuations in ocean temperatures, animal deaths and mass migrations of marine species, which she called the “new normal.”

“It’s highly likely we will have more of these algal blooms under any scenario,” said Kuhlman, who is also deputy secretary of ocean and coastal policy for the California Natural Resources Agency. “All of a sudden we’re seeing these really large fluctuations and we’re going to need to respond to that.”

The biggest fear expressed during Thursday’s hearing was the possibility that the crab fishery might not open at all this season. That would be a devastating blow for fishers, who have already been hurt by a poor salmon season this year that yielded one-third of the average harvest.

A California congressional delegation recently urged Gov. Jerry Brown to be ready to ask the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to declare a state of disaster if the season doesn’t open, a move that would free up federal aid for crabbers.

Joe Caito, the president of Caito Fisheries, which processes millions of pounds of crab a year from Eureka, Fort Bragg and San Francisco, said the fishery closure has harmed even frozen crab sales, with clubs and other groups canceling annual crab feeds up and down the coast.

“The industry has already lost its Thanksgiving holiday sales. We may lose the rest of the year,” Caito said. “Without the volume sales our profits are going to be compromised, our employees aren’t going to get a paycheck and we just can’t make up the sales.”

Caito said things aren‘t likely to get a whole lot better even if crab season opens.

“We need to gain back consumer confidence in order to get people to buy crab,” he said.

1024x1024Angela Cincotta holds a fresh Dungeness crab imported from Washington state at the Alioto-Lazio Fish Company on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. Recent tests indicate that domoic acid in Dungeness crab have dropped to acceptable levels but it will still take a little while longer to lift the ban on the local crabbing season. Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

fishermanswharfJorge Cham (left) and Jose Hoil peddle Dungeness crab imported from Washington state to tourists walking past Nick’s Lighthouse restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. Recent tests indicate that domoic acid in Dungeness crab have dropped to acceptable levels but it will still take a little while longer to lift the ban on the local crabbing season. Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

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Dec 4 2015

Environmentalists, fishermen clash over proposed Chumash marine sanctuary

The Chumash marine sanctuary would extend 140 miles from Cambria to Santa Barbara

Proponents say it would protect a diverse Pacific ecosystem

Local fishermen say the sanctuary could lead to over-regulation

A controversial underwater national park proposed off the Central Coast aims to protect and manage the area’s marine life, stop oil drilling and seismic surveys, and encourage scientific research.

In October, the nomination for the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary was accepted for consideration, setting the stage for a showdown in coming months and years between environmentalists who strongly support the proposed sanctuary and the fishing community that opposes it.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will decide whether to add the local waters to a list of 14 national marine sanctuaries, including four designations in California and others in locations that include Washington state, the Florida Keys and American Samoa.

The Chumash sanctuary would cover an expansive area of the Pacific coastal waters, stretching 140 miles from Cambria to Santa Barbara, with the goal of protecting a diverse ecosystem that includes dolphins, whales, white sea bass, sardines, mackerel, kelp and elephant seals.

“Primarily, a sanctuary is about ecosystem-based management, protecting the entire area, not just single species,” said Andrew Christie, director of the local Sierra Club chapter, an advocate for the designation. “Specific regulations and protections can be proposed during the designation process, in which NOAA would basically ask the community: What do you value? What do you want to protect? And how do you want to go about doing so?”

The Chumash sanctuary would fill a gap in federally protected waters between the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to the north and the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary to the south. Extending from Gaviota Creek in Santa Barbara to Santa Rosa Creek in Cambria, the Chumash sanctuary’s western boundary would be the submerged Santa Lucia Bank along the Santa Lucia Escarpment and the eastern side would be the mean high tide line. The zone wouldn’t include harbors.

Fishing industry leaders, galvanized to oppose the concept, are worried that a sanctuary would lead to more fishing restrictions. They say they believe existing statewide protections, including trawl closure areas, rockfish conservation areas and marine protected areas, are sufficient.

They also say they believe adding a new federal regulating agency would hinder local influence over offshore policy.

Although the Chumash nomination states no new fishing regulations will be added, Monterey Bay’s sanctuary has played a strong advocacy role in adding fish closures in California, fishing industry leaders say.

“They have been very powerful voices in creating new closures,” Monterey Bay Harbormaster Stephen Scheiblauer said. “Some of the nearshore fishermen in particular have experienced severe economic blows because of those closures.”

Jeremiah O’Brien, a director of the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization, said a promise not to regulate fishing doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

“Once you hand things over to the feds, they can and will do whatever they want,” O’Brien said. “It doesn’t matter what you put in the charter. They can revise and revise, and things will change in the future. ”

But Bill Douros, NOAA’s western region manager, said that national marine sanctuaries take a comprehensive approach toward seeking advice and guidance from local stakeholders on decisions, and that local decisions wouldn’t be made without collaboration, including the fishing industry.

“I’m very impressed by how much balance, effort and care help decide an issue and serve to meet everyone’s goals and objectives,” Douros said. “There is considerable weight put on local perspective with any sanctuary decision, including the fishing industry.”

What’s being proposed

The 69-page nomination submission from the Northern Chumash Tribal Council was filed with NOAA in July, and has the backing of several environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation and the Center for Biological Diversity.

The nomination seeks to preserve large areas of kelp and seagrass to enhance the habitat of a wide variety of marine species, including commercial fisheries. Other proposed measures include conserving sea otter populations.

The bid also seeks to maintain Chumash archaeological sites, where the tribe’s villages once existed 3 to 6 miles to the west of the current tidal lines, “until the ocean submerged the homes of our ancestors.”

“The Chumash Peoples have awakened to the smells, sounds and the view of this sacred western horizon for over 15,000 years,” the nomination reads.

The proposal states “the designation document should not contain sanctuary authorization to regulate fishing,” a sticking point for fishing industry leaders who say sanctuaries have contributed to fishing limitations in Monterey Bay through lobbying efforts. In the Channel Islands sanctuary, fishing regulations have been implemented, though no promise initially was made not to, according to fishing leaders.

The Chumash nomination cites recent threats to marine life that include airgun seismic testing, attempted disposals of agricultural waste and proposals for slant oil drilling from onshore facilities.

Fred Collins, the administrator for the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, said, “the last thing I want to see is tar on local beaches from oil drilling,” such as the leakage in Gaviota or seismic testing he says would harm fish and marine mammals.

“There’s tremendous potential for a marine sanctuary to be a leader in gathering data and public awareness about the local ecosystem,” Collins said. “We can make a change together in how we can preserve resources.”

Economic interests

A sanctuary also could open the door for new grants and funding for research by local universities and colleges, including Cal Poly’s Center for Coastal Marine Sciences, the Marine Science Institute at UC Santa Barbara and the oceanography program at Cuesta College.

UCSB recently received a $4 million grant from the California Ocean Protection Council to study ecological systems off its coast; the project involves Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary scientists.

A study commissioned by the Sierra Club projects the Chumash sanctuary would generate $23 million and 600 new jobs — and estimates the local fishing industry claims are exaggerated.

The figures are based on projected administrative expenditures, new research funding, increased coastal tourism, and increased property values and tax revenues associated with a new sanctuary.

“In most of the 14 current National Marine Sanctuaries, tourism is one of the largest sectors of the local economy,” the study states. “Millions of visitors are drawn to these areas for their beaches, recreational fishing, diving, snorkeling, surfing, fishing, wildlife viewing, and museums and aquariums.”

Bruce Gibson, the county’s 2nd District supervisor, has endorsed the sanctuary.

“A national marine sanctuary would provide new opportunities for locals and visitors to explore, learn and recreate off our coast,” Gibson said. “Such a designation would be a win for our communities and our economy.”

The opposing response

Groups including the Morro Bay Community Quota Fund, a fishing advocacy organization, as well as the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization and the city’s Harbor Advisory Board, have opposed a sanctuary, citing possible prohibitions on wave and wind energy projects proposed off the coast of Morro Bay; suspected future restrictions on fishing and dredging; and their contention that sufficient fishing regulations are already in place.

At a Sept. 22 Morro Bay City Council meeting, fishing industry supporters were among those who spoke out against the idea of a sanctuary.

“The whole concept of a local government or state government is compromised when you automatically give it to NOAA or Washington, D.C. to take control,” said Jesse Barrios, a commercial fisherman.

Previous Morro Bay City Councils passed two resolutions opposing earlier attempts at sanctuaries, the latest in 2012. The current City Council hasn’t yet taken an official stance on the Chumash initiative.

Mayor Jamie Irons said he believes Monterey Bay’s sanctuary hasn’t served local interests well since it formed in 1992, and he won’t endorse the Chumash sanctuary proposal without significant modifications to how the program would operate.

“The Monterey fishermen embraced that sanctuary in the beginning,” Irons said, “but there was a loss of trust when the sanctuary management changed. I want to see if we can correct it. Let’s work on gaining the trust of our commercial fishermen before we move forward.”

Irons said he wants any sanctuary designation document, which sets administrative guidelines, to stipulate that it can only be changed with direct, binding local input. Irons said an advisory council should be selected through a local process, and not through appointments by the sanctuary’s administration, which occurs in Monterey Bay.

Irons said the state’s Department of Fish and Game or the National Marine Fisheries Services, housed within NOAA, should continue to regulate fishing off the Central Coast and not sanctuary administration.

In a letter to NOAA, Morro Bay’s Community Quota Fund cited permitting limitations on dredging in Monterey, imposed by that sanctuary’s administration, because of disturbances to the seabed. Dredging is needed for safe boat trafficking in Morro Bay, the letter argued.

Scheiblauer, the Monterey Bay harbormaster, said the Monterey Bay sanctuary’s administration chooses about two-thirds of the advisory council that represents business, agriculture, commercial fishing, tourism, industry and other interests. The Monterey Bay sanctuary also sets the agenda for meetings and controls communications, such as letters to Congress and media talking points, leading to criticism that the agency has hampered local input, Scheiblauer added.

Scheiblauer said he was present when NOAA officals promised, before the designation, not to affect the livelihoods of fishermen, winning the support of fishermen for the sanctuary in the early 1990s.

But he has observed the sanctuary take an active lobbying role in shaping new closure areas, including California’s marine protected areas that block large sections of fishing waters to commercial catches.

“The city of Monterey and other groups such as the Marine Interest Group don’t believe the sanctuary should be involved in fishing,” Scheiblauer said.

O’Brien said he disputes the accuracy of the Sierra Club’s estimates on economic impacts.

“I don’t see how they’re getting those numbers, especially relating to tourism,” O’Brien said. “Most people wouldn’t know a sanctuary even exists. People don’t go to Monterey Bay for the sanctuary. They go to see the (nonprofit) aquarium. But they’re two different things.”

O’Brien added that he doesn’t envision any oil drilling off the Central Coast, which would require the permission from the Bureau of Ocean Management and agencies such as the California Coastal Commission.

“I just don’t see that happening,” O’Brien said. “There’s no need for extra layers of regulation.”

NOAA perspective

Douros, representing NOAA, said a public information meeting will be held in Morro Bay on Jan. 6. Another will be organized at the request of San Luis Obispo County on a date yet to be determined.

NOAA initially denied the Chumash proposal submitted in February, citing a need for more specific information about how a sanctuary would provide unique management and conservation value. A second, more detailed submission, was successful.

Douros said sanctuaries can help prevent low-flying aircraft from colliding with birds, cruise ships from crashing into whales, and urban runoff discharges, to name a few of the benefits.

He added, “The presence of sanctuaries has not led to declines in fish catches in any way,” noting trawlers can still fish in sanctuary areas where seagrasses are protected, for example.

According to NOAA’s estimates, Monterey Bay’s national marine sanctuary yielded an average of $26 million in commercial fishing catch revenue per year over a three-year period from 2010-12, indicating the fish-related economy there is healthy.

Douros noted that research in California sanctuaries led to a ban on harvesting krill in California, implemented by the National Marine Fisheries statewide, helping to nourish whale, rockfish and seabird populations that directly benefit from krill. Douros said that policy relating to wind and wave energy would have to be assessed in the creation of a sanctuary.

Douros said he believes the study commissioned by the Sierra Club on the projected economic impacts of a Chumash sanctuary is reasonable and even “conservative.”

“UCSB just received a multimillion-dollar grant to study the long-term ecosystem of the Channel Islands sanctuary,” Douros said. “Whale watching boats are selling out, partly because of a show the BBC produced called Big Blue Live showing the marine life on California’s West Coast. And the fishermen have a marketing benefit by saying their catches come from a sanctuary. Federal staff live and pay housing and sales taxes in the community. There are many new ways money gets spent in the community because of a sanctuary.”

Public meeting

NOAA officials will answer questions about the process for considering a Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary at a public meeting set for 6 p.m. Jan. 6 at the Veterans Memorial Building, 209 Surf St., in Morro Bay.

 Jeremiah O’Brien, a director with the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization, is part of the fishing industry group that’s opposing the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. Joe Johnston

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Dec 4 2015

Could market squid become a new Southeast fishery?

Southeast Alaska marine scientists got a rare peek this year into the hatching of a certain species of squid.

“I’ve never seen it. In fact, I’ve never seen squid in Southeast and I’ve been here since 1976,” said Gordon Garcia. He works at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute in Auke Bay.

Market squid eggs were found this past summer in a salmon capture device at the NOAAs Little Port Walter field station. That’s located on the eastern shore of the southern tip of Baranof Island.

The squid are native to Southeast and are commercially harvested in California. But Garcia said this is the first time evidence of market squid spawning has been found at the research station, which has been there since the 1920s.

NOAA's Gordon Garcia shows one of the tanks that is being used to hatch and culture market squid in the wet lab at Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

NOAA’s Gordon Garcia shows one of the tanks that is being used to hatch and culture market squid in the wet lab at Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

“The squid actually spawned in the capture device and our staff there grabbed some of them,” Garcia said. The live squid died quickly, so he settled for eggs and began experimenting in July. I visited him in September.

Garcia is a facilities manager at the institute, but he studied marine zoology in college and spent 30 years at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He’s curious to know if the squid can be cultured.

In the tanks where the squid eggs are kept, Garcia points out what he calls “squidleys,” also known as hatchlings.

“We see this mass of squid hatching and they’re all attracted to the light,” Garcia said as we watched the squidleys dart around and swim.

This photo was called Squidnado because of the tornado-like formation of market squid hatchlings that swam toward the light. (Photo courtesy Gordon Garcia/NOAA)

Garcia calls this photo “Squidnado” because of the tornado-like formation of market squid hatchlings that swam toward the light. (Photo courtesy Gordon Garcia/NOAA)

The eggs are housed in what looks like a puffy, translucent white sea anemone. About 30 to 40 eggs are in each finger.

Garcia took an early photo of the first hatchlings that resembled an underwater tornado. He dubbed it “Squidnado” as an homage to recent cheesy sci-fi movies that mix weather phenomenon and marine life.

The experiment is conducted in eight tanks. One of the tanks has water piped in from Auke Bay, which stays around 49 degrees Fahrenheit. In another tank, the water is warmed to 61 degrees.

The eggs in the warmer tank hatched first but then died after about a week. Eggs in the cooler tank began to hatch about four weeks later.

Garcia said market squid typically live about a year and grow to 8 to 10 inches long.

“You could get those little calamari rings out of them. Yeah, dice them up,” he said, laughing.

At one point, there were clouds of squidleys in the lab’s tanks, Garcia said. As many as 7,000 hatched between late summer and early fall.

“They’re just popping out as we’re talking. You can see that cloud is getting denser and denser. If I were to go shake these egg masses, I’d probably triple the number of critters that you see there,” Garcia said.

“I’m not sure what I’m going to do with them all. I hate to see them die, but that’s nature, of course. We’ll take the strongest and see if we can’t make them grow.”


Market squid

Market squid hatchling is photographed under extreme magnification. (Photo courtesy Gordon Garcia/NOAA)

Garcia spent three months experimenting with the size of the tank, the kind of gravel at the bottom, water flow and food sources. The tricky part was getting the squid to eat.

He tried salmon meal, rehydrated freeze-dried rotifers or a form of zooplankton and brine shrimp. Some of the cold water squid doubled in size after feeding on the brine shrimp, but the shrimp themselves did not thrive very well in the cold water.

Sadly, despite Garcia’s attempts to keep the squidleys alive, the experiment only lasted about three months. The last one died Oct. 6.

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