Archive for July, 2016

Jul 19 2016

Closing parts of the ocean to fishing not enough to protect marine ecosystems

Date: July 13, 2016

Source: University of Washington

Summary: Managing a country’s entire fisheries is a better strategy than closing parts of the ocean to fishing, a new commentary argues. Marine protected areas have grown in popularity since the early 2000s. Recent examples include an area twice the size of Texas in the central Pacific established in 2014 by President Barack Obama, and a proposal to close 25 percent of the Seychelles’ exclusive economic zone, an island nation off Africa’s east coast.



A University of Washington fisheries professor argues that saving biodiversity in the world’s oceans requires more than banning fishing with marine protected areas, or oceanic wilderness areas. In a three-page editorial published in the journal Nature, he argues that this increasingly popular conservation strategy is not as effective as properly managing recreational and commercial fisheries. “There’s this idea that the only way you can protect the ocean is by permanently closing parts of the ocean to fishing, with no-take areas,” said Ray Hilborn, a professor in the UW’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. “You protect biodiversity better by regulating fisheries over the country’s entire economic zone.”

Marine protected areas have grown in popularity since the early 2000s. Recent examples include an area twice the size of Texas in the central Pacific established in 2014 by President Barack Obama, and a proposal to close 25 percent of the Seychelles’ exclusive economic zone, an island nation off Africa’s east coast.

Several environmental organizations have set a longer-term goal of making 30 percent of the world’s oceans into no-take marine protected areas by the year 2030. But Hilborn believes this is not the best way to protect global marine ecosystems.

“If the problem is overfishing or bycatch, then fisheries management is much more effective than establishing MPAs because you regulate the catch over the entire economic zone,” Hilborn said. “I don’t see how anyone can defend MPAs as a better method than fisheries management, except in places where you just can’t do management.”

In countries with functioning fisheries management systems, Hilborn believes, conservationists and the fishing industry should work together on large-scale protection of marine biodiversity and sensitive marine habitats.

For example, changes in fishing practices that allowed “dolphin-safe tuna” have cut dolphin deaths in the eastern Pacific by almost 100 times between 1986 and 1998, the article notes.

“You could never have reduced dolphin deaths that much by simply closing part of the ocean to fishing,” Hilborn said.

He argues that working with the fishing industry to modify what types of gear are used and when and where different species are allowed to be caught can make more of a difference than establishing new marine protected areas.

“In Alaska, for example, more than 50 percent of the continental shelf waters are closed to specific kinds of fishing gear and the entire shelf is covered by species-specific catch restrictions,” he writes. “This is much more protection than could be offered by turning 30 percent of the region into MPAs.”

Hilborn said he worries that marine protected areas are being created without specific objectives, lacking input from affected communities, and without analysis of the larger-scale effects. Closing one area to fishing will just shift the pressure to a different area, Hilborn said, or cause people to seek other, more environmentally harmful sources of food.

In early September, world leaders will meet in Hawaii for the high-profile World Conservation Congress, held every four years by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Hilborn hopes his article will prompt discussion about priorities for preserving the health of marine environments.

“The modern conservation movement is places too much emphasis on protected areas,” Hilborn said. “The focus needs to shift. We can better protect biodiversity, and still provide food, by looking to fisheries management as the first defense.”

Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University of Washington. The original item was written by Hannah Hickey. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Ray Hilborn. Policy: Marine biodiversity needs more than protection. Nature, 2016; 535 (7611): 224 DOI: 10.1038/535224a


Jul 15 2016

Ocean monument: Growing momentum for Obama to establish new Pacific marine preserves before leaving office

A new effort to convince President Barack Obama to establish a huge new national monument in the Pacific Ocean off California before he leaves office six months from now is gaining momentum.

More than 100 scientists — including some of the top marine biologists in the world — and two dozen environmental groups are pushing a proposal that would ban offshore oil drilling, undersea mining and potentially some types of fishing in nine areas between San Diego and the Oregon border.

File photo: Future Pacific Ocean preserve? More than 100 scientists -- including some of the top marine biologists in the world -- and two dozenFile photo: Future Pacific Ocean preserve? More than 100 scientists — including some of the top marine biologists in the world — and two dozen environmental groups are pushing a proposal that would ban offshore oil drilling, undersea mining and potentially some types of fishing in nine areas between San Diego and the Oregon border. (Don Ryan/Associated Press archives)


The areas singled out are a collection of underwater mountains, known as seamounts, along with several dormant underwater volcanoes, deep-sea ridges and concentrations of natural vents that spew hot water. Ranging from 45 to 186 miles off the California coast, and plunging more than 1 mile under the ocean’s surface, the remote locations are rich with sharks, whales, sea turtles and exotic sea life, including forests of coral, sponges and sea urchins. Many of the species have been discovered only in recent years as deep-sea exploration technology has improved.

“There are a lot of people who recognize the importance of this,” said Lance Morgan, president of the Marine Conservation Institute, a Sonoma County environmental group that has been spearheading the plans. “It’s moving forward; people are interested.”

Roughly 5 to 10 percent of ocean waters from 3 miles offshore to 200 miles offshore would be affected, Morgan said. Some types of fishing, such as bottom trawling and drift gill net fishing, would be banned, he added, although recreational fishing and hook-and-line commercial fishing would likely not be affected.

The concept, however, has been drawing suspicion and concern from some fishing groups who say it has largely been drafted in secret.

“If you are trying to protect these truly iconic places — and there’s no doubt they really need protection — from things like oil drilling and mining, you have to wonder in what way does fishing adversely affect those areas,” said Dan Wolford, president of the Coastside Fishing Club, a recreational fishing organization. “The fishing community says it doesn’t.”

On Thursday, the campaign received a boost when Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, and Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Los Angeles, introduced a bill to establish a new “California Seamounts and Ridges National Marine Conservation Area,” which would include most of the areas the supporters have highlighted. The measure would require the U.S. interior and commerce secretaries to draw the precise boundaries after consulting with fishing groups and other interested parties.

The measure would ban oil drilling, dredging, mining and undersea cables in the areas but would not restrict military activities, scientific research, recreational fishing or commercial tuna fishing.

“These are extraordinary places,” said Jane Lubchenco, a professor of zoology at Oregon State University who sits on the board of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation in Palo Alto. She called the areas “a vital frontier for scientific discovery.”

The bill, however, has virtually no chance of passage in the Republican-led Congress.

Such bills are commonly introduced when environmental groups and the lawmakers supporting them are pushing a president to declare a national monument without congressional approval, using his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act.

When conservatives protest, the supporters often say that they tried through the normal legislative process, but their bills were not given a hearing, leaving them no chance but to go to the White House.

Nearly every president has used the law, since it was first signed by President Theodore Roosevelt, to establish new national monuments on land. Roosevelt used it to set aside the Grand Canyon, Bill Clinton used it to protect California’s Giant Sequoias, and in 2006, President George W. Bush used it to establish the Northern Hawaiian Islands National Monument, a vast section of ocean that includes 10 remote islands and atolls, including Midway, over 140,000 square miles.

The Obama administration hasn’t said much about the proposal. Kaelan Richards, a White House spokeswoman, on Thursday did not comment when asked if the president was considering using his executive authority to establish a new monument.

On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed an amendment by Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-New York, to ban funding for the designation of any new marine monuments by Obama. The language, attached to the fiscal year 2017 Interior Department budget bill, passed by a vote of 225-202. It came in response to controversy from the fishing industry over several proposals to establish new marine monuments on the East Coast.

The bill goes now to the U.S. Senate. If the amendment survives, it would not ban Obama from establishing new marine monuments but would ban federal funds from being spent to draw up and enforce rules in them.

Paul Rogers covers resources and environmental issues. Contact him at 408-920-5045. Follow him at

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Jul 14 2016

Ray Hilborn: Sound Fishery Management More Effective Approach Than MPAs to Protect Oceans

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

Copyright © 2016

Seafood News

SEAFOODNEWS.COM Ray Hilborn – July 14,2016

On 1 September, government leaders, directors of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and others will meet in Hawaii at the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Conservation Congress to discuss environmental and development challenges. Twenty-three NGOs, including the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Natural Resources Defense Council, are calling on the IUCN to make 30% of the world’s coastal and marine areas fully protected from fishing and other forms of exploitation by 2030.

If this target were achieved, the abundance of exploited species in the areas that are closed off would undoubtedly increase1. It is not clear, however, whether the same would be true for marine biodiversity overall.

There are currently two very different views on the effectiveness of zones where fishing is either banned outright or tightly restricted. Many conservationists see the establishment of these marine protected areas (MPAs) as the only way to protect biodiversity. Others — me included — argue that the protection of biodiversity at sea can include recreational and industrial fishing and other uses of ocean resources. In fact, we think that closing waters to some kinds of fishing gear and restricting the catch of named species can offer much more protection than cordoning off even 30% of an area. We are concerned that MPAs may simply shift fishing pressure elsewhere2.

Opinions are so divided that the conservation expertise of fisheries managers is being left out of national and international drives to protect ocean resources. Likewise, the suite of threats to biodiversity besides fishing, such as from oil exploration, sea-bed mining and ocean acidification, are not being addressed in standard fisheries management.

The seas face myriad problems — climate change, development and the nutritional and other needs of a growing human population. To tackle them, conservationists and those involved in fisheries management must work together and answer to the same governing bodies.

Rise of protection
Calls for MPAs began in earnest during the 1990s, when overfishing was common in most of the developed world and collapses of fish stocks repeatedly made headlines. In the early 2000s, ecologists often assumed that biodiversity could flourish only inside protected areas. One group proposed in 2002, for example, that 40% of the ocean be made reserves, on the assumption that the replenishment of fish populations through reproduction could not happen outside them3.

Most ecologists and conservationists now accept — in theory — that even if as much as 20% of a region were cordoned off from fishing, most of that area’s biodiversity would exist outside the protected zones as long as effective fisheries management was in place. Yet the dominance of MPAs in conservation policy has, if anything, increased since the 2000s.

In the past decade especially, numerous environmental NGOs and conservation-funding groups have taken up MPAs as their preferred tool for ocean protection. Together, the conservation group WWF, Greenpeace and other NGOs have spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past ten years lobbying for MPAs around the world. One effect of this was US President Barack Obama adding just over 1 million square kilometres (an area roughly twice the size of Texas) to the US Pacific territories national monument in 2014. Another has been President James Michel of the Seychelles promising to make 412,000 km2 of the Indian Ocean surrounding the islands a totally protected MPA.

MPAs also dominate the scientific literature on marine conservation. Researchers documenting the effects of MPAs on biodiversity, in my view, ignore or underappreciate the benefits of fisheries management. Jane Lubchenco and Kirsten Grorud-Colvert4 for instance, have equated biodiversity protection in the oceans to the establishment of no-take areas, writing: “Even lumping all categories together, only 3.5% of the ocean is protected” and “only 1.6% is ‘strongly’ or ‘fully’ protected.” And in 2014, Carissa Klein and co-authors5 evaluated the degree to which the ranges of more than 17,000 species are contained within MPAs. I interpret this as implying that species whose ranges do not fall within MPAs will be lost, although these authors concede that, for some species, “the best conservation outcome may be achieved with other strategies, including fisheries regulations”.

Management strategies
There are many other useful tools and legal frameworks designed to reduce overfishing, rebuild fish stocks and protect the biodiversity of the oceans. National and international fisheries agencies have been developing and enforcing these for the past two decades.

Problems are identified and tools selected to solve them in what is often a highly participatory process involving many stakeholders. If a certain fishing approach, such as bottom trawling, threatens a habitat, the area can be closed to that type of fishing. If a species is being threatened as a result of being caught unintentionally along with the targeted species, the fishery may be closed, fishing permitted at only certain times of the year, or catching techniques modified to reduce by-catch. Dolphin mortality fell almost 100-fold between 1986 and 1998 in the eastern Pacific6, for instance, after vessels changed fishing practice so that ensnared dolphins were released before the nets were hauled aboard. (The technology was developed by fishermen after the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission instituted limits to dolphin by-catch.)

The United States spends more than US$300 million per year on fisheries management. It does so through the implementation of key pieces of legislation, including the Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act. In Alaska, for example, more than 50% of the continental shelf waters are closed to specific kinds of fishing gear and the entire shelf is covered by species-specific catch restrictions. This is much more protection than could be offered by turning 30% of the region into MPAs.

Because of fisheries management, overfishing has largely been eliminated in US waters7. The proportion of fish stocks listed as ‘overfished’ — those in which abundance is lower than that needed to produce near-maximum yield — halved between 1997 and 2014 to 16% (see Overfishing has also largely stopped in the European Union’s Atlantic fisheries, New Zealand, Australia, Iceland, Norway and Canada (see ‘The fruits of fisheries management’)8. And management strategies recently implemented by major Latin American countries, including Peru, Argentina and Chile, have reduced the proportion of stocks that are fished above optimal rates from 75% in 2000 to 45% in 2011 (unpublished data).

In short, it is now clear that for those countries with effective fisheries management in place — a group of nations responsible for 45% of the global catch — fish stocks are stable, or increasing. Of course, most of the world’s fisheries, especially in Africa and in parts of Asia, have no protection of any kind.

Bridge the divide
Studies show that enforcing the closure of an area to fishing increases the density of fish in the reserve by around 166%1. Yet, at best, MPAs will cover a small fraction of the ocean and few studies have evaluated their effect on biodiversity outside their perimeters. Catch data, records of boat movements and other monitoring efforts indicate that fishing pressure may increase beyond MPAs2.

More pressingly, neither MPAs nor fisheries management alone can shield marine biodiversity from the panoply of current threats: climate change and ocean acidification, land-based run-off, oil spills, plastics, ship traffic, tidal and wind farms, ocean mining and underwater communications cables.

The enormity of the challenge calls for a change in approach. Instead of working at cross purposes, MPA advocates and those in fisheries management need to identify and solve area-specific problems together, and in consultation with diverse stakeholders. These may range from professional and recreational fishermen, park officers and environmental NGOs to developers, oil and gas companies and communications companies.

Regional coastal-management agencies, such as the California Coastal Commission, which operates as a quasi-independent government agency, are a potential model. But their mandate and membership would have to be significantly expanded if they were to deal with the impacts of fisheries and the establishment of MPAs. Such commissions have traditionally been confined to nearshore waters and have been able to regulate only development permits.

Marine spatial planning is a generic term for the process of resolving conflicts in the use of marine resources and would seem to be the obvious mechanism to integrate fisheries management and MPAs. Yet after more than a decade of discussion and some attempts at implementation, there are few examples of the process effectively bringing the two ‘tribes’ together to work towards common goals. I suspect that this is, in part, because insufficient efforts have been made to convince both parties that decision-making bodies represent their interests appropriately.

The best examples of MPA advocates and fisheries-management communities working together are small-scale. In the Philippines and Indonesia, for instance, communities are working with local governments and NGOs, using a mix of protected areas and other forms of regulation, to try to rebuild coral-reef fish stocks9. Here the principal aim is to make fishing more sustainable; the objective of protecting representative habitats is not typically considered.

In larger industrial fisheries, such as in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, it should be possible for MPA advocates to collaborate with national fisheries departments. This would require a clear elaboration of the objectives of each. It would also require the appointment of more conservationists and MPA advocates to fisheries-management organizations, which are currently dominated by regulatory agencies and fishing-interest groups.

Another way to foster collaboration on a national scale would be to merge the various government departments responsible for conservation and fisheries management into a single department of marine management. Such an organization could oversee the protection of biodiversity and the sustainable use of fisheries, and regulate competing marine uses. As a first step, a set of formal consultations, informed by case studies that measure the actual level of biodiversity protection achieved in different places through existing mixes of MPAs and fisheries management, could begin to identify clear measurable objectives.

At the local, national and international levels, biodiversity protection and fisheries management must be overseen by the same bodies if either is to be truly effective.

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Jul 14 2016

Ninth Circuit revives fishermen’s lawsuit for abalone protection


SAN FRANCISCO, CA;  July 13, 2016: Overruling a trial court, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday reinstated Pacific Legal Foundation’s lawsuit to protect abalone and other shellfish resources — and the industries dependent on them — from being ravaged by sea otters in the waters off the Southern California coast.

The lawsuit — California Sea Urchin Commission et al. v. Jacobson et. al. — targets the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for illegally eliminating a “sea otter management zone” (i.e., a zone of protection for shellfish off the Southern California coast) which Congress established under a 1986 statute.

PLF attorneys represent fishermen, a California state commission, and several nonprofit organizations with a direct interest in maintaining healthy populations of shellfish.

A trial court had ruled that the lawsuit, filed in 2013, came too late, and should have been filed two decades earlier, when regulators first claimed they had authority to set aside the sea otter management zone — not when they actually took that step four years ago.

But the Ninth Circuit has now reversed that decision, holding that “an agency should not be able to sidestep a legal challenge to one of its actions by backdating the action” to an earlier time when it merely published an assertion that it could take such an action.

“The Ninth Circuit’s ruling is a victory for the California fishermen who want to protect California abalone and other shellfish, and it is also a victory for everyone who values the rule of law,” said PLF attorney Jonathan Wood.  “The Ninth Circuit struck a blow for the rule of law and agency accountability.  The decision makes clear that every final agency action may receive judicial review.  Scofflaw bureaucrats cannot avoid scrutiny by citing times they got away with violating the law in the past.”

Background:  regulators disobey Congress, putting shellfish — and fishing families — at risk

At issue is the Service’s violation of the terms of Public Law 99-625, the 1986 statute that authorized regulators to set up an experimental population of the California sea otter on San Nicolas Island, approximately 65 miles southwest of Point Mugu in Ventura County.  It included requirements that sea otters be restricted from spreading to surrounding waters, and that fishermen be exempted from Endangered Species Act (ESA) liability for accidentally catching or harming an otter during their work.

The Service accepted this compromise in the late 1980s, by moving otters to San Nicolas Island and adopting a regulation to implement the protections for the surrounding fishery.

However, the Service included in its regulation an assertion that it has authority to terminate these protections (even though Congress said it “must” adopt and “shall implement” them).

Nearly 20 years later, in 2012, the Service did precisely that — unilaterally reneging on the deal and repealing all of the protections for shellfish and the fishing industry.

In challenging the Service’s violation of its legal mandate to contain the sea otter population, PLF attorneys represent:

  • The California Sea Urchin Commission, a state panel, created by the Legislature, to promote sustainable sea urchin harvests, balance sea urchin harvests with environmental protection, and foster education about the high nutritional value of sea urchin.
  • The California Abalone Association, a nonprofit corporation with a mission to restore and steward a market abalone fishery in California that utilizes modern management concepts, protects and enhances the resource, and guarantees a sustainable resource for the future.
  • The California Lobster and Trap Fishermen’s Association, a nonprofit association that advocates for a sustainable lobster resource, and for the fishermen and communities that depend on the resource.  The organization is gravely concerned about unregulated otter expansion that threatens the lobster population, and the loss of fishermen’s exemption from “incidental take” liability under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), because of the risks that fishermen’s traps will unintentionally “take” otters.
  • Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara, a nonprofit corporation organized to integrate regional efforts of fishing communities with the aim of improving the economic and biological sustainability of fisheries.  The organization is seriously concerned about unregulated otter expansion, due to the threat to shellfish and other species.  The organization is also concerned about fishing operations being exposed to ESA liability in the event of unintentional harm to sea otters.

Responding to this week’s Ninth Circuit ruling, David Goldenberg, Executive Director of the California Sea Urchin Commission, said, “This victory is an important step toward defending Southern California’s fishermen pursuing their livelihoods.  The decision recognizes that we have a right to have our day in court, and agency bureaucrats are not above the law.”

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the lawsuit is entitled, California Sea Urchin Commission et al. v. Jacobson et. al.  More information, including the complaint, the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, a video, and podcast, may be found at PLF’s website:

About Pacific Legal Foundation
Donor-supported PLF is a watchdog organization that litigates for limited government, property rights, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations, in courts nationwide.  PLF represents all clients without charge.

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Jul 14 2016

Stinky Sea Lions Inspire Wacky Deterrents—Like Fake Orcas

sea_lionSea lions have angered human neighbors in La Jolla, California, with their smells and sounds, kicking off a public battle.

Along North America’s West Coast, human beings are wrestling with the triumphant return of the slippery California sea lion.

The thick-bodied creatures in La Jolla, California, muscle their way into lifeguard chairs, block access to public steps, and laze about on dry rocks, where the sun bakes their feces into a stench that clears out nearby restaurants.

Up north in Oregon, these sleek swimmers so completely take over docks and marinas that port officials repel them with paint guns, electric mats, and the same Gumby-like wiggling inflatable air dancers that usually advertise clearance sales at car lots. Still, the animals keep coming.

And 145 miles (235 kilometers) up the mighty Columbia River, sea lions now feast on so many endangered fish that the federal government last week renewed authority for states to remove or euthanize the most gluttonous of the predators.

Forty-four years after passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), the population of smart, muscle-bound sea lions has climbed to almost 300,000. That’s a far cry from the 1930s and 1940s, when these animals dipped to less than 20,000 and may have numbered as few as 10,000. For a fish-eating critter once slaughtered for dog food, its blubber sold for oil and its whiskers used as tobacco pipe cleaners, that is a stunning comeback.

“It’s one of the greatest success stories we can talk about in terms of marine mammals,” says Garth Griffin, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Oregon. “The MMPA flat out did its job.”

But how well are we learning to live with that success?

During the last few years, thousands of baby sea lions were stranded in southern California as ocean changes redistributed their mothers’ prey. The images of these starving young mammals may have overshadowed another phenomenon: Even as juveniles were dying, adult males were congregating in record numbers in a few unfortunate places, destroying docks, sinking boats, and munching scarce stocks of salmon.

One Oregon port last year even deployed a boat painted like a sea lion-eating orca. It was supposed to emit whale noises in an attempt to scare the whiskered critters off. It capsized.

These beautiful barking animals keep finding new ways to bamboozle us.

“Overall, California sea lions are doing quite well, and that’s a good thing,” says Chris Yates, assistant regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “However, it hasn’t come without consequences. Once these animals settle in a place, they can be very hard to deter.” (See how sea lions and other animals may hold cures for cancer.)

Sea Lions of San Fran Locals and tourists gather to see Pier 39’s rowdy sea lions in the heart of San Francisco.

A Marine Mammal Fracas

Few people are coming to understand that better than Steve Haskins. While serving as president of the La Jolla Town Council, a community within the city of San Diego, the local real estate attorney landed in the middle of a small marine mammal fracas.

For more than a decade, some in his community had been embroiled in a surprisingly bitter spat over a group of harbor seals that commandeered a tranquil beach where residents taught their kids to swim. Those seeking protection for this fresh habitat and those itching for continued beach access faced off in lawsuits and public screaming matches. There were death threats, arrests, even a fist fight with a stun gun.

In the midst of this melee, a handful of sea lions arrived and began hauling out on rocky bluffs above popular La Jolla Cove, less than a quarter mile from outdoor restaurants and fancy hotels. The fetid mess left behind, along with the waste from cormorants and other seabirds, sometimes proved overwhelming in a community where tourists pay to eat outside.

The city sprayed a special microbial foam to counteract the stink. That eliminated the wafting odor of bird poop, but did little to knock down the sea lion’s musky funk.

“We’re pretty temperate, so the sea lion droppings would stay there and the sun would hit and it would get very, very smelly,” Haskins says. “It would go up into the restaurant district and drive people crazy.”

The same attorneys who sued to protect the seals went to court to try and force the city of San Diego to clean the waste. They argued the smell of sea lion-digested anchovies was costing businesses too much money.

“The professional boxer Floyd Mayweather, for example, recently booked two villas and six rooms for his entourage at the historic waterfront hotel La Valencia, but checked out 15 minutes after arriving because of the noxious odors emanating from La Jolla Cove,” the suit claimed.

A judge dismissed the case. A rise in bacteria in the water this year even spiked a popular open-ocean swimming race.

So Haskins and others kicked around solutions, ranging from spraying animals with hoses to mounting a set of rollers on the rocks that would make it hard for sea lions to haul out in the first place. But then this year, the animals shifted gears; they began congregating on a popular protected beach.

“The only way in or out is to swim, or there are two sets of stairs going down to the beach,” Haskins says. “What the sea lions would do is get on the stairway and sit there. They’d block it. People on the beach couldn’t get out. Then they’d climb into the lifeguard stations. Lifeguards were dealing with sea lions and not watching for people drowning.”

Haskins isn’t sure what comes next.

“No one wants to do anything that might harm marine life,” he says. “It may be one of those things for which there is no good answer.”

Sea Lion Lemonade

Some communities have simply embraced their uninvited guests.

“When you think about it, it’s absolutely spectacular that people can observe these big predatory animals that closely, and have the opportunity to see them while eating lunch,” says Bob DeLong, with NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center, who has worked with sea lions since 1969.

European hunters centuries ago began driving sea lion numbers down, harvesting them for hides and blubber, and because they were rivals for fish. Today, these sea lions breed on offshore islands in southern California, but some also mate in the Farallones, off San Francisco, and on islands in Mexico. While females may nurse their young for much of the year, adult males tend to roam.

“It’s that sexual separation that really sets things up for a lot of the conflicts that we see,” DeLong says. “It’s not the females; they’re too busy making milk to feed junior to come up north and eat salmon or haul out on people’s docks.”

But males, after four or five years, travel far and wide, hightailing it to wherever they find food, sometimes as far north as Alaska. That appetite and wanderlust can bring a spot of trouble.

In 1989, after the Loma Prieta earthquake, a few sea lions chasing herring found their way to a new dock at San Francisco’s Pier 39. Within a year, the number of sea lions topped several hundred, rendering the pier almost useless as a marina. Frustrated, boat users abandoned the yacht mooring spot to the lounging pinnipeds. Now Pier 39 sometimes attracts 1,700 or more sea lions and is “one of the most visited attractions following Disneyland,” DeLong says.

“LaJolla just hasn’t gotten used to what they have,” he says. “There’s lemonade to be made there.”

That lemonade doesn’t always come cheap. When sea lions amassed at Moss Landing Marina in California’s Monterey Bay, “they sunk boats, they broke rails, smashed in doors; there was feces everywhere,” says NOAA’s Yates. After years of effort and thousands of dollars in damage, the harbormaster began installing special equipment to protect the structures. “It’s expensive and hard, and it’s a long painful process with angst on all sides.”

And not all conflicts are with people.

Mysterious Hershel and Hondo Return

In the early 2000s, during one of the Columbia River’s best salmon runs in decades, the Army Corps of Engineers noticed a few sea lions making their way to Bonneville Dam, where they ate salmon, including chinook and steelhead, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

“There’s no archaeological evidence that sea lions historically occurred in the Columbia,” says Robin Brown, with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

At first it was an amusing head-slapper. The mammals usually appeared at the Columbia’s mouth to snatch smelt. But with smelt numbers down and salmon up, the sea lions traveled upriver to the dam. Soon they were arriving by the hundreds, helping drive down fish populations. “The impact varies year to year, but it’s potentially significant,” Yates says.

Now, each spring, marksmen patrol the river, shooting sea lions with bean bags, rubber bullets, noisemakers, and firecrackers, trying to prevent one protected species from making a smorgasbord of the other. In extreme cases, the animals can be removed or killed.

Some animal-rights groups oppose this treatment, and many environmentalists suggest the focus on sea lions detracts from larger threats to the Columbia, namely habitat destruction upstream and dams that warm the water and complicate fish passage. But river and wildlife managers point to sea lions’ history of doing damage when not kept in check.

In the 1970s, a pair of the pinnipeds, Herschel and Hondo, began gorging on endangered steelhead at a set of locks on Washington’s Puget Sound. Within a decade, the problem was so severe that federal managers turned to crossbows and slingshots and specially prepared fish pumped full of nausea-inducing drugs in an attempt to turn the mammals off steelhead for good.

When that didn’t work, they drove the sea lions away—literally—by capturing and trucking them out to the coast. The animals returned two weeks later. Later, the sea lions were dumped thousands of miles south in California’s Channel Islands, but still found their way back. By the time the problem was controlled in the early 1990s, fewer than 100 of the winter steelhead run remained. Today those fish are all gone.

Scientists suspect the strandings of young sea lions in recent years ultimately will drive that marine mammal population down a bit in coming years. In addition, the return of white sharks and shortfin makos that prey on sea lions may also bring down sea lion populations. But scientists don’t believe that will ultimately help the endangered fish.

And recent winters have given researchers pause.

Unusually large populations of smelt have drawn record numbers of sea lions to an area near the mouth of the river. While hundreds swarmed the docks near the estuary in 2012, that number hit nearly 4,000 by 2016. But when the years of those bountiful smaller fish peter out, some experts fear they know what comes next.

“The sea lions will show up, expecting their smelt, but then see those large salmon swimming by and simply follow them up the river,” Griffin says. “I believe that this problem will either stay the same or get worse.”

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Jul 12 2016

Opposition to California Offshore Monuments Mounts After Draft Proposal Leaked

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

Copyright © 2016

Seafood News

SEAFOODNEWS.COM  by Susan Chambers – July 12, 2016

What do creation of national monuments have in common? A lack of transparency when it comes to discussing the potential access restrictions with stakeholders. That same closed-door effort is happening off of California, as effort mounts to create offshore monuments on both west and east coasts.

California sport and commercial interests first became aware of the proposal to establish monuments around nine seamounts, ridges and banks (SRBs) as rumors a few months ago. In June, the industry got a look at the first proposal draft. Washington State Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, was urging California state lawmakers and West Coast members of congress in Washington, D.C., to support the proposal that could make the nine areas off-limits to commercial fishing but remain open to all recreational fishing, including charter boats.

Diane Pleschner-Steele, one of the signatories to an opposition letter, noted the proponents argue the nine areas are not significant commercial fishing areas.

“However, the fishermen I’ve spoken with hotly contest that,” Pleschner-Steele, Executive Director of the California Wetfish Producers Association, said in an email. “Those are productive fishing grounds and to lose them forever would be a huge economic blow to many fishermen, processors and local communities.”

Ranker is no stranger to proposed monuments. As a co-chair of the president’s National Ocean Council’s Governance Coordinating Committee, he is one of the advisers to the NOC that provide guidance on the development of strategic action plans, policy and research priorities. In 2013, he worked with Washington leaders to create a national monument in the San Juan Islands.

Nearly 40 people representing sport and commercial fisheries signed on to a letter opposing the designation of monuments that could include Gorda Ridges and Mendocino Ridge off of northern California; Gumdrop and Pioneer seamounts, Guide Seamount and Taney Seamounts off of central California; and Rodriguez Seamount, San Juan Seamount, Northeast Bank and Tanner and Cortes Banks off of southern California.

“We oppose the designation of California offshore marine monuments that prohibit fishing under the Antiquities Act because monument status is irreversible and the Antiquities Act process involves no public peer-reviewed scientific analysis, no NEPA analysis, no public involvement or outreach to parties most impacted – no transparency,” the opponents wrote in the July 6 letter to President Obama, the Council on Environmental Quality, the secretaries of Commerce and Interior and a number of senators and congressmen.

A joint letter from the American Albacore Fishing Association and Western Fishboat Owners Association further note that some of the proponents’ data about the economic importance of the seamounts, ridges and banks is old and outdated. Some fisheries expanded their use of the offshore areas when California imposed marine protected areas in southern California in 2012.

The groups also note the Council Coordination Committee that includes members of the eight regional fishery management councils recently made a resolution that says, “therefore be it resolved, the CCC recommends that if any designations are made in the marine environment under authorities such as the Antiquities Act of 1906 that fisheries management in the U.S. EEZ waters continue to be developed, analyzed and implemented through the public process of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.”

“in the even this proposal moves forward, we strongly support maintaining management of fisheries under the MSA, through the [Pacific Fishery Management Council],” AAFA and WFOA wrote.

The proponents state the sites are “for discussion purposes only; specific sites, boundaries and regulations will be determined through a robust public consultation process that includes tribes, fishermen and stakeholders. There is a full commitment to working with these interests to better understand the activities occurring in these areas and mitigate potential concern.”

Meanwhile, other groups also are preparing written comments in an effort to fend off the threat of limited access to the nine offshore areas as the opposition grows. It’s unlikely anyone from the seafood industry is fooled by some of the behind-the-scenes political maneuvering that is taking place to create the monuments.

“In our opinion, which is informed by the lack of any attempt at collaboration with industry, this proposal is no more than legacy, political ambition and preservation being prioritized over the best available science and a multi-lateral, collaborative political process in the design of marine conservation measures,” AAFA and WFOA said in their letter.

Click here to read the letter sent to Congressman Huffman.

Click here to read the letter by Sandy Smith of the Ventura County Economic Development Association.

Click here to read the oppositon letter from the National Coalition for Fishing Communities.

Copyright © 2016


Jul 9 2016

Fishers balk at proposal to designate Pacific Ocean national monuments

Fishing has long been a vital part of San Pedro’s history. Fishing boats still line the wharf near Ports O’ Call. (Scott Varley / Staff Photographer)

Fishing has long been a vital part of San Pedro’s history. Fishing boats still line the wharf near Ports O’ Call. (Scott Varley / Staff Photographer)

West Coast fishers, including those that supply Los Angeles and Long Beach with local seafood, are incensed at a “secret” proposal from environmentalists asking President Barack Obama to create new national monuments in the Pacific Ocean.

Dozens of California fishing businesses and their representatives signed a letter this week asking Obama to ignore suggestions to block fishing in open-ocean areas rich with sea life by designating them as offshore marine monuments.

Environmental groups made the proposal in a “secret effort” to lobby the president to declare that many Pacific Ocean seamounts, ridges and banks are national landmarks, according to the letter.

The five-page environmental proposal, “The Case for Protecting California’s Seamounts, Ridges and Banks,” argues that these parts of the ocean should be preserved for scientific research. Seamounts and ridges are craggy underwater mountains, and banks are shallow areas near deep ocean drop-offs.

“These special places are home to thousand-year-old corals thriving against all odds in the dark, cold depths,” the proposal states. “And they attract a remarkable variety of migratory predators such as sharks, tuna, billfishes, seabirds, and endangered sea turtles, which congregate to fuel up on the food produced by nutrient-rich upwelling currents.”

Similar proposals have been made for the waters off the East Coast and Hawaii.

“We’re trying to head it off before the president considers nominating these as national monuments,” said Mike Conroy, president of West Coast Fisheries Consultants. “A lot of environmental groups are pushing this. And it’s his last year in office so he’s looking to make his legacy.

“If this proposed action is taken, many local harvesters will be impacted. Loss of access to their fishing grounds, without a public process, will likely cause irreparable harm to the San Pedro fishing community and the consumers they serve.”

Obama has taken up progressive environmental initiatives to combat climate change and transition to energy sources that don’t rely on fossil fuels. He also has designated dozens of new national land monuments — most recently, the Stonewall Inn in New York City, the site of a police raid that sparked the LGBT-rights movement. But it’s not yet clear whether he will move on this issue.

Craig Jacobs, a Long Beach fisherman who has also delivered to the South Bay region since the 1990s, said the proposal would devastate his business. He often spends several days a week fishing in the Cortes and Tanner Banks some 110 miles west of San Diego for lobster, California sheephead, rock crabs, cabezon, halibut, white sea bass, yellowtail and other species.

“It’s going to put so much more pressure on all the Channel Islands” if these oceanic national monuments are created,” he said. “Everyone that fishes at Cortez and Tanner banks will have to go somewhere else and there’s already too much compaction with the marine-protected areas.”

California was the first state to block fishing in 2012 at designated marine-protected areas, which include Point Vicente and Abalone Cove off the Palos Verdes Peninsula. The protected areas forced Jacobs and others to fish farther out to sea and to look for new species to target.

“I used to just stay in the Los Angeles and Long Beach area and occasionally go out to Catalina,” Jacobs said. “Now I have to fish offshore. And now they have this seamount closure hanging over us. That’d be right up there with disastrous.”

Tuna pile up on the deck of the Captain Kevin fishing vessel after returning to San Pedro from a longline fishing run. (Daily Breeze staff file photo)Tuna pile up on the deck of the Captain Kevin fishing vessel after returning to San Pedro from a longline fishing run. (Daily Breeze staff file photo)

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Jul 8 2016


July 7, 2016 — The following was released by the National Coalition for Fishing Communities:

A collection of more than 40 West Coast commercial and recreational fishing groups, working in conjunction with the National Coalition for Fishing Communities, has written to the White House, the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior, and officials in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, opposing the proposed designation of marine monuments off the coast of California that prohibit commercial fishing.

The letter is in direct response to a recent proposal calling on President Obama to declare virtually all Pacific seamounts, ridges, and banks (SRB’s) off the California coast as National Monuments using his executive authority under the Antiquities Act. If enacted by executive order, the new monuments would permanently close virtually all of California’s offshore SRB’s to commercial fishing.

“[This proposal] was drafted and advanced behind closed doors with no public peer-reviewed scientific analysis, no [National Environmental Policy Act] analysis, and virtually no public engagement,” the letter to the White House states. “The initial justification for this proposed action is filled with sensational, inaccurate statements and omissions. The economic analysis for the proposed closures grossly understates the importance and value of the identified [SRB’s] to fisheries and fishing communities.”

“Fisheries provide healthy food for people, and our fisheries are a well-managed renewable resource,” the letter continues, noting that California already has the most strictly managed fisheries in the world.

Among the areas proposed for monument status are Tanner and Cortes Banks in southern California, which are critically important for many fisheries including tuna, swordfish, rockfish, spiny lobster, sea urchin, white seabass, mackerel, bonito, and market squid.

The proposal also called for the closures of Gorda and Mendocino Ridges in northern California, which are important grounds for the albacore tuna fishery.

As the letter states, closure of these important areas to commercial fishing would cause disastrous economic impacts to fishermen, seafood processors and allied businesses, fishing communities and the West Coast fishing economy.  Even more important than the value of the fisheries is the opportunity cost of losing these productive fishing grounds forever.

Unilateral action under the Antiquities Act would also contradict the fully public and transparent process that currently exists under the federal Magnuson-Stevens Act. Such a designation would also conflict with the President’s own National Ocean Policy Plan, which promises “robust stakeholder engagement and public participation” in decision-making on ocean policy.

“We ask you stop the creation of these California offshore monuments under the Antiquities Act because monument status is irreversible, and the Antiquities Act process involves no science, no public involvement nor outreach to the parties who will be most affected by this unilateral action – no transparency,” the letter concludes.

Read [download] the full letter here

About the NCFC 
The National Coalition for Fishing Communities provides a national voice and a consistent, reliable presence for fisheries in the nation’s capital and in national media. Comprised of fishing organizations, associations, and businesses from around the country, the NCFC helps ensure sound fisheries policies by integrating community needs with conservation values, leading with the best science, and connecting coalition members to issues and events of importance.

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A copy of the letter (PDF) has also been archived here.


Jul 7 2016

NOAA authorizes Oregon to continue killing sea lions to save endangered fish

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has authorized three northwestern states to continue killing sea lions that prey on endangered fish species as they try to climb the fish ladder at the Bonneville Dam, officials said Wednesday.

California sea lions often congregate at the mouth of the the Columbia River and in the waters just below the dam, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a statement, and the hungry marine mammals have put a big dent in the numbers of salmon and steelhead looking to make their yearly migration upstream.

“Last year sea lions were estimated to have consumed nearly 10,000 adult spring Chinook salmon, amounting to more than 3 percent of returning adult fish,” the administration said in a statement. “The impact on individual populations within the run may be much higher. An estimated 25 to 35 percent of the fish consumed are listed under the Endangered Species Act.”


Sea lions may be killing more salmon than estimated, NOAA study says

The authorization for Oregon, Washington and Idaho to trap and euthanize the sea lions will run for five years, the administration said in a press release, and is just one tactic the government is trying to help bolster the numbers of flagging fish species.

Oregon officials have tried exclusion gates, pyrotechnics and shooting the animals with rubber buckshot to dissuade the animals from congregating to feed at the dam, but all of those efforts only work temporarily, Oregon officials said.

Problematic sea lions that have been observed feeding near the dam’s fish ladders are individually identified and trapped. Though officials would prefer to relocate the animals to zoos or aquariums, that isn’t always possible and the animals sometimes have to be killed as a last resort.

Since the effort began in 2008, some 166 animals have been removed, 59 of them this year alone. Of 166 sea lions removed, 15 went into captivity, seven died of accidental deaths and 144 were euthanized, a spokesman for NOAA said.

Since the states began the program in 2008, officials estimate 15,000 to 20,000 salmon and steelhead have been saved from predation.

There are about 300,000 California sea lions off the west coast and the authorization only allows for 92 animals to be removed per year. The authorization also precludes removing any Steller sea lions, which are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

—   Kale Williams

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Jul 7 2016

‘The Blob’ overshadows El Nino

‘The Blob’ and El Niño are on their way out, leaving a disrupted marine ecosystem behind. Credit: Michael Jacox

El Niño exerted powerful effects around the globe in the last year, eroding California beaches; driving drought in northern South America, Africa and Asia; and bringing record rain to the U.S. Pacific Northwest and southern South America. In the Pacific Ocean off the West Coast, however, the California Current Ecosystem was already unsettled by an unusual pattern of warming popularly known as “The Blob.”

New research based on ocean models and near real-time data from autonomous gliders indicates that the “The Blob” and El Niño together strongly depressed productivity off the West Coast, with The Blob driving most of the impact.

The research published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters by scientists from NOAA Fisheries, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and University of California, Santa Cruz is among the first to assess the marine effects of the 2015-2016 El Niño off the West Coast of the United States.

“Last year there was a lot of speculation about the consequences of ‘The Blob’ and El Niño battling it out off the U.S. West Coast,” said lead author Michael Jacox, of UC Santa Cruz and NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center. “We found that off California El Niño turned out to be much weaker than expected, The Blob continued to be a dominant force, and the two of them together had strongly negative impacts on marine productivity.”

“Now, both The Blob and El Niño are on their way out, but in their wake lies a heavily disrupted ecosystem,” Jacox said.

Unusually warm ocean temperatures that took on the name, The Blob, began affecting waters off the West Coast in late 2013. Warm conditions – whether driven by the Blob or El Niño – slow the flow of nutrients from the deep ocean, reducing the productivity of coastal ecosystems. Temperatures close to 3 degrees C (5 degrees F) above average also led to sightings of warm-water species far to the north of their typical range and likely contributed to the largest harmful algal bloom ever recorded on the West Coast last year.

 Wintertime temperature anomalies off the US west coast during the strong El Niños of 1997-98 and 2015-16. In 1997-98 warming was strongest near the coast, consistent with effects of El Niño. In 2015-16, warming was more uniform and widespread, consistent with pre-existing warming known as ‘the Blob.’ Credit: Michael Jacox

“These past years have been extremely unusual off the California coast, with humpback whales closer to shore, pelagic red crabs washing up on the beaches of central California, and sportfish in higher numbers in southern California,” said Elliott Hazen of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, a coauthor of the paper. “This paper reveals how broad scale warming influences the biology directly off our shores.”

The research paper describes real-time monitoring of the California Current Ecosystem with the latest technology, including autonomous gliders that track undersea conditions along the West Coast. “This work reflects technological advances that now let us rapidly assess the effects of major climate disruptions and project their impacts on the ecosystem,” Jacox said.

Separate but related research recently published in Scientific Reports identifies the optimal conditions for productivity in the California Current off the West Coast, which will help assess the future effects of climate change or climate variability such as El Niño. The research was authored by the same scientists at UC Santa Cruz and NOAA Fisheries.

“Wind has a ‘goldilocks effect’ on productivity in the California Current,” Hazen said. “If wind is too weak, nutrients limit productivity, and if wind is too strong, productivity is moved offshore or lost to the deep ocean. Understanding how wind and nutrients drive productivity provides context for events like the Blob and El Niño, so we can better understand how the ecosystem is likely to respond.”

Both papers emphasize the importance of closely monitoring West Coast marine ecosystems for the impacts of a changing climate. Although the tropical signals of El Niño were strong, the drivers – called “teleconnections” – that usually carry the El Niño pattern from the tropics to the West Coast were not as effective as in previous strong El Niños.

“Not all El Niños evolve in the same way in the tropics, nor are their impacts the same off our coast,” said Steven Bograd, a research scientist at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center and coauthor of both papers. “Local conditions, in this case from the Blob, can modulate the way our ecosystem responds to these large scale climate events.”

Explore further: ‘Warm blob’ in Pacific Ocean linked to weird weather across the US

More information: Michael G. Jacox et al, Impacts of the 2015-2016 El Niño on the California Current System: Early assessment and comparison to past events, Geophysical Research Letters (2016). DOI: 10.1002/2016GL069716

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