Archive for August, 2017

Aug 31 2017

Pelagic survey highlights NOAA’s growing collaborative relationship with industry


Preface: ” The California Wetfish Producers Association and NOAA’s SW Fisheries Science Center are conducting a collaborative survey of the nearshore in Southern CA in 2018. CWPA also partners with the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife to conduct aerial surveys of the nearshore area to document coastal pelagic species now missed in current stock assessments.”


Earlier this year, officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration used the Lisa Marie, a private fishing boat, to collect data for its annual coastal pelagic species survey. The more was part of an effort to increase collaboration between the public and private sectors.

Earlier this summer as officials with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration completed work on an annual survey of coastal pelagic species (CPS) in the Pacific Ocean, they received some assistance from a new source: the private sector.

Not only were representatives from the West Coast seafood trade industry on board a federal vessel for five days while survey samples were taken, but one fisherman allowed NOAA officials to outfit his boat with equipment to survey more shallow waters near the coastline. The collaborative venture marked a milestone in a public-private dialogue that’s been going on for years.

The CPS survey collects data primarily on Pacific sardines, Koch said, but it also includes observations on other CPS fish such as northern anchovy and jack and Pacific mackerels. Typically, officials use the Reuben Lasker, a NOAA vessel, to conduct the survey. However, private sector representatives felt the government was missing out on some key data in their work.

Government leaders welcomed the idea to get more data to fill in the gaps they also sought to fill.

“Data is like gold to us,” said Kristen Koch, the acting science and research director of NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Service Center in La Jolla, California. “If we can collect more of the kind of data we need, it improves the precision of our assessments of these species.”

Because of its size, the Reuben Lasker can only conduct surveys in deeper waters, around 35 fathoms. Fishermen and processers, who must abide by the survey data that is used to establish catch limits for fisheries, contended that large schools of these fish can be found much closer to the shore, in water roughly seven fathoms deep.

Greg Shaughnessy, chief operating officer for Ocean Gold Seafoods, spent nearly a week on the Reuben Lasker. For the 40-year industry veteran, it was an educational experience for him to see to see the steps NOAA officials take to conduct their surveys. He also said he appreciated being involved in the process.

“We feel that we have something to add to the conversation because we’re out there,” said Shaughnessy, who is also a member of the West Coast Pelagic Conservation Group, a nonprofit industry advocacy group. “We’re looking at the ocean everyday.”

Besides Shaughnessy, Andy Blair, who owns the Lisa Marie, observed the survey on the NOAA vessel. Blair’s boat was also rigged to conduct surveys along the coasts of Washington and Oregon.

The idea for the joint venture stemmed from conversations between current NOAA Chief Scientist Cisco Warner, who was serving as the director of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center at the time; Koch, then the SFSC deputy director; Gerard DiNardo, the Fisheries Resources Division director; Mike Okoniewski, the Alaska operations manager and a fisheries policy advisor with Pacific Seafood; and Diane Pleschner-Steele, with the California Wetfish Producers Association.

Okoniewski said the collaboration and the talks that led up to it indicate an improving relationship between the two sides.

“This has been a real sea level change for the science centers, and they’ve really done a good job reaching out to industry,” he said.

While the survey results won’t be ready for quite some time, both industry and government leaders already hail the project as a success and hope they can do similar endeavors in the near future.

“This is a really positive – experimental, yet, but positive – collaboration that I think we’ve had with this particular group, and we’re looking forward to continuing to work toward jointly getting at more of these observations that help the assessment,” Koch said. “That’s really the bottom line.”

Originally posted:


Aug 15 2017

Fishermen See ‘Science in Action’ Aboard NOAA Survey Ship


Each spring and early summer, scientists set out along the West Coast aboard NOAA vessel Reuben Lasker to survey coastal pelagic species, or CPS, which includes small schooling fish such as northern anchovy, Pacific sardine, and jack and Pacific mackerels.

This year, with the help of West Coast fishermen, the scientists tested a new approach to extend their reach into nearshore waters to improve the accuracy of the survey results. The collaboration involved the fishing vessel Lisa Marie, of Gig Harbor, Washington, and brought two commercial fishermen aboard Lasker for an inside look at NOAA Fisheries surveys that inform stock assessments and guide decisions on how many fish can be caught by West Coast fishermen.

The idea emerged years before when the then-Director of NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California,  Cisco Werner, along with Deputy Director Kristen Koch and Fisheries Resources Division Director Gerard DiNardo, discussed the potential collaboration with Mike Okoniewski of Pacific Seafood and Diane Pleschner-Steele of the California Wetfish Producers Association.

Werner has since been named Chief Scientist of NOAA Fisheries.

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requires NOAA Fisheries to use the best available science to help managers set catch limits and prevent overfishing. Annual surveys, using echosounders to detect and measure the abundances of CPS populations off the coasts of California, Oregon, Washington, and Canada’s Vancouver Island help fulfill this mandate. NOAA Fisheries also uses trawl catches, and fish-egg samples to help gauge fish reproduction and population trends.

“Acoustic-trawl surveys are our principal tool for monitoring the various species and determining how their abundances, distributions, and sizes are changing,” said David Demer, the Chief Scientist of the survey and leader of the Advanced Survey Technologies Group at Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla. “The surveys are very rigorous because they’re very important to our mission.”

To quantify any CPS in the shallow, nearshore waters off Oregon and Washington where Lasker cannot survey, Demer’s group equipped Lisa Marie, calibrated the instrumentation, and sailed with the fishermen to collect and analyze echosounder and sonar data along coastal transects.

Meanwhile Andy Blair, fisherman and owner of Lisa Marie, and Greg Shaughnessy, Chief Operating Officer of Ocean Gold Seafoods in Westport, Washington, spent five days aboard Lasker, learning how NOAA Fisheries scientists collect information that informs NOAA Fisheries stock assessments and leads to CPS harvest decisions by the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

“I learned a lot, even though I’ve been out fishing for years,” said Shaughnessy. “Now that I’ve been out there and seen how the work is done, I have a much better understanding of the logistics involved and how thorough and rigorous the work really is.”

A spotter pilot flew overhead during parts of the survey looking for and photographing schools of fish from above. The digital images will augment the measurements made aboard Lasker and Lisa Marie.

The vessels and aircraft confirmed each other’s findings when concurrently surveying the same areas.

Okoniewski praised NOAA Fisheries for welcoming commercial fishermen aboard Lasker and explaining the survey methods and science.

“We’ve really opened some new doors with this collaboration,” said Okoniewski, who with Shaughnessy and Blair are members of West Coast Pelagic Conservation Group, a non-profit advocacy and conservation group that represents commercial fishermen and processors. “There’s now a much greater understanding of what we each do and how we do it. It’s kind of a new age in terms of how we see each other.”

Sardine fishing is currently closed off the West Coast because sardine numbers, which are known for boom-bust cycles, have fallen below a protective threshold in a rule that governs harvest. Surveys are essential in determining when the cycle reverses, the population rebounds and, in turn, when fishing for sardines can resume.

“It was a wonderful chance to see science in action,” Shaughnessy wrote in a letter to SWFSC leadership. “From a fisherman’s perspective, the array of acoustic and scientific equipment itself is stunning. However, it was the dedicated men and women that made the real difference. Every crew member was very professional in every sense and yet made us feel included, safe, and at home.”

NOAA Fisheries Reuben Lasker
NOAA Fisheries Vessel Reuben Lasker uses echosounders, sonars, and a trawl net to survey populations of sardine, anchovy, and mackerels. (Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries) 

Lisa Marie resizedFishing Vessel Lisa Marie, based out of Westport, Washington, uses a purse-seine net to fish for sardine and other small fish. (Captain: Ricky Blair; owner: Andy Blair; photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Scott Mau)

CPS Schools aerial view resizedCPS schools (dark patches) in shallow, nearshore water off Washington, and a ship, imaged from an aircraft. (Photo credit: Frank Foode)

Echogram of fish schools 2017 resizedEchogram of fish schools (red patches), one near the sea-surface (top of the image), and multiple others deeper. Also visible are plankton (blue layers), individual fish (discrete blue spots), the seabed (jagged red line), and 50- and 100-m depth markers (dotted lines). (Image credit: NOAA Fisheries/Scott Mau)

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Aug 10 2017

Humpback whales gorge in Monterey Bay

Preface: a huge population of anchovies is drawing whales to feed frenzies in Monterey Bay as well as San Francisco Bay and along the California coast.

A pair of humpback whales lunge feed on a school of anchovies while showing off their baleen in July in the Monterey Bay. (Chase Dekker — Sanctuary Cruises)

MOSS LANDING – For the past few weeks, at least 50 to 75 humpback whales have been gorging on krill and anchovies in the Monterey Bay, delighting boaters and whale-watching groups.

Their feeding frenzy is often visible from shore, from Monterey to Santa Cruz, at hot spots such as Aptos’ Seacliff State Beach and Marina Beach, as well as the Santa Cruz, Monterey and Moss Landing harbors.

Rio del Mar resident Rachel Birns said she’s seen humpbacks from her deck overlooking Beer Can Beach every day since July.

A humpback whale breaches out of the waves in July in the Monterey Bay (Chase Dekker — Sanctuary Cruises)

“Every day, I’m like, are they going to leave? And every day they’re still here,” said Birns, who said she checks for them every morning.

“You just keep looking and you’ll see one. You’ll see a blow and then sometimes they’re breaching. Like, I just had a late lunch and my husband goes, ‘They’re breaching,’ so I ran outside,” she said.

Santa Cruz resident and retiree Steve Lawson kayaks the waters between Capitola and Santa Cruz about five days a week.

A trio of humpback whales work together to feed on an anchovy bait ball in July in the Monterey Bay (Chase Dekker — Sanctuary Cruises)

“What can I say, it’s consistent,” said Lawson. “That is, I’m generally seeing one or two whales a day.”

On Wednesday, he saw a humpback with a distinctive curled dorsal fin, which some call “Captain Hook,” a quarter mile offshore Santa Cruz’s Main Beach, where he sometimes sees humpbacks feed. He also often sees humpbacks feeding near Live Oak’s Corcoran Lagoon and Moran Lake, he said.

The humpbacks near shore are following their food: anchovies, said Kate Cummings, naturalist and captain at Blue Ocean Whale Watching, a Moss Landing-based company.

“It’s not unusual, just very awesome,” Cummings said in an email to the Sentinel.
Cormorants roosting on a section that remains of the Cement Ship at Seacliff State Beach have a front row seat as a Humpback Whale puts on a show nearby. Numerous whales and orcas have been seen recently in the Monterey Bay. (Shmuel Thaler — Santa Cruz Sentinel)

“Humpback whales are in the Monterey Bay throughout the spring, summer and fall to feed, but their proximity to shore makes their presence more obvious to people,” Cummings wrote.

Jim Harvey, director of the Moss Landing Marine Labs, said around June or July is when humpbacks switch their diet, from krill to anchovies.

“This is pretty standard fare for this time of year,” Harvey said. “We usually get a fair amount of whale activity early, as in April, May, June — mostly concentrating (feeding) on krill.”

The krill draws both humpback and blue whales.

As the season progresses and the krill are “mowed down,” the humpbacks switch to anchovies and sardines, which brings the whales closer to shore, Harvey said.

Humpback whales have become a common sight in the Monterey Bay from May to November. What’s more rare are the blue, minke and fin whales that have been spotted in deeper waters in recent weeks, said Nancy Black, captain and owner of Monterey Bay Whale Watch, a Monterey Harbor-based company.

Strong northwest winds this spring and early summer have created perfect conditions for krill, since winds generate an upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich waters from the ocean’s depths. About a week ago, the winds stopped and the waters calmed. The krill have begun to accumulate, and so have the whales, Black said.

“We’re seeing blue whales on our trips every day in Monterey. They’re in the bay, on the edge of the canyon, scattered wide. Most of the whale watching trips are seeing blue whales on most of the trips now, because they’re fairly numerous (there),” Black said.

Blue whales are endangered, and tourists fly from all over to the Monterey Bay hoping to see them, Black said.

She has seen fin whales — the second largest whale, next to the blue whale — as well as the much smaller minke whales in the Monterey Bay recently. And on Sunday, she thinks she saw a sei whale, which is the third largest whale, around 20 miles offshore.

“The diversity right now is pretty amazing, to have a chance to see at least three different species of large whales,” Black said. “I wouldn’t say you’re going to see all three for sure on your trip, but they’re out there and conditions are great right now.”

A Humpback Whale surfaces near the pier at Seacliff State Beach Tuesday afternoon. (Shmuel Thaler — Santa Cruz Sentinel)

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Aug 10 2017

Recipe: Grilled Squid With Cherry Tomato Salad & Aioli

Grilled Squid With Cherry Tomato Salad & Aioli

Serves 4

This recipe from Camino’s Russell Moore pairs tender grilled squid with fresh cherry tomatoes dressed in a light vinaigrette. Flare-ups on the grill can impart a sooty taste to squid, so be sure to let the coals burn down until they are covered with ash and no longer flaming.


2 pounds fresh squid, cleaned

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest

¼ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes or other hot ground red pepper

Kosher or sea salt to taste


1 garlic clove

1 large egg yolk, at room temperature

½ cup extra virgin olive oil


1 pound chard leaves, ribs removed

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Cherry tomato salad

½ pound cherry tomatoes, red or golden, halved

3 tablespoons finely minced red onion

4 to 6 basil leaves, torn

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

1½ teaspoons red wine vinegar, or to taste

To prepare the squid: Toss the squid bodies and tentacles with olive oil, lemon zest and hot pepper. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours. Skewer the squid bodies through the tail so that they will lie flat when the skewer is placed on the grill; when you lift the skewer, they should hang like sheets from a clothesline. You may need 2 skewers for the bodies. Thread the tentacles on a separate skewer. Keep refrigerated until ready to grill.

Prepare a charcoal fire and let it burn down until the coals are completely covered with ash.

To make the aioli: Pound the garlic clove and a large pinch of salt to a paste in a mortar, or mince to a paste with a chef’s knife. Put the egg yolk and garlic in a small bowl, add 1 teaspoon of warm water and whisk to blend. Add the olive oil gradually, drop by drop at first, whisking constantly until the mixture visibly thickens and emulsifies. Once you have achieved an emulsion, you can add the oil in a thin, steady stream, whisking constantly. Taste and add more salt if needed.

To make the chard: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the chard leaves and stir them down into the water with tongs or a wooden spoon. Cook until the chard is just tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain and cool quickly under cold running water. Squeeze dry, then chop coarsely. Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over moderately low heat. Add the chopped greens and toss to coat them evenly with the oil. Season to taste with salt. Set aside.

To make the cherry tomato salad: Put the cherry tomatoes, onion and basil in a bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, wine vinegar and salt to taste. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad and toss, then taste and adjust the seasoning.

To finish and serve: Just before grilling, season the squid with salt. Grill, turning once, until the bodies are white and the interior is cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Watch for flare-ups and move the squid as necessary to avoid imparting a sooty taste. While the squid cooks, reheat the chard.

Divide the chard among 4 dinner plates. Remove the squid bodies and tentacles from the skewers and arrange over the chard. Spoon the tomato salad over the squid and place dollops of aioli alongside. Serve immediately.