Archive for March, 2017

Mar 30 2017

Legislators, fishermen discuss future of state fisheries

California Fish and Wildlife Department Director Charlton “Chuck” Bonham discusses the department’s budget issues with the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture at the State Capitol building on Wednesday afternoon.


Speaking at California’s 44th annual “state of the fisheries” forum at the State Capitol on Wednesday, North Coast Sen. Mike McGuire and other state officials conveyed a dire future as the state experiences its lowest forecast salmon return on record and continuing poor ocean conditions.

“We are facing a true calamity here in California,” McGuire (D-Healdsburg) said during the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture’s Zeke Grader fisheries forum in Sacramento. “Many families who have relied on the mighty Pacific for their livelihood are on the brink of economic ruin.”

The theme of Wednesday’s forum was fisheries in a changing climate and occurred a day after President Donald Trump signed an executive order calling for the rollback of climate change laws put into effect under Barack Obama’s administration. McGuire, who is chairman for the committee, said the state must “remain vigilant” of any federal actions, some of which in the past he said have led to catastrophic consequences such as the 2002 fish kill on the Klamath River and more recently a die-off of baby salmon on the river.

“We’re facing a new reality,” McGuire said.

The proposed closure of the commercial and sport salmon fishing season on the Klamath River this year was a main topic of discussion at the forum. Last week, the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which recommends fishing regulations to the federal government, forecast the lowest return of spawning Chinook salmon on the Klamath River on record, with about 12,000 fish expected. The council is set to finalize these recommendations in early April.

The Yurok and Hoopa Valley tribes face significant reductions in their salmon allocations this year. The Yurok Tribe anticipates it will receive about 650 fish total, or about one fish for every 10 tribal members, which the tribe’s Chairman Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr. described as a “nightmare.”

“I have never in my life dreamed that it could get this bad,” O’Rourke Sr. said in statement last week. “This is devastating to our people, not only physically but emotionally. It’s saddening and hard to believe.”

California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton “Chuck” Bonham told the committee he understands what this forecast means to the two tribes as well as the Karuk Tribe. Bonham said he expects he will likely have to ask the governor to declare a fisheries disaster for this year’s salmon season.

Pacific Fishery Management Council California troll salmon advisor Dave Bitts concurred. Bitts said that ocean fishing will likely be limited to about 700 Klamath River Chinook salmon when four years ago it was about 70,000 fish.

“We’re looking at either no fishing after April 30 or a couple little scraps of a commercial fishing season below Point Arena this year,” Bitts said. “In either case, the odds are excellent that this is going to be a disaster season by the federal standard. It’s not too soon to be laying the groundwork.”

Both Bonham and Bitts said the proposed plan to remove four Klamath River hydroelectric dams will work to address many of the issues such as low flows and warm waters that led to recent die-offs of baby salmon on the river.

Morro Bay crab fisherwoman Lori French, whose husband is also a fisherman, told the committee the poor salmon return will be “the straw that broke the camel’s back” for many young crab fishermen who also rely on salmon for income.

The poor season comes after the crab fleet experienced up to six-month delays in the 2015-16 crab season because of large toxic algae blooms. Bonham said crabbers are expected to have an average haul this year, but that many of them are still requiring federal disaster funding to make up for last season’s losses. Congress is working to appropriate these disaster funds in the coming weeks.

McGuire said the committee is planning to hold a hearing on the salmon season in May and another later in the year.

Another major topic of discussion was Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed landing fee increase for the state’s fishing fleet, which came under fire from legislators and fishermen alike.

Committee Vice Chairman and North Coast Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) said he is “adamantly opposed” to the increase.

“It is the wrong amount at the wrong time affecting the wrong people,” Wood said. “I will push back.”

The landing fee has not been increased since 1993. To address a $20 million budget shortfall in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Department, Brown is proposing to raise landing fees by as much as 1,300 percent. Landing fees are collected on a per pound basis of the amount of seafood fishermen catch or land.

However, McGuire said Brown’s proposal would increase the landing fees for crab fisherman by up to 13,000 percent.

“No industry should have to absorb these hikes,” McGuire said.

Bonham stated that the landing fees currently make up only a fraction of the department’s budget for regulating the commercial fisheries.

For the 2015-16 seasons, Bonham said fishing fleets brought in about $133 million of product, but only paid $322,000 in landing fees. Bonham said he recognizes the proposed fee increase is only a short-term solution that would not address the department’s predicted budget shortfall in the 2018-19 fiscal year. He said he has been directed by Brown to come up with a long-term funding plan.

“I have a sustainable financing source program for my whole department,” Bonham said.

Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations Executive Director Noah Oppenheim said the “excessive, capricious landing tax proposal” would result in buyers purchasing product from other states because of higher prices, would cause seafood prices to increase for consumers and place devastating financial burdens on a fleet working to recover from a disastrous season.

“It will absolutely shock the industry,” Oppenheim said.


Mar 30 2017

California’s Commercial Fishing Fees to Rise From $20 Million Shortfall in Fish and Wildlife Budget

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

Copyright © 2017

Seafood News


SEAFOODNEWS.COM [Eureka Times-Standard] by Ruth Schneider – March 29, 2017

Both of the state’s North Coast legislators, Sen. Mike McGuire and Assemblyman Jim Wood, are vocal in their opposition to a proposal put forward by the governor to increase fishing landing fees.

The plan from Gov. Jerry Brown to fill a $20 million shortfall in the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife budget would increase landing fees for the state’s commercial fishing fleet. The increases would raise an additional $12.4 million.

“Currently, revenue from the commercial fish landing fees support less than one quarter of the Department’s program costs,” the budget summary states, adding that landing fees have not been adjusted for 20 years.

According to McGuire, the increase in the fees “exceeding 10,000 percent” is “simply unacceptable.”

“We have to protect and preserve California’s fisheries, and we’re deeply concerned about the future based off of threats from the federal government and the exorbitant fees being proposed by the Governor’s Office,” McGuire said in a statement.

Wood reacted similarly.

“As Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture and a member of the Assembly who represents nearly one-third of California’s coastline, I am adamantly opposed to the Governor’s proposal to increase landing fees on commercial fisheries,” Wood said in a statement.

He added that the fishing industry has not had it easy the past few years with toxic algae blooms halting the crab fishing season on the North Coast last year and salmon populations declining significantly.

“Exacerbating the financial hardships of an industry that has so recently suffered these crises in order to address the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s budget concerns is unconscionable,” Wood wrote in a letter to the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture, which he co-chairs.

McGuire announced last week a fisheries forum set for Wednesday. It is set to begin at 12:30 p.m. and a live-stream can be found on the Senate’s website.

Here’s the status of a few environment-related bills working their way through the state Legislature:

Sustainable seafood >> SB 269, introduced by McGuire, would develop and implement a sustainable seafood promotion program for California. The bill seeks to increase direct sales of sustainable seafood from California fisheries. Under a provision of the bill, “Seafood produced through aquaculture or fish farming shall not be certified as sustainable under this division until nationally or internationally accepted sustainability standards have been developed and implemented,” the bill states. Earlier this month, the bill passed out of the Committee on Natural Resource and Water. It is set for an April 3 hearing in an appropriations committee.

Steelhead reporting >> McGuire introduced and Wood is a co-author of SB 144, which would extend the steelhead report-restoration card system that had been set to sunset in July 2017. The bill would extend the program through July 2022. The program charges steelhead fishers $5 annually for the card. The program tracks angling trends over time which help the Department of Fish and Wildlife make fisheries management and regulation decisions. Because the funds are generated from steelhead anglers, the restoration projects must benefit both steelhead populations and the anglers themselves. The bill is set for an April 3 hearing by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Nature >> AB 1433, introduced by Wood, make funding available to the Wildlife Conservation Board for grants and programs that protect and improve natural resources. It would also fund programs that aim to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. On March 13, the bill was forwarded to the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, where it awaits a hearing.

Copyright © 2017


Mar 26 2017

Congress to consider relief funds for California crab fleet

Fishing boats sit docked at Woodley Island Marina. North Coast U.S. Rep Jared Huffman said within the next few weeks Congress could approve long-awaited funds to help offset last year’s dismal season.
Fishing boats sit docked at Woodley Island Marina. North Coast U.S. Rep Jared Huffman said within the next few weeks Congress could approve long-awaited funds to help offset last year’s dismal season. Shaun Walker — The Times-Standard


Long-awaited federal funds to alleviate California’s crabbing fleet after last year’s dismal season could be approved by Congress as early as the next few weeks, according to California 2nd District Rep. Jared Huffman.

Huffman (D-San Rafael) said Congress is set to vote on a supplemental budget appropriation to prevent a government shutdown in the coming weeks. He said he and a bipartisan group of legislators have signed on to a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urging them to include fishery disaster funds in this budget bill.

“I don’t want to say ‘mission accomplished’ at this point,” Huffman told the Times-Standard on Wednesday. “I think the fact that we’ve got a nice bipartisan request in and that it’s not tied to President Trump’s budget is a good thing.”

Meanwhile at the state level, local legislators and fishing organizations are protesting Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to increase commercial fishing landing fees by as much as 1,300 percent in order to help close a $20 million shortfall in the California Department of Fish and Wildlife budget.

North Coast Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg), who also serves as the vice chairman on the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture, stated Wednesday that he is “adamantly opposed” to Brown’s proposal.

“I recognize that the department’s budget is unsustainable and a solution must be found, but not on the backs of the men and women in California’s commercial fishing industry,” Wood said in a statement.

Disaster funds

After its season was delayed up to six months by toxic algae blooms in 2016, California’s commercial crabbing fleet has waited more than a year for federal relief.

Across the state, crabbers pulled in less than half of their average yearly haul by July 2016. North Coast crabbers hauled in about one-third of their average catch.

Many crabbers fell into debt as their boats and crews sat unused, which resulted in some crabbers leaving the industry for good.

Huffman and other members of Congress introduced a bill to in March 2016 to provide more than $138 million to the fleet, but the U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker needed to declare a fisheries disaster before those funds could be made available. That declaration occurred in January.

Should Congress approve the relief funds, Huffman said the funds could be made available in a few months at the latest.

If the disaster funds do not make this latest funding bill, Huffman said they still have until the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1 to appropriate the money.

Landing fee

In an effort to address a $20 million shortfall in the California Department of Fish and Wildlife budget, the governor is proposing in his budget to increase landing fees for the state’s commercial fishing fleet to raise an additional $12.4 million.

“Currently, revenue from the commercial fish landing fees support less than one-quarter of the department’s program costs,” the budget summary states. “Further, these fees have not been adjusted in at least 20 years. This proposal sustains the current level of service, acknowledging the need to implement more permanent measures in 2018‑19.”

In the 2015-16 fiscal year, landing fees — which are collected on a per pound basis of the amount of seafood fishermen catch or land — only brought in $500,000 and is expected to bring in $900,000 this year, according to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office.

The office — a 16-member bipartisan advisory committee overseen by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee — states in its review of Brown’s 2017-18 budget that the proposal would increase fees by as much as 1,300 percent. The office states this increase “may be too large for the industry to sustain” and that the department would still have a shortfall in the 2018-19 fiscal year.

Landing fees have not increased since 1992 as they are not adjusted for inflation. Even if the fee were increased to current inflation levels, the legislative analyst’s office states that would only result in an 80 percent increase — or about $725,000 — compared to the 1,300 percent in Brown’s proposal.

Trinidad crab fisherman Craig Goucher said typically buyers pay the landing fees for the fishermen. If Brown’s proposal goes through, he said it could result in buyers paying less for fishermens’ catch to make up for the increased costs. While California’s landing fees are lower than Oregon’s and Washington’s, Goucher said Brown’s increase would change that and result in unfair competition.

“(Brown) can justify raising it some, but they can’t justify raising $0.25 per pound,” Goucher said.

Fort Bragg Groundfish Conservation Trust President Michelle Norvell said that the fleet has already experienced losses due to poor ocean conditions and that the increased fee would only work to drive out fishing businesses from California.

“I hope wholeheartedly that the assessment is rejected and they go back to the drawing board and look at other ways of filling the shortfall,” she said. “I hope that it’s borne across more than just the commercial fishers. It’s not the burden of the commercial fishermen and hope they’re not going to slip something past us.”

A crab fishing boat sits docked at Woodley Island Marina across the bay from crab pots at Caito Fisheries. Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed an increase to commercial fishing landing fees by as much as 1,300 percent in order to help close a $20 million shortfall in the California Department of Fish and Wildlife budget. Shaun Walker — The Times-Standard


Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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Mar 8 2017

Figuring Out When and Why Squids Lost Their Shells

A 166-million-year-old fossil of an extinct relative of the squid. Credit Jonathan Jackson and ZoË Hughes/National History Museum of London


Shaped like a torpedo and about as swift, squids are jet-propelled underwater predators. Together with their nimble brethren, the octopus and cuttlefish, they make for an agile invertebrate armada.

But that was not always the case. Hundreds of millions of years ago, the ancestors of the tentacled trio were slow, heavily armored creatures, like the coil-shelled ammonites and the cone-shelled belemnites.

Alastair Tanner, a doctoral student at University of Bristol in England, wanted to better understand why those cephalopods lost their shells. But though both ammonites and the belemnites have left behind rich fossil records, their shell-less descendants have not.

So Mr. Tanner conducted a genetic analysis of 26 present day cephalopods, including the vampire squid, the golden cuttlefish and the southern blue-ringed octopus.

With the molecular clock technique, which allowed him to use DNA to map out the evolutionary history of the cephalopods, he found that today’s cuttlefish, squids and octopuses began to appear 160 to 100 million years ago, during the so-called Mesozoic Marine Revolution.

Mr. Tanner published his findings last week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

During the revolution, underwater life underwent a rapid change, including a burst in fish diversity. Some predators became better suited for crushing shellfish, while some smaller fish became faster and more agile.

“There’s a continual arms race between the prey and the predators,” said Mr. Tanner. “The shells are getting smaller, and the squids are getting faster.”

The evolutionary pressures favored being nimble over being armored, and cephalopods started to lose their shells, according to Mr. Tanner. The adaptation allowed them to outcompete their shelled relatives for fast food, and they were able to better evade predators. They were also able to keep up with competitors seeking the same prey.

Today most cephalopods are squishy and shell-less. The biggest exception is the nautilus. But though there are more than 2,500 fossilized species of nautilus, today only a handful of species exist.

Squid and octopus species number around 300 each, and there are around 120 species of cuttlefish. The differences in number, compared with the nautilus, indicates the advantages that these cephalopods may have gained over their shelled relatives, according to Mr. Tanner.

“It became a much more successful strategy to be a really high metabolism, very rapid moving animal,” Mr. Tanner said, “and they evolved into these really quite amazing things we see today.”

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Mar 7 2017

Fish, Nature’s super food

Mar 6 2017

White House proposes steep budget cut to leading climate science agency

(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration via AP)

The Trump administration is seeking to slash the budget of one of the government’s premier climate science agencies by 17 percent, delivering steep cuts to research funding and satellite programs, according to a four-page budget memo obtained by The Washington Post.

The proposed cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would also eliminate funding for a variety of smaller programs, including external research, coastal management, estuary reserves and “coastal resilience,” which seeks to bolster the ability of coastal areas to withstand major storms and rising seas.

NOAA is part of the Commerce Department, which would be hit by an overall 18 percent budget reduction from its current funding level.

The Office of Management and Budget also asked the Commerce Department to provide information about how much it would cost to lay off employees, while saying those employees who do remain with the department should get a 1.9 percent pay increase in January 2018. It requested estimates for terminating leases and government “property disposal.”

The OMB outline for the Commerce Department for fiscal 2018 proposed sharp reductions in specific areas within NOAA such as spending on education, grants and research. NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research would lose $126 million, or 26 percent, of the funds it has under the current budget. Its satellite data division would lose $513 million, or 22 percent, of its current funding under the proposal.

The National Marine Fisheries Service and National Weather Service would be fortunate by comparison, facing only 5 percent cuts.

The figures are part of the OMB’s “passback” document, a key part of the annual budget process in which the White House instructs agencies to draw up detailed budgets for submission to Congress. The numbers often change during the course of negotiations between the agency and the White House and between lawmakers and the administration later on. The 2018 fiscal year starts Oct. 1.

A spokesperson for the Commerce Department declined to comment. A White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that the process was “evolving” and cautioned against specific numbers. The official would not respond to questions about the four-page passback document.

The biggest single cut proposed by the passback document comes from NOAA’s satellite division, known as the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, which includes a key repository of climate and environmental information, the National Centers for Environmental Information. Researchers there were behind a study suggesting that there has been no recent slowdown in the rate of climate change — research that drew the ire of Republicans in Congress.

Another proposed cut would eliminate a $73 million program called Sea Grant, which supports coastal research conducted through 33 university programs across the country. That includes institutions in many swing states that went for President Trump, such as the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the University of Michigan, Ohio State University, the University of Florida and North Carolina State University.

The OMB passback said that the administration wanted to “prioritize rebuilding the military” and would seek “savings and efficiencies to keep the Nation on a responsible fiscal path.” It said that its proposed funding cut for the Commerce Department “highlights the tradeoffs and choices inherent in pursuing these goals.”

The OMB also said that the White House would come up with ideas to modernize “outdated infrastructure,” but it said that agencies should not expect increases in their fiscal 2018 discretionary-spending “toplines” as a result.

On Wednesday, after his confirmation, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said that drawing up a budget would be a top priority. “One of the first steps,” he said, “will be securing adequate appropriations from the Congress. In a period of budgetary constraint, that will be a major challenge.”

The OMB passback document said that the Commerce Department, like other agencies, should “buy and manage like a business.” It urged the department to explore greater use of privately owned commercial satellites and commercial cloud services while submitting to the OMB a plan to retire or replace “at least one high priority legacy IT system” beginning in 2018.

Many scientists warned that the deep cuts at NOAA could hurt safety as well as academic programs.

Conrad Lautenbacher, a retired vice admiral who was the NOAA administrator under President George W. Bush, said, “I think the cuts are ill timed given the needs of society, economy and the military.” He added, “It will be very hard for NOAA to manage and maintain the kind of services the country requires” with the proposed cuts.

Jane Lubchenco, NOAA administrator under President Barack Obama, said that 90 percent of the information for weather forecasts comes from satellites. “Cutting NOAA’s satellite budget will compromise NOAA’s mission of keeping Americans safe from extreme weather and providing forecasts that allow businesses and citizens to make smart plans,” she said.

Rick Spinrad, a former chief scientist for NOAA, said: “NOAA’s research and operations, including satellite data management, support critical safety needs. A reduced investment now would virtually guarantee jeopardizing the safety of the American public.”

NOAA released a time lapse of satellite imagery from Sept. 27 to Sept. 30 that shows Tropical Storm Matthew moving into the Caribbean Sea, where it became a hurricane. (NOAA)

He said that weather warnings for tornadoes and hurricanes could be compromised and that navigational capacity used to help guide commercial ships and other mariners would suffer, leaving them without the “improved forecasts they need to safely maneuver coastal waters.” It could become harder to warn of tsunamis and forecast weather that will cause power outages.

David Titley, a professor of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University who served as NOAA’s chief operating officer in the Obama administration, said that “oddly” the White House budget office, despite the president’s commitment to building infrastructure, would cut NOAA’s budget for ships and satellites. “These cuts will impact good private-sector jobs in the U.S.,” Titley said. “The loss of capability will make America weaker both in space and on the sea — a strange place to be for an administration that campaigned to ‘make America great again.’ ”

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