Archive for December, 2016

Dec 16 2016

Monterey harbormaster to retire after 21 years

Monterey >> Harbormaster Steve Scheiblauer’s days walking the docks down at the waterfront are numbered.

That’s because after 21 years, Scheiblauer is retiring. His last day will be Feb. 21.

“I’ve been doing this for 41 years – I’ll be 68 by the time I retire,” said Scheiblauer. “I’m ready to do some other things – travel a bit, do a little bit of writing.”

Scheiblauer has been serving in the role since January 1995 when then-City Manager Fred Meurer brought him on board.

That was after Scheiblauer worked as Santa Cruz’s harbormaster for some 20 years, from 1975 to 1995.

Since that time, he’s seen the city’s marina replaced and took a central role in nurturing Monterey’s commercial fisheries.

“We had to get money, permits and the design together to replace it,” said Scheiblauer, about the rebuilding of the old marina back in 1995 soon after he became harbormaster. “It was one of the largest capital projects that the city has ever done.”

Meurer remembers it well.

“There was continual arguing over the slips in the marina and a waiting list 100 years long,” said Meurer. “Steve brought order to it all in a very calm way and did a great job managing the total refurbishment of the marina with little impact on the users.”

Scheiblauer said it’s the development of good relationships that’s key to getting things done with the boating community.

“A lot of changes were needed at the city’s waterfront and I’ve had the support for that and couldn’t have done it without the city council and city management both past and present,” he said.

But in doing so, Monterey Community Services Director Kim Bui-Burton said he’s represented the city and its marine and ocean life interests to a very high standard.

“He’s succeeded in managing a lot of the harbor operations and really responding to the boating community,” said Bui-Burton.

While Scheiblauer said he’s especially proud of that constructive relationship that Monterey has with its commercial fishermen and sailors, Bui-Burton also noted his role in developing the city’s Fishing Community Sustainability Plan.

“It’s really the blueprint for retaining our community’s fishing heritage and making it viable into the 21st century,” said Bui-Burton.

While Scheiblauer works to finish the current project of replacing the wooden parking deck down at Wharf 1, he said once he’s retired he’ll be forming his own consultant business. Marine Alliances Consulting will specialize in harbor management, fisheries, economics and ocean environmental issues.

“I wanted to make use of some of the things I’ve learned over the years,” he said.

Meurer said it’s Scheiblauer’s knowledge and people skills that will leave a huge void in the city’s organization once he’s done.

“He’s a huge advocate for the protection of the marine environment while protecting the fishing heritage of the port of Monterey.” said Meurer. “He knew the rules of the sanctuary and the coastal act and he used his knowledge of rules and regulations to do his best for the city of Monterey and the Monterey harbor. He’s the epitome of what a public servant should be.”

Dec 15 2016

NOAA: ‘Arctic Is Warming at Least Twice as Fast as the Rest of the Planet’

The Arctic broke multiple climate records and saw its highest temperatures ever recorded this year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) annual Arctic Report Card released Tuesday.

Map: Temperatures across the Arctic from October 2015-September 2016 compared to the 1981-2010 average. Graph: Yearly temperatures since 1900 compared to the 1981-2010 average for the Arctic (orange line) and the globe (gray).NOAA

The report shows surface air temperature in September at the highest level since 1900 “by far” and the region set new monthly record highs in January, February, October and November. “The Arctic as a whole is warming at least twice as fast as the rest of the planet,” report author and NOAA climate scientist Jeremy Mathis told NPR.

Watch the video from NOAA on the annual Arctic Report Card below:

Report Card Highlights

  • The average surface air temperature for the year ending September 2016 is by far the highest since 1900 and new monthly record highs were recorded for January, February, October and November 2016.
  • After only modest changes from 2013-2015, minimum sea ice extent at the end of summer 2016 tied with 2007 for the second lowest in the satellite record, which started in 1979.
  • Spring snow cover extent in the North American Arctic was the lowest in the satellite record, which started in 1967.
  • In 37 years of Greenland ice sheet observations, only one year had earlier onset of spring melting than 2016.
  • The Arctic Ocean is especially prone to ocean acidification, due to water temperatures that are colder than those further south. The short Arctic food chain leaves Arctic marine ecosystems vulnerable to ocean acidification events.
  • Thawing permafrost releases carbon into the atmosphere, whereas greening tundra absorbs atmospheric carbon. Overall, tundra is presently releasing net carbon into the atmosphere.
  • Small Arctic mammals, such as shrews, and their parasites, serve as indicators for present and historical environmental variability. Newly acquired parasites indicate northward sifts of sub-Arctic species and increases in Arctic biodiversity.

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Dec 5 2016

D.B. Pleschner: Extremists manufacture anchovy ‘crisis’ where none exists

By D.B. Pleschner

Guest commentary

When the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) recently reapproved the 2017 annual catch limit for the central stock of anchovy at 25,000 metric tons (mt), environmental extremists immediately cried foul.

Press releases with doomsday headlines claimed that the anchovy catch limit is now higher than the total population of fish in the sea. Environmentalists claim the anchovy resource has “collapsed” and the current catch limit is dangerously high.

But is the anchovy population really decimated, or are these alarmists simply manufacturing another anti-fishing crisis?

Their claims are based on a paper by Alec MacCall, pegging the central anchovy stock at about 18,000 mt. However, the paper analyzed egg and larval data collected over time in California Cooperative Fishery Investigations (CalCOFI) surveys, conducted in the Southern California Bight — and the conclusion is fundamentally flawed. Other scientists now acknowledge that the CalCOFI cruises do not cover the full range of anchovy, missing both Mexico and areas north of the CalCOFI survey track, as well as the nearshore, where a super-abundance of anchovy now reside, say fishermen.

The CalCOFI survey was designed to track sardine, not anchovy. It misses the nearshore biomass where age 0-1 anchovy live and huge schools of anchovy have been observed since 2013. But the MacCall analysis deliberately omitted nearshore egg-larval data. In addition, peak spawning for anchovy is February-March, but CalCOFI surveys run in January and April, as did the MacCall analysis, thus both captured only the tails of spawning.

Clearly, current data are inadequate to develop an accurate anchovy population estimate. At the November 2016 Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting, scientists, the management team and most council members agreed.

In reality, anchovies are now amazingly abundant from San Diego to Northern California. Scientific data as well as fishermen’s observation bear this out:

• Recent NOAA field surveys documented increased anchovy recruitment and multiple year classes, although data from the 2016 summer survey are still undergoing analysis.

• A 2015 NOAA juvenile rockfish cruise report found evidence of record numbers of anchovy larvae and pelagic juveniles, and saw an abundance of anchovy again in 2016.

And consider reports from fishermen like Neil Guglielmo, who fished anchovy from Half Moon Bay to Monterey in the summer of 2016. He saw thousands of tons of anchovy — school after school running from San Francisco to the Farallon Islands, and down the coast to Monterey and beyond. Similar comments come from many fishermen who fish nearshore waters the length of the California coast.

The big increase in anchovy abundance in nearshore waters in recent years has precipitated a record whale-watching spectacle, recounted in media reports from San Francisco to San Diego. And while doomsday press releases and news stories regurgitate environmentalist claims that the anchovy resource has “collapsed,” Monterey Bay Whale Watch posted a video on Facebook of dozens of sea lions and a humpback whale feasting on thousands of anchovies — only two miles from Monterey Harbor!

The bottom line is that anchovy management employs an extremely precautionary approach, capping the allowed harvest at 25 percent of the average overfishing limit estimated to be harvested sustainably over the long term.

So why are ENGOs lobbying to cut the harvest limit to 7,000 mt, drastically lower than the federal limit, even though the draconian reduction would inflict serious harm to California’s historic fishing industry, especially in Monterey?

Scientists acknowledge that anchovy abundance is highly variable, and that variability occurs even without a fishery. Given multiple lines of evidence of anchovy recruitment, clearly there is no biological crisis, but there could be a serious socioeconomic problem if the small anchovy harvest limit is further restricted.

As the Pacific Fishery Management Council deliberates anchovy management, we hope a credible and thorough scientific assessment process and best available common sense will prevail. Evidence of recent anchovy recruitment must be factored into future management decisions; politics should not drive the outcome.

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

Originally published:

Dec 5 2016

Local harbor seal population appears down, but should rebound

Harbor seals haul out of the water at the beach at Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove on Wednesday. (David Royal - Monterey Herald)

Harbor seals haul out of the water at the beach at Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove on Wednesday. (David Royal – Monterey Herald)

Pacific Grove >> The stretch of coastline from Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey along the rocky shores of Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach is home to a shrinking population of Pacific harbor seals, local experts said.

According to a population census taken on Nov. 25 by husband and wife Thom and Kim Akeman, volunteers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s shoreline program Bay Net, the Pacific Grove Harbor seal population has declined by one-third. Numbers have plunged from about 700 individuals, based on preliminary counts taken by Monterey Bay Aquarium researcher Teri Nicholson in the 1990s, to fewer than 500 in the last couple of years, the Akemans reported. Uncharacteristically warm waters, which depleted the marine environment of oxygen and food, are to blame, they added.

But the bad news may not be as critical as it seems, said Dr. Andrew DeVogelaere, research director at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

“A lot of ocean species have evolved to have a few bad years,” he said. “The population will dip down, and then with more food, go up again.”

The normally cool water off the Central Coast is an oxygen-filled, nutrient-rich haven for all local marine life, from tiny anchovies to magnanimous humpback whales. But 2014’s mild winter made for uncharacteristically warm waters. Because of El Niño, the sea is still above its normal temperature today. The National Marine Fisheries Service, whose scientists have 35 years of oceanic climate data from California, have never seen years like the last few, DeVogelaere said.

The Monterey Bay’s lack of resources can be hard to take note of. Whale-watching companies are celebrating a heyday. Last year, naturalists and tourists watched cetaceans swarm like never before. But whales form large congregations because of the scarcity of food, DeVogelaere said, and they’re forced to converge in the few nutrient-rich locations where they can find a meal.

The changing conditions offshore undoubtedly affect harbor seals, he added.

The harbor seal may be a distant cousin to the adventurous California sea lion and elephant seal, but it’s an entirely different animal. Harbor seals are incredibly loyal to their rocky homes, straying a mere mile or two to swim and feed. If warming coastal waters kill off their food supply, they’ll likely starve.

Mother harbor seals are taking an additional hit. During the pupping season last spring, “lots of the moms didn’t have enough milk and had to abandon pups on the beach,” said Thom Akeman, who has been watching his flippered neighbors sleep and romp along the Pacific Grove shores for 13 years.

Two years ago, female seals weaned 90 healthy pups at Hopkins Marine Station, the largest harbor seal rookery in Pacific Grove. This year, the colony had only 30 pups, many of which were born to mothers too malnourished to rear them.

During Bay Net’s Pacific Grove harbor seal census on Nov. 25, Akeman saw only nine baby seals at Hopkins. He suspects these are the last remaining pups in the colony.

The Pacific Grove harbor seal population is expected to recover, but scientists are unsure how long it will take. Their comeback depends on ocean temperatures cooling, and staying cool for a prolonged time, allowing the food web to prosper once again. But no one can say when, or if, the temperatures will stay low enough for this to happen, said Akeman and DeVogelaere.

The unpredictable effects of global climate change make it a guessing game.

“We’re in an uncontrolled experiment. We’re changing the atmosphere of the world and the chemistry of the oceans. No one has done this experiment before, so we’re really rolling the dice,” DeVogelaere said.

Fortunately for Pacific harbor seals, the local population decline is an isolated oddity. Throughout California, Oregon and Washington, the population is steadily rising. California is home to about 31,000 harbor seals, and many colonies in the Monterey Bay are stable or thriving.

The next Pacific Grove harbor seal count, conducted by the Akemans, is scheduled for late March, when the pupping season begins. The couple, who just began tallying the seals this year, now plan to count them three times a year — in the early spring, summer and fall. They’ll report their findings to NOAA and fellow Bay Net docents through emails and the general public with Facebook.

Teaching others about the environment and the ways to respect wildlife, which Bay Net docents aim to do, is important, DeVogelaere said. And environmental issues and awareness should be given the prominence and attention they deserve, he added.

“I wish people would care about them more,” DeVogelaere said. “They might be affecting the world for their children and their children’s children … But I think in general, people want to do the right thing, if they know what the right thing is. Education is the way to go.”

People look at a harbor seal haul at the beach at Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove on Wednesday. (David Royal - Monterey Herald)People look at a harbor seal haul at the beach at Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove on Wednesday. (David Royal – Monterey Herald)

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Dec 1 2016

Millions of Sardines Cloud San Diego Coast

A large sardine shoal showed up off the coast of California.

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Dec 1 2016

In California, Squid Is Big Business. But Good Luck Eating Local Calamari

A squid salad in Los Angeles. In California, squid is an economic driver of the seafood industry. Bit most of this squid is frozen and exported overseas to China to be processed and distributed across the globe.

A squid salad in Los Angeles. In California, squid is an economic driver of the seafood industry. Bit most of this squid is frozen and exported overseas to China to be processed and distributed across the globe. (Rick Loomis/LA Times via Getty Images)

More than 80 percent of U.S. squid landings are exported — most of it to China. The rare percentage of that catch that stays domestically goes to Asian fresh fish markets or is used as bait.

Ironically, the lion’s share of the squid consumed in the United States is imported.

“Squid is a labor-intensive product,” says Emily Tripp, founder of Marine Science Today, a website on the latest ocean-based research. “It’s cheaper in some situations to ship it to China to be processed and ship it back.”

Tripp, who recently graduated with a masters from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, did her thesis project on California market squid, which, during non-El Niño years, is California’s most valuable fishery.

In California, squid is an economic driver of the seafood industry – it’s the fifth-largest fishery in the United States by weight. Yet most of this squid is frozen and exported overseas to China to be processed and distributed to over 42 countries across the globe. It’s an export market that, according to 2011 figures, is valued at $107 million. Only 1.4 percent of it, on average, makes it back to the U.S. In 2015, that figure was 0.46 percent.

“It has to do with the American desire for a larger squid,” explains Diane Pleschner-Steele, executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association. “A lot of squid that is shipped overseas stays overseas because they prefer it. They eat it over there. Our consumers typically prefer a larger squid, and so there’s just a ton of squid imported into this country that comes in at a far lower price.”

In the U.S., the squid that ends up on our dinner table is typically Patagonian squid from the Falkland Islands or Humboldt squid — a jumbo cephalopod fished predominantly in Mexico and Peru.

California market squid isn’t usually desired because of its smaller size.

“Our squid is a learning curve,” Pleschner-Steele says. “If you overcook it, it can taste like a rubber band. But in my opinion, if you do it right, it tastes more like abalone than any other squid. It’s nutty, sweet and delicate.”

The cost of labor is another, perhaps more significant, factor. Squid cleaning and processing is an extremely time-consuming practice. The eyes, cartilage, skin and guts need to be removed ahead of time, and it’s cheaper to have this done overseas than domestically.

A round-trip freight cost to China is $0.10 per pound and labor is just $7 a day there. By contrast, California wages — with tax and health insurance — amount to $12 an hour, according to Pleschner-Steele.

Also, supply chains and markets are incredibly opaque. Pleschner-Steele suspects that as the Chinese middle-class economy has blossomed, a lot of the squid processing facilities are now based in Thailand.

Tripp says during her research, it was nearly impossible to track down where exactly the squid was being processed abroad.

“The biggest challenge was trying to find out where the squid goes when it leaves to the United States,” she says. “No one wants to say where they partner. It’s a bit of a challenge. In the United States we keep such good records of all of our fish and seafood. There’s no comparable system in China. I couldn’t follow the chain backwards.”

Regardless, the narrative is the same: Californians aren’t eating Californian squid. And if they are, it likely wasn’t processed in California.

At Mitch’s Seafood, a restaurant in San Diego committed to local fish, the owners spent three years looking for a California-based squid processor for their calamari. They eventually found a company in San Pedro called Tri-Marine.

“We have to pay twice as much for it, but it’s worth it so that we can say we offer California-caught and processed squid,” owner Mitch Conniff says. “Squid that’s caught two to three miles away takes a 10,000-mile round-trip journey before I can get it back into my restaurant.”

All Californian fish processors are capable of dealing with squid, Pleschner-Steele says. However, it’s not a money-making operation because people aren’t willing to pay for it.

“It has to be on request,” she says. “We simply can’t compete with the cost of other imported squid. ”

Supporting the local squid industry is much more than just helping the local economy – it’s helpful from a sustainability angle as well.

Even with squid being sent on a round-trip journey across the world, the California market squid fishery has one of the lowest carbon footprints in the industry.

“California squid fishing fleets are one of the most energy efficient in the world because [they’re] so close to port,” Pleschner-Steele says. “Our boats can produce a ton of proteins for about six gallons of diesel fuel. … Efficiency is key.”

Further efficiency, she says, could be achieved if consumers would be keen to fork over $1.50 a pound more for California-caught and processed squid.

But the “truth is that Americans aren’t willing to pay for it,” she says. “If people were willing to pay the price, we can definitely feed the demand.”

Clarissa Wei is a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles and Taipei. She writes about sustainability and food.

Copyright 2016 NPR.

Dec 1 2016

NOAA research links human-caused CO2 emissions to dissolving sea snail shells off U.S. West Coast

November 22, 2016 – For the first time, NOAA and partner scientists have connected the concentration of human-caused carbon dioxide in waters off the U.S. Pacific coast to the dissolving of shells of microscopic marine sea snails called pteropods.

Commercially valuable fish such as salmon, sablefish and rock sole make the pteropod a major part of their diet.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to tease out the percentage of human-caused carbon dioxide from natural carbon dioxide along a large portion of the West Coast and link it directly to pteropod shell dissolution,” said Richard Feely, a NOAA senior scientist who led the research appearing in Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science. “Our research shows that humans are increasing the acidification of U.S. West Coast coastal waters, making it more difficult for marine species to build strong shells.”

The global ocean has soaked up one-third of human-caused CO2 emissions since the start of the Industrial Era. While this reduces the amount of this greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, it comes at a cost to the ocean. CO2 absorbed by seawater increases its acidity, reducing carbonate ions, which are building blocks used by shellfish to grow their shells.

fairweather (NOAA)

The pteropod, a sea snail the size of the head of a pin, is found in the Pacific Ocean. It has been the focus of research in recent years because its shell is affected by how much CO2 is in seawater and it may be an indicator of ocean acidification affecting the larger marine ecosystem.

A key piece of the new research was determining how much human CO2  emissions have added to naturally occurring CO2 in seawater off the U.S. West Coast. Using several decades of measurements from the Pacific Ocean taken through the U.S. Global Ocean Carbon and Repeat Hydrography Programoffsite link and new data from four NOAA West Coast research cruises conducted between 2007 and 2013, the research team developed a method to estimate additional CO2 from human-caused emissions since the start of the Industrial Era as compared to CO2 from natural sources.

The analysis shows that concentrations of human-caused CO2 are greatest in shallow waters where the atmosphere gives up large amounts of its CO2 to the sea. The researchers also estimated that CO2 concentrations from fossil fuel emissions make up as much as 60 percent of the CO2 that enriches most West Coast nearshore surface waters. But the concentrations dropped as they measured deeper. It drops to 21 percent in deeper waters of 328 feet or 100 meters, and falls even lower to about 18 percent in waters below 656 feet or 200 meters. Concentrations vary depending on location and seasons as well.

Once researchers created a detailed map of the human-generated CO2 concentrations, they  looked at how pteropod shells fared in areas with varying seawater CO2 concentrations. They found more than 50 percent of pteropod shells collected from coastal waters with the high CO2 concentrations were severely dissolved. An estimated 10 to 35 percent of pteropods taken from offshore waters showed shell damage when examined under a scanning electron microscope.

“We estimate that since pre-industrial times, pteropod shell dissolution has increased 20 to 25 percent on average in waters along the U.S. West Coast,” said Nina Bednaršek of the University of Washington. Earlier research by Bednaršek and others has shown that shell dissolution affects pteropod swimming ability and may hamper their ability to protect themselves from predators.

“This new research suggests we need a better understanding of how changes in pteropods may be affecting other species in the food chain, especially commercially valuable species such as salmon, sablefish, and rock sole that feed on pteropods,” Bednaršek added.

Media Contact:

Monica Allen, 301-734-1123