Archive for the Legislation Category

Oct 4 2017

California NGO Drops Out of Stakeholder Process, Sues State Over Whale Entanglements in Crab Fishery

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

Copyright © 2017

Seafood News


SEAFOODNEWS.COM [Seafood News] by Susan Chambers – October 4, 2017


The Center for Biological Diversity has targeted the California Dungeness crab fishery by suing the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Tuesday.

The Center claims California crab fishery is causing the illegal “take” of whales and sea turtles.

Each entanglement of a humpback whale, blue whale or leatherback sea turtle violates the federal Endangered Species Act, the Center said in a press release, and the department is liable for causing these unlawful entanglements because it authorizes and manages operation of the fishery.

California Dungeness Crab fishermen were outraged at the lawsuit.  They said the Center should instead continue to be part of the multi-stakeholder process that is working on solutions to whale entanglements.

In a statement, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Organizations said  “California crab fishermen and women take the health of the ocean incredibly seriously. Without a healthy ocean we simply cannot fish. This is why we do everything we can to avoid whales when we fish, and fishermen have risked life and limb to help whales escape in some of the rare instances in which they do become entangled.”

“This is also why commercial crab fishermen and women are already working hard together with an organized varsity team of state and federal scientists, environmental groups, and the professional marine mammal rescuers themselves to develop and implement best practices for our fishery. Our voluntary efforts are already working: entanglements are down 81% in 2017 and we are incredibly proud of this progress.”

“The Center for Biological Diversity’s lawsuit is disappointing because it seems designed to divide rather than unite the very groups who are already committed and working hard to finding proactive solutions. This litigation may also end up diverting limited state resources away from developing practical solutions, safety and environmental enforcement at sea, and the sustainable management of our fisheries.”

The Center says the lawsuit seeks common-sense reforms to the fishery such as restricting the amount of gear in whale hotspots like Monterey Bay and reducing the amount of rope running through the water.

However, the lawsuit itself says the Center requests the court order the department to apply for an incidental take permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service — a process that may or may not consider the efforts so far by the state and industry to decrease whale entanglements.

“These tragic entanglements are happening in record-breaking numbers,” attorney Kristine Mondsell said in the press release. “That’s why we’ve had to sue to force California officials to finally take their responsibilities seriously.”  Yet CBD has not acknowleged that entanglements are down 81% in 2017.

The leading effort in California is the Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group, comprising fishermen, state and federal agency representatives and conservation groups. The Center for Biological Diversity also was a member for awhile until it disagreed with other participants and dropped out. Other groups such as The Nature Conservancy and Oceana continue to work with the state and industry on methods to decrease entanglements.

“This news should not deter the Working Group from continuing to move forward in your collective efforts,” CDFW Marine Region Manager Craig Shuman said in an email to the group’s participants and other state officials Tuesday. “We are encouraged by the Working Group’s progress to develop a Risk Assessment and Mitigation Program (RAMP) and the steps that are being taken to test and evaluate the RAMP during the 2017-18 pilot.”

Fishermen are testing two electronic tools during the upcoming 2017-18 season, including eCatch, a phone/tablet-based application developed by The Nature Conservancy that logs fishing activity and GPS coordinates; and a solar logger device that passively collects fishing activity data. The industry and state also have updated a guide of best practices with methods designed to decrease whale entanglements; moved forward with a program to recover derelict gear; and participating in studies and training to minimize interactions.

The Center’s complaint relies on information to show that whale entanglements have increased in recent years. However, the Center does not point out that some whale populations have been increasing in recent years as well. Nor does it take into account changes in the crab fishery or gear distribution due to seasonal issues such as domoic acid. It also doesn’t identify how fishermen have been instrumental in helping disentangle whales, such as the one off of Crescent City, Calif., earlier this year.

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Sep 13 2017

California Acting Governor Gavin Newsom Requests Disaster Relief for Sardine, Urchin Fisheries

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

Copyright © 2017

Seafood News


Sardine and sea urchin closures in California have prompted Acting Gov. Gavin Newsom to request fishery failure declarations for both.
Newsom noted in his Sept. 5 letters to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross that ocean conditions caused the closure for sardines and affected the kelp forest ecosystems on which red urchins depend.

The California Wetfish Producers Association lauded Newsom’s request to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to approve a declaration of a commercial fishery failure for California’s Pacific sardine fishery. His action was precipitated by La Niña’s cold-water oceanic conditions that are believed to have caused sharply reduced sardine recruitment and the closure of this commercial fishery since 2015.

“This declaration is very important as it will enable California’s historic sardine fishery and its participants to seek federal disaster relief to offset the economic harm fishermen and processors have suffered since the fishery closure,” California Wetfish Producers Association Executive Director Diane Pleschner-Steele said in a statement Tuesday.

The Pacific sardine fishery has been managed under the federal Coastal Pelagic Species Fishery Management Plan (CPS FMP) since 2000. The CPS FMP established a harvest cutoff, prohibiting directed fishing if the sardine population falls below an estimated 150,000 metric tons. Due to low stock assessments, the fishery was closed in 2015 and 2016, and will remain closed in 2017 and possibly even 2018, although sardines have returned to abundance in the nearshore area, where fishing normally takes place.

Certain thresholds have been established that help the National Marine Fisheries Service and Secretary of Commerce make a determination of whether a commercial fishery failure has occurred. One of these involves an analysis of the economic impact and states that revenue losses greater than 80 percent are presumed to be a commercial fishery failure. This is determined by comparing the loss of 12-month revenue to average annual revenue in the most recent five-year period.

“This fishery is historically one of the top 10 highest valued commercial fisheries in California,” Newsom said in his letter regarding the iconic sardine fishery. “Statewide, the commercial closure in 2015 resulted in a total value of $343,148, which is 90 percent less than the 2010-14 average of $3,504,098. That dropped to $95,657 in 2016, which was 96 percent less than the 2011-15 average of $2,711,679.”

The figures for the urchin fishery, particularly in northern California and Orange County, were dire as well.
“The impacts to the regions are evident in the fishery landings data,” Newsom wrote. “In 2016, the northern California fishery ex-vessel revenue fell by 77 percent compared to the 5-year average from $2,587,419 to $604,440, Orange County ports fell by 93 percent from $85,382 to $6,045, and San Diego County ports fell by 48 percent from $574,526 to $297,594.”

Newsom’s letter noted the initial estimates for both fisheries are based on the average ex-vessel value of commercial landings but do not account for additional impacts to seafood processors or related industry businesses that rely on the either or both fisheries.

The sardine fishery is the foundation of California’s wetfish industry, which for decades has produced 80 percent or more of annual statewide commercial fishery landings, until recent years, the CWPA statement said. While fishermen and markets may harvest and process other species in the coastal pelagic species complex, sardines have been the historic mainstay of this industry, and the loss of fishing opportunity has created severe economic impact to both fishermen and processors.

The urchin fishery has been a staple for small-boat fishermen throughout the state for a number of years — until recently.
“Persistent warm ocean conditions that began in 2014 in northern California and 2015 in southern California has affected the fishery in these two regions,” Newsom’s letter said. “In northern California, the warm water event devastated kelp production (93 percent loss of surface kelp canopies compared to 2008 levels), a primary food source for urchins that created persistent starvation conditions. Starvation has led to reductions in the food value of the urchins targeted by the fishery in northern California.

In addition, a population explosion of the less marketable purple sea urchin continues to overgraze the recovering kelp beds, adding further stress to the fishery. In southern California, urchin mortality increased in response to warm El Nino conditions and disease in 2015. This has reduced the numbers of healthy red sea urchins in southern California available to the fishery.”

The Governor’s request for federal declaration now opens the door for fishermen and processors in California’s fisheries to pursue a federal disaster declaration from the Secretary of Commerce and appeal to California’s congressional delegation to pursue legislation allocating funding for disaster relief. Such funds would help alleviate the economic and social harm suffered as a result of these disasters.

Funds could also be used for cooperative research projects, Pleschner-Steele said, such as the collaborative aerial survey of the nearshore area that CWPA participates in with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in efforts to improve the accuracy of stock assessments.


Sep 7 2017

Sen Sullivan to NOAA: ‘Meaningful Changes’ Needed for Marine Sanctuaries and Monuments

September 6, 2017 (Saving Seafood) — In a letter last month to NOAA Acting Administrator Benjamin Friedman, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) called for “meaningful changes” to marine sanctuary and marine national monument designations, particularly in the form of greater stakeholder engagement.

In his letter, Sen. Sullivan, who serves as Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, called the concept of marine sanctuaries and monuments “well-intentioned” but wrote that they had caused challenges for coastal communities across the country, including Alaska’s “robust commercial fishing industry.”

“Fisheries restrictions imposed outside of the process utilized by Regional Fishery Management Councils on these areas are problematic for the communities who rely on access to commercial fisheries,” Sen. Sullivan wrote.

Sen. Sullivan expressed concern that the National Marine Sanctuary Act, while requiring stakeholder engagement, does not require that this engagement be taken into consideration when designating a sanctuary. “This can lead to communities feeling betrayed by the agency when the established sanctuaries are unrecognizable to the localities who spent years working with NOAA to form a mutually beneficial designation and management structure,” he wrote.

Sen. Sullivan also called into question the process by which the president can unilaterally establish national monuments with no stakeholder consultation under the Antiquities Act. He criticized recent presidents for using the national monument process as a “political tool” to “limit access to economically viable resources.”

“This action is often taken at the request of non-affected parties such as environmental groups,” he wrote. “This is problematic when monuments are established without the use of best-available science, absent stakeholder engagement, and inattentive to the economic consequences for local communities.”

On August 24, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke completed a review of national monuments ordered by President Donald Trump. While Secretary Zinke’s full recommendations have not been made public, the AP reported that they include changes to a “handful” of monuments.


Download/Read the full letter here [PDF]



Jul 13 2017

What factors play a role in analyzing forage fish fishing regulation?

The interaction of predators, fishing and forage fish is more complicated than previously thought and that several factors must be considered, says researcher.

The group of researchers was evaluating the interaction after results from an earlier report found that fishing of forage species had a large effect on predator population, said the Marine Ingredients Organization (IFFO). Those harvested fish are used in several areas including as feed ingredients.

The new study was initiated because there were some questions regarding the methods used in the initial project, said Ray Hilborn, with the school of aquatic and fishery sciences at the University of Washington and corresponding author.

“When the original Lenfest [Forage Fish Task Force] report came out, a few of us said it seemed that the methods they were using were not up to the questions they were asking,” he told FeedNavigator. The report also offered several policy recommendations, he added.

“It was on our radar screen,” he said. “And one of the things I’ve been interested in looking at is the intensity of natural fluctuation in populations, and forage fish are notable for how much they vary naturally.”

The interaction between forage fish populations and predators is more complicated than may have been suggested by earlier studies tracking that relationship, and several factors need to be considered when analyzing the role that fishing plays on that relationship, he said. “The key point isn’t that there isn’t an impact, but that you have to argue case-by-case,” he added.

Several factors need to be considered when assessing the interaction among predators, forage species, and fishing of those forage species, the researchers said in their study. “We show that taking account of these factors generally tends to make the impact of fishing forage fish on their predators less than estimated from trophic models,” they added.

Study response

The results from Hilborn’s group have seen responses from groups including IFFO.

Previous research based on models suggested that forage fish were more valuable when left in the ocean and recommended reducing forage fish collection rates by 50% to 80%, said IFFO. However, the new paper presents an argument for a more case-by-case basis for management.

“For fisheries management, such a precautionary approach would have a large impact on the productivity of forage fisheries,” the organization said. “As groups such as IFFO have noted, these stocks contribute strongly to global food security, as well as local and regional social and economic sustainability.”

It is important that fisheries are managed with an effort to balance requirements from the ecosystem, coastal communities and human nutrition, IFFO said. The new results provide additional guidance and update conclusions from past reports.

“It is also well-established that forage fisheries provide substantial health benefits to human populations through the supply of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, both directly through consumption in the form of fish oil capsules, and indirectly through animal feed for farmed fish and land animals,” the organization said.

Study specifics

Fishing of low trophic or forage fish has generated interest in recent years, the researchers said. These fish include small pelagic fish, squid and juveniles of many species.

The evidence and theory suggest that fishing can limit the abundance of some fish stocks and can affect predators’ reproductive success by the density of their prey, they said.

“Although it would therefore seem obvious that fishing forage fish would have a negative effect on the abundance of their predators, the empirical relationships between forage fish abundance and predator abundance, or population rates of change, have not been examined in a systematic way,” they said.

In the study, the group examined 11 species of forage fish in the US, including what animals eat them and the role the species play in their predators’ diets, they said.

Species’ predators were identified, estimated fish abundance was analyzed and several models were fit to the data being assessed, they said. A simulation model also used information from fisheries regarding six different species of forage fish to evaluate the potential reduction in food for predators given a 5,000-year timespan.

“The question that they were asking is an important question, but to ask it properly you need to have analysis that includes the important biology,” said Hilborn of earlier evaluations. “We’re just doing a more detailed look at the biology, which you need to do to understand fishing forage fish and what happens to their predators.”

Research findings

The goal of the study was to identify the key factors that should be considered by analyzing the effect of fishing on forge fish, said the researchers. The group found, overall, that the models previously used were “frequently inadequate” for determining the role the fishing of forage fish plays on their predators.

“The most important feature that needs to be considered is the natural variability in forage fish population size,” they said. “Their abundance is highly variable even in the absence of fishing, and creditable analysis of the fishing impacts must consider how the extent of fishing-induced depletion compares with that of the natural variability.”

The research results did offer some unexpected results, said Hilborn.

“I was really surprised that we didn’t see any empirical data showing the relationship between predators and prey,” he said. “We only looked at American fisheries, but didn’t find at any correlation with fish and the predators.”

The majority of cases did not offer an obvious relationship between prey and predator abundance, the researchers said. The size of the fish eaten by predators may play a role.

“While some predators selectively eat small fish (usually not selected by the fishery), others prey on a large range of forage fish sizes,” they said. “The degree of overlap between fisheries and predators is highly variable.”

However, work on the subject is not complete, said Hilborn. Several groups of researchers interested in the area are addressing different elements of the analysis.

“We’re doing more detailed analysis of several of the components,” he said. “A more detailed model of specific places.”

The work includes looking more closely at the interaction of key predators and some of the larger forage fisheries around the world, he said. “I expect in some of these that we’re going to find some impact – overlap between what the fishery takes and the predator takes,” he added.

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Jun 15 2017

Controversial drift-gill net fishery wins long-fought battle

Federal fishery managers denied a proposal this week to immediately shut down Southern California’s most controversial fishery in the event that wide-mesh gill nets accidentally kill a handful of certain marine mammals or sea turtle species.

The swordfish and thresher shark fishery will remain open, even if it kills several whales or sea turtles, the NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries decided.

The decision not to institute so-called hard caps on the fishery comes after a public review period initiated last year was extended to discuss the law proposed by the state’s Pacific Fishery Management Council in 2014.

For the few dozen fishers who still catch swordfish and thresher sharks off Southern California in deep-water drift gill nets, the decision brought a big sigh of relief.

“It’s a great feeling to know that NOAA is using science and not political pressure to decide this issue,” said longtime local fisherman David Haworth. “We have just a few people fighting against millions of environmentalists who think taking one of anything is too many: That would be great, but we have to feed the whole world.”

The decision was a blow to Oceana, The Pew Charitable Trusts and other conservation groups that have lobbied for years to close the fishery.

“We’re disappointed that NOAA Fisheries decided to abandon these plans. It’s a long time coming,” said Paul Shively, project director for The Pew Charitable Trusts. “We did a poll (in 2015) that showed overwhelming support with Californians to shut down the fishery.

“This still remains the most harmful fishery on the West Coast when it comes to marine mammals and sea turtles.”

Existing protections working

The proposed hard caps would have forced a seasonal closure if gill nets killed two sea turtles or fin, humpback or sperm whales, or four short-fin pilot whales or bottlenose dolphin over a two-year period.

In 2015, 18 drift gill net vessels landed 66 metric tons of swordfish worth $454,000, according to a report by NOAA — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Meanwhile, the U.S. imported 8,386 metric tons of the fish from other countries.

Fishers and National Marine Fisheries Service regulators say protections they’ve instituted since the mid-1990s, when drift gill nets were indiscriminately killing tons of marine animals, have come a long way.

“We increased our net size and that helped (reduce bycatch) a lot,” Haworth said. “What’s very discouraging for us right now is that most marine mammal species are on the increase now. They wanted to shut us down over animals that are doing better. So, it was like, ‘What’s going on here?’ ”

NOAA fishery biologist Jim Carretta, who specializes in creating marine mammal protections, said regulations implemented since the 1990s have greatly reduced gill net damage.

Gill nets are now made with wider mesh to allow larger animals to escape, and are placed 36 feet below the ocean’s surface to avoid marine mammal interaction. They also have acoustic pingers that divert dolphins and other species.

“If you have a bycatch problem, you don’t immediately shut down the entire fishery. You start examining what factors are driving the problem,” Carretta said. “We’ve had great success in reducing bycatch in this fishery. But it’s not going to go to zero.”

Regulators and fishers are also testing new technologies to bring additional protections for bycatch, such as a new deep-set buoy gear and electronic observers on boats to monitor catches.

State Sen. Ben Allen, whose district includes much of the South Bay coast, proposed a bill last year that would hasten the use of deep-set buoy gear and ban gill nets. It remains in committee.

“We already have allowable take numbers for these marine mammals,” Carretta said. “The hard cap levels seemed arbitrary to me. They were not thoroughly steeped in the science behind calculating how much bycatch is sustainable.”

The Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act also continue to set protections for vulnerable marine animals that were hunted to near-extinction.

‘Redheaded stepchild of fishing’

Mike Conroy, president of West Coast Fisheries Consultants that represents fishers, said he believes the rule would have been overturned in the courts if it had passed.

“Twenty years ago, the drift gill net fishery was the Wild West, but I can’t even remember the last time a turtle was caught,” Conroy said. “(The proposed rule) probably wasn’t enforceable anyway.”

Gary Burke, a veteran drift gill net fisher, also said he hasn’t seen a sea turtle in years.

But Shively questioned whether environmentalists can rely on the word of fishers whose livelihood depends on keeping the fishery opened. He advocates for having observers on board every fishing boat to ensure they’re accurately reporting bycatch. Regulators say that’s not feasible.

“We’re been the redheaded stepchild of fishing,” Burke said. “All fisheries have bycatch. But we’ve done great jobs to limit what we can. We are going to have some, but the question is whether we’re killing too many. That’s why NOAA takes estimates and decides how many can be removed to maintain healthy populations.”

Originally posted:

Jun 13 2017

Trump administration overturns rule limiting by-catch of whales, sea turtles and dolphins

The Trump administration decided Monday to withdraw an Obama-era rule limiting the number of whales, sea turtles and dolphins inadvertently caught in nets used by sword fishermen.

At first glance, the decision by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration appears to be part of a pattern by administration officials of overturning or delaying rules that are deemed too burdensome on industry. Federal officials say they moved to scrap the rule based in part on how costly the new rule would have been to fishermen. But they also say it was redundant and not backed by science.

The rule, which was still in the process of being developed, would have set firm limits on the number of sea turtles, whales and dolphins that could be accidentally snared in drift nets. If more than two to four animals became entangled, the entire West Coast sword fishery would be shut down for up to two years.

Part of the problem is the method fishermen use to catch swordfish: long, mesh nets that hang in the water from floats. In the early 1990s, up to 500 dolphins a year were getting tangled in the nets, according to NOAA. Thirty-three beaked whales, so-called because of their long, narrow snouts, got stuck between 1990 and 1996.

In response, California banned drift gillnets in state waters in 1990. Six years later, NOAA convened the Take Reduction Team, a group of scientists, academics, environmentalists and fishermen to try to solve the problem in federal waters.

The team decided fishermen should use “pingers,” baton-like devices that hang from the nets and emit a high-frequency noise only detectable by marine mammals, not fish.

The results were dramatic: after 1996, no beaked whales got stuck. In 2015, less than 50 dolphins were entangled. The numbers declined for other species, too.

But the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which is a similar stakeholder group to the Take Reduction Team and makes fishery management recommendations to NOAA, wanted to go further. The group, which is also made up of a mix of fisherman, scientists, government officials and academics, voted to put into place strict limits on bycatch and recommended NOAA create a new regulation, which the agency began working on in the final months of the Obama administration.

“We should not be killing any” marine mammals, said Geoff Shester, a senior scientist at the advocacy group Oceana, which is not part of the council but supported the proposed rule. He said he was “furious” when he found out NOAA had decided to abandon the rule, especially because it had been crafted with industry support.

“We don’t usually see politics from a high level affect fisheries,” he said. “The fact that this rule was something that came out of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, and was denied, that’s highly unusual.”

But NOAA officials say their decision had nothing to do with politics. Jim Carretta, a research fishery biologist for NOAA in La Jolla, said he was happy to see the rule pulled because he thought the limits that the council set on by-catch were arbitrary.

“They didn’t seem to be informed by the theoretical underpinnings of how marine mammal populations increase and recover,” he said.

He also said the rule was unnecessary, given the progress the Take Reduction Team has had at reducing by-catch.

Finally, he thought the consequence for inadvertently catching just two to four whales, dolphins or sea turtles – the closure of the fishery – was too severe.

“Nobody likes by-catch. No one ever wants to see a dead dolphin. But one always has to put it in the context of the population as a whole,” Carretta said.

In other words, he said if the number of dolphins inadvertently snared isn’t enough to threaten the population as a whole, and allowing fishing will keep fishermen employed, it’s OK.

David Haworth, a sword fisherman from San Diego, agrees. “It upset me they were going to shut down fisheries over one or two marine mammals,” he said. “If we were harming an endangered species, we should not fish, we should shut down.” But the rule, he said, went way beyond that.

Currently, there are just 16 boats that go out each year to catch sword fish – down from over 200 in the 1980s. Haworth says the fish just aren’t there any more — they’ve moved up the coast into areas where sword fishing is even more restricted than it is off the coast of Southern California.

Originally posted:

Apr 12 2017

Sardines off the menu again for West Coast fishers

Sea birds fly out to greet the Maria T. returning from an overnight fishing trip off the Palos Verdes Peninsula to catch sardines in April 2007. (File photo)


Fishing for Pacific sardines in California has been banned for the third year in a row.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council voted Monday afternoon in Sacramento to close the fishery through June 30, 2018 because the population limit of 150,000 metric tons wasn’t met.

Researchers estimate that only about 87,000 metric tons of the oil-rich fish are now swimming around off the coast.

The decision blocks commercial fishers in San Pedro, Long Beach and elsewhere across the West Coast from anything other than small numbers of incidental takes. While sardines don’t command the high price of California shellfish, their plentiful numbers and popularity make them one of the state’s most-caught finfish.

But fishery managers say there’s reason to believe sardines are much more plentiful than studies have found.

Dept. of Fish and Game agent Eric Kingsbury collects a random sample of fish from a sardine catch in San Pedro. The fish will be analyzed and entered into a database in efforts to monitor the health of the marine ecosystem. (File photo)

Flawed count?

NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center deputy director Dale Sweetnam said the acoustic-trawl method that researchers use to estimate the number of sardines is in the process of being improved to take into account other areas closer to shore.

The count is done from a large NOAA ship that surveys the entire West Coast by sampling schools of fish, and then bounces sound waves off of them to create a diagram that estimates the size.

But the ship is too large to go into harbors or coastal areas where sardines like to congregate.

“There are questions about the acoustic detector being on the bottom of the ship — how much of the schools in the upper water columns are missed by the acoustics,” Sweetnam said. “Also, the large NOAA ship can’t go in shallow waters, but most of the sardine fishery is very close to shore.”

The fisheries service will soon employ a Department of Fish and Wildlife plane, along with drones, to survey coastal areas for sardines.

“It will take some time because we’re going to have to determine a scientific sampling scheme,” Sweetnam said. “We’re starting this collaborative work with the fishing industry to extend our sampling grid-lines to shore.”


Ocean activists cheer closure

However, environmental activists cheered the decision to close the sardine fishery for a third season.

Oceana, a worldwide conservation advocacy organization, blames the sardine population decline on overfishing.

“Over the last four years we’ve witnessed starved California sea lion pups washing up on beaches and brown pelicans failing to produce chicks because moms are unable to find enough forage fish,” said Oceana campaign manager Ben Enticknap.

“Meanwhile, sardine fishing rates spiked right as the population was crashing. Clearly the current sardine management plan is not working as intended and steps must be taken to fix it.”

Industry representatives, however, argue that fishers are reliable environmental stewards and that they are just as eager as environmental activists to protect the long-term survival of marine species.

California fishers were able to replace sardine takes with increased numbers of squid in recent years. This year, promising anchovy stocks and other fish may keep the industry solvent.

California Wetfish Producers Association Executive Director Diane Pleschner-Steele said fishermen are frustrated.

“Fishermen are just ready to pull their hair out because there’s so many sardines and we can’t target them,” said Pleschner-Steele. “I’m relieved that the Southwest Fisheries Science Center acknowledges problems with the current stock assessment and has promised to work with the fishermen to develop a cooperative research plan to survey the near-shore area that is now missed. Unfortunately, this does not help us this year.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated with additional comments from NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center deputy director Dale Sweetnam.

Originally posted:

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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