Archive for the Opinion Category

Jun 1 2021

Ray Hilborn: MPAs aren’t the answer to ocean biodiversity, sustainability efforts

A global movement to create additional marine protected areas (MPAs) has been steadily gaining traction in recent years, with the initiative picking up milestone victories in the past few months.

In January, newly inaugurated U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order committing to a “30 by 30” goal, whereby the United States would designated 30 percent of its land and territorial waters to conservation by the year 2030. The move heightened the potential that MPAs will be used as a tool to tackle climate change.

A recent study supports the hypothesis that MPAs could be beneficial for climate change, maintaining biodiversity, and boosting the yield of fisheries. According to the study, strongly protecting at least 30 percent of the ocean – primarily in the 200-mile exclusive economic zones of coastal nations – would result in substantial environmental and commercial benefits.

But University of Washington Professor of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences Ray Hilborn told SeafoodSource that the study – and the concept of MPAs – are both flawed. The study, he said, made some assumptions and contains inconsistencies that effectively invalidate the conclusions it reached.

“It’s a classic example of where the peer-review process totally failed to identify inconsistencies, bizarre assumptions, and improper conclusions,” Hilborn said.

The study, he said, made different assumptions on different types of fishing effort.

“It happens that each of the assumptions they made about fishing effort is the one that makes MPAs look better,” he said.

A key example, Hilborn said, is how the study approaches trawling. The study made biodiversity calculations based on fishing effort shifting in geography as MPAs are put in place – which itself poses problems, he said. However, the study assumed that an MPA ban on trawling wouldn’t result in increased fishing effort in other areas.

“When it comes to the impact of trawling and the impacts on biodiversity, they assume when you close an area, the effort disappears,” Hilborn said.

The study found a ban on trawling in designated MPAs would have a carbon benefit – but that is true only if that trawling effort doesn’t move holds, Hilborn said.

“If you move the effort, the carbon benefit disappears,” Hilborn said.

Hilborn said the study also assumes an “instantaneous connection” between different species around the world – when in reality, species in separate oceans aren’t going to interact. And the analysis wasn’t actually global, as South Asia and Southeast Asia were not accounted for in the study.

“This isn’t a global analysis, because they don’t have trawl effort in Southeast Asia,” Hilborn said.

Protecting biodiversity is a key issue that needs to be tackled, and the core motivation behind MPAs and Biden’s 30 by 30 plan are sound, Hilborn said.

“[The] 30 by 30 [movement] is not ambitious enough,” Hilborn said. “We need to protect the biodiversity of 100 percent of our [exclusive economic zone].”

Protecting biodiversity in the oceans is not best accomplished via MPAs, especially in light of climate change, Hilborn said. In fact, while advocates have touted MPAs as a means to fight climate change, in reality, they do little to help, he said.

“They want to see 30 percent of the oceans permanently closed,” Hilborn said. “That’s absolutely the wrong thing to do. With climate change, things are shifting.”

Hilborn used the interactions between fisheries and the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale as an example of how a proposed MPA might not work as intended. In recent years, the species has been the center of an ongoing push for increased protections, and recently NOAA outlined new regulations to protect the species.

Climate change has forced the 400 or so remaining North Atlantic right whales to chase food sources that are now located in parts of the ocean with more fishing effort, primarily in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. That movement highlights how MPAs would struggle to protect species in the ocean, Hilborn said.

“If you had closed areas to protect northern right whales 20 years ago, they’d be in all the wrong areas,” he said.

Protected areas on land, he added, make sense because of the nature of human interaction with the land.

“The reason you want parks on land is that human use is transformative. If you put a city on it, or you farm it, it’s gone,” Hilborn said. “In the ocean, fishing doesn’t really change the structure of the ecosystem. We don’t kill the plants which is what farming does, we don’t harvest the second trophic level, we just harvest the top of the food chain.”

Plus, many of the actual threats to the ocean aren’t coming from the ocean itself, or from fishing.

“If you look at what the threats to the oceans are, they’re ocean acidification, climate change, invasive species, various kinds of pollution, land runoff, and none of those are impacted by MPAs,” Hilborn said.

A great example is the large dead zone that forms in the Gulf of Mexico every year.  The dead zone is created by excess nutrient pollution from agricultural areas – mainly related to fertilizers washed into the gulf through the Mississippi River and other inland waterways. NOAA makes annual predictions for how large the dead zone will be, based on things like rainfall. An MPA in the area to protect that environment, Hilborn pointed out, would have no effect on the biodiversity of the ocean in the region.

“You could make it an MPA and ban everything, you could ban shipping, you could ban mining, you could ban fishing, and you’d have no effect on the dead zone,” he said.

Protecting biodiversity is possible, but MPAs are the wrong tool for the job, Hilborn said.

“You don’t need no-take in order to protect the biodiversity. Again, high profile things, marine birds, marine mammals, turtles, sharks, those are things where there’s very specific – gear specific – things that impact them,” he said. “Closed areas aren’t going to help, because they’re all so mobile.”

The solution for those species, he said, is simple.

“Take sharks or turtles – all you have to do is stop killing them,” he said.

Current fisheries management agencies already serve as a tool for protecting biodiversity, and Hilborn said additional effort can be made using those existing agencies.

“What I would like to see is very explicit targets in what are we trying to achieve in biodiversity, and for each one of those targets, what’s the best tool to achieve it,” Hilborn said. “In almost every case, you’re going to be modifying fishing gear, and how fishing takes place, rather than closing areas to all fishing gears.”

MPAs, he said, are essentially just regulating a few activities in an area, without addressing wider issues.

“Fundamentally, all MPAs are doing is regulating fishing, and maybe oil exploration and mining,” he said. “It’s just the wrong tool. The illusion that you’re protecting the ocean by putting in MPAs, it’s a big lie.”

Original post:

Feb 25 2021

From science to fake news: How ocean misinformation evolves

We have seen this cycle play out in fisheries with the headline that there won’t be any fish in the ocean by the year 2048. It started in 2006 when a group of scientists published a paper with the fun fact that at the rate of fisheries decline from decades ago, there would be no fish by 2048. It was a small part of the paper, meant to highlight a broader point that past fisheries management had been poor. However, the press release that accompanied the paper touted it as a significant finding leading to context-lacking news stories, hyperbolic headlines, and a pervasive notion that there won’t be any fish in the ocean by 2048. The paper’s original authors have stated that their findings are misconstrued and have worked to publish papers correcting them.

Brandolini’s law states that, “The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude larger than to produce it.” Fifteen years later, the 2048 myth continues to appear in articles across the internet.

The evolution of a bycatch myth

Now a new myth is rising to prominence: that global bycatch rates are as high as 40%.

Some background: The global authority on world fisheries, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), defines bycatch as, “the total catch of non-target animals.” This is the widely accepted definition.

Bycatch can be a useful indicator of fishery impacts on the broader ecosystem and provides important data that fishermen and fishery managers use to improve sustainability. Different fisheries have different rates of bycatch with varying degrees of impact. However, an important nuance is that bycatch is used or discarded. Used bycatch is generally accepted as sustainable so long as the non-target species isn’t a threatened species. Discards are wasteful and an unfortunate reality of food production. The most recent research showed that about 10% of fish have been discarded at sea over the past decade.

So how did 10% get inflated to 40%?

In 2009, three people working for NGOs (World Wildlife Fund & Dorset Wildlife Trust) and one unaffiliated person decided to write a paper arguing that the definition of “bycatch” needed to be redefined to include ALL catch from unmanaged fisheries. From their paper:

“The new bycatch definition is therefore defined in its simplest form as: Bycatch is catch that is either unused or unmanaged.”

The authors define “unmanaged” as catch that “does not have specific management to ensure the take is sustainable;” in contrast, a managed fishery will have “clearly defined measures specifically intended to ensure the sustainable capture of any species or groups of species within any fishing operation.” An example they gave in the paper is that, because a 1993 study showed that members of the Indian bottom trawling fleet used nets with illegal mesh, “such a fishery cannot be considered managed, as defined in this paper, [thus] the entire catch of the Indian bottom trawl fleet is considered bycatch.” By their definition, they calculated 56.3% of India’s total catch as bycatch.

Adding up all this calculation for each country brought them to declare 40.4% of the world’s catch as bycatch.

Researchers making arguments in the scientific literature is nothing new. Still, it is surprising to see peer-reviewers and editors accept a paper arguing for redefining a widely accepted and common term that would necessitate a paradigm shift in fishery management. Especially with assumptions that a 1993 finding applied to a 2009 definition.

Regardless, their new definition has not been adopted. FAO still uses the widely accepted definition of bycatch, and I could not find a single authoritative body that uses the WWF & Dorset definition.

However, if you thought the redefined, inflated numbers would lose the nuance of “unused or unmanaged” and would be used as a call to action by advocacy groups, you are correct.

Read the full article here

Original post:

Aug 1 2019

A Deep Dive into the San Diego Fishing Industry

A little market, some big boats, and a $2 billion project are poised to revive San Diego’s commercial fishing industry

“The beginning was tough—they didn’t trust us,” says Yehudi “Gaf” Gaffen, CEO of Protea Waterfront Development, referring to San Diego’s fishermen and women. “For decades they’ve been discriminated against and business has been taken away from them. People take advantage of them.”

Gaffen and his company have won the bid to redevelop the San Diego harbor. Their $2 billion “Seaport San Diego” plan will historically alter the future of the city’s waterfront—70 acres, to be almost exact. The fate of local fishers lies largely in his hands.

And a little fish market on a little dock may be the reason both Gaffen and the fishers themselves are so keenly aware of their vital importance.

Right: Seaport developer Yehudi “Gaf” Gaffen photographed at the docks.

The Glory Days

There’s a decent chance San Diego’s fishermen and women have stopped reading this story by now, because it starts with a quote from a developer. Fishers have historically viewed developers as their most feared predator. In a city like San Diego, the water’s edge is the gold vein, the bounty, the most valuable thing. And while many players are involved—the San Diego Unified Port District, the California Coastal Commission, the people of San Diego (who own the land)—the fight over it usually boils down to fishers versus developers. Boats versus hotels. Bait versus brunch.

Tuna Harbor—located at the end of G Street, sharing a parking lot with the Fish Market restaurant, the USS Midway, and the American Tuna Boat Association—is one of two remaining spots along San Diego Bay dedicated to commercial fishing (the other is Driscoll’s Wharf). Longtime San Diego fisherman David Haworth stands on the edge and points at things. To parking spots that read “Reserved for Commercial Fishermen.” To the swarm of pedestrians and tour buses clogging the lot. To an aging dock where lobster traps and nets are stacked like a working-class art installation. To the 100 or so boats, where men with reptilian skin tanned like news anchors repair, well, everything.

Customers wait in front of Tuna Harbor Dockside Market at 7 a.m., an hour before it opens.

“This is our Alamo,” he says, then laughs, acknowledging what happened at the Alamo.

San Diego was once known as the Tuna Capital of the World. At its peak in the early 1970s, the harbor was littered with gargantuan tuna boats, some with helicopters on the top deck for spotting fish. Every major cannery, including Bumble Bee, was based here. The industry employed over 4,000 people, the city’s third-largest employer behind the Navy and aerospace.


The Long Climb Back

Then fishing famously died, for many reasons. But mostly dolphins. During the gold rush for yellowfin and albacore tuna, nearly six million dolphins were killed, according to Sarah Mesnick, an ecologist in the Marine Mammal and Turtle Division of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC). Dolphins dying in nets was an international PR nightmare. Even suburban kids and moms thought bad thoughts about our fishing folk.

In response, the US passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, severely limiting how American fishers could earn their living. In survival mode, boats fled San Diego and changed flags—to Mexican, Ecuadorian, Western Samoan, anything but American. Abroad, they found governments who didn’t care much about bycatch (dolphins, sea turtles, etc.), quotas designed to preserve the ocean’s stock, or labor rights. A lot of them still don’t. “We know, because we fish next to them every day,” Haworth says.

San Diego’s harbor gradually replaced commercial fishing spots with cruise ships, yachts, recreational fishing boats, floating museums. The decimation of the industry did have some positive outcomes, though: Over the past 50 years, the US has become a world leader in sustainable fishing.

“The dolphin mortality has dropped dramatically, from hundreds of thousands a year to under a thousand,” Mesnick says. Fishing’s not an exact science. If you drop a hook in the water, something’s going to bite it. But from a statistical standpoint, less than a thousand is basically zero.

Left: Peter Halmay, uni diver and president of the San Diego Fishermen’s Working Group

Bluefin tuna—once the poster child for overfishing—are rebounding far stronger than official projections. An expert who agreed to speak anonymously said the US could raise its bluefin quotas right now. But the political nature of the fish has led government agencies to be extremely conservative, which means a couple more years. San Diego’s rockfish were nearly fished out in the ’80s, when everyone in restaurants ordered the red snapper (the menu misnomer for rockfish). Mesnick says they’ve rebounded, and local fishers are reporting huge stocks.

American sustainability efforts were carried out by commercial fishers. And the price was paid by commercial fishers. The half dozen I spoke with agreed that the restrictions were necessary after centuries of unregulated overfishing. “But we were told ‘short-term pain for long-term gain,’” says Peter Halmay, a 78-year-old uni diver and president of the San Diego Fishermen’s Working Group. “We’ve been under very strict guidelines for the last 20 years. And the stocks came back way faster than people anticipated. There’s going to be a movement to open up these groundfish to pay back these fishermen for preserving it.”

The Import Problem

The current reward for commercial fishers’ sustainability efforts? Of the 7.1 billion pounds of seafood Americans eat annually, over 90 percent is imported. Theresa Talley, researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, published a report that found only eight percent of San Diego’s 86 seafood markets consistently carried local fish. This is bad news in many, many ways.

“US fleets pay more for gas, pay higher NOAA fees, regulatory fees, workers’ comp fees… the list goes on,” says Paddy Glennon of Superior Seafood, a decades-long proponent of sustainable seafood. “They don’t have that in Mexico. In Mexico they can fish for sea bass 11 months out of the year. Our fishermen get a month and a half. I love our brethren across the border, but they’re playing by a whole different set of rules.”

“The thing that’s sad about America,” says Haworth: “Our negotiators are terrible. At one point we were allowed to catch 900 tons of bluefin. Then our negotiator came to us and said he agreed to reduce it to 600 tons—for two years. What kind of negotiating is that? Meanwhile Mexico got 6,000 tons and Japan got 15,000 tons. Our whole quota isn’t even one load for other countries.”

Countries outside the US—not just Mexico, but in Asia, Africa, everywhere—can undercut American fishers by charging a much lower price. “You go into any wholesaler and you’ll see 80 percent Mexican sea bass, 20 percent American,” Glennon says.

That gives light to the ultimate cruel irony: Americans’ desire for sustainable, ethically caught seafood has resulted in Americans eating far more unsustainable, unethically caught seafood. An aphorism I heard over and over again during my research: Instead of asking why American seafood is so expensive, customers should be concerned about why imported seafood is so cheap.

Dave Rudy, owner of Catalina Offshore Seafood, says that US fisheries and management are the best in the world. “But consumers still look for low prices. We have to constantly remind them that low-priced fish is not the best thing for you, and supporting local fishermen is important.”

SWFSC’s Mesnick points to the dozen or so American fishers using drift gill nets to catch swordfish; they are often targeted by environmental nongovernmental organizations, or ENGOs. “These are the same fishermen who’ve been involved in fisheries management and research and reduction of bycatch,” she says. “They work with scientists to fish where they’re not hurting marine mammals and turtles. These are very advanced fishermen with very advanced gear. If you shut them down and still want to eat swordfish, you’re importing the swordfish from places who have none of that. So you’re hurting the species.”

San Diego fisherman Kelly Fukushima calls it “the transfer effect.” “Every time you punish a local fisherman, you increase the amount of bad habits you have to import,” he says. In our fight to save the turtles, we’re eating more turtles in imported seafood.

Or, as Glennon puts is: “That 59-cent can of tuna is not just tuna.”

“Another mall on the water would be a huge disgrace to the harbor.” —Yehudi “Gaf” Gaffen

Commercial fishers make their living by being out on the water, not by attending meetings or launching publicity campaigns. Meanwhile, the ENGO Oceana launched a video series casting a negative light on commercial fishing. The titles include “Lauren Conrad Wants to Save the Sea Turtles,” “January Jones Is Scared FOR Sharks,” and “Miranda Cosgrove Wants to Keep Dolphins Singing.”

A representative for Oceana told me they’re supportive of American fishermen and women, and they’re all after the same goal: sustainable seafood. But every fisherperson I talked to took issue with ENGO’s portrayal of them (so did the scientists). They argue that they’re not the problem, and haven’t been for some time. The problem lies with dubiously regulated fleets overseas. And videos using January Jones don’t seem intended for the market in, say, Samoa.

As one of the most sustainable sushi chefs in the country—Rob Ruiz of The Land & Water Co.—once told me: “One of the most endangered species in our waters is a fisherman.”

To change this and tell their real story, fishers needed a public place. And in California they found it at markets like Dory Fleet Fish Market in Newport Beach, and Tuna Harbor Dockside Market in San Diego.

Big Changes for the Bay

Protea Development’s $2 billion plan to make over the waterfront is expected to break ground in 2024. Called Seaport San Diego, the project envisions more public parks, open spaces, and new stores and restaurants where Seaport Village and the nearby Tuna Harbor Dockside Market currently stand on the marina.

According to the developer’s website, the plan includes 400,000 square feet of retail space, an aquarium, hotels, a veterans’ museum, and a 480-foot tower with an observation deck. Protea Development and the San Diego Fishermen’s Working Group signed a memo of understanding in late 2018 that Tuna Harbor will remain in the redevelopment plan, and that improvements will be made to the harbor to allow commercial fishing to thrive, such as a new processing plant and a bridge where visitors can watch fishing boats offload their catch.

The Little Market That Could

Every Saturday, a little pier near Seaport Village is lined with tables. Each table is teeming with one of the over 130 species caught by San Diego fishers. There’s urchin, black cod, mackerel, rock crab, spider crab, yellowtail, bonito, halibut, mahi-mahi, skipjack, wahoo, mongchong, opah, bluefin—you name it. A fisherman talks to a few customers, explaining what a sheepshead is, how to cook it. His wife stands nearby holding their newborn.

In 2014, San Diego fishers began efforts to sell their catch directly to consumers, just as farmers do at farmers’ markets. It required the passage of a bill (AB 226, aka “Pacific to Plate”), but Tuna Harbor Dockside Market finally opened for business in 2015 with a whimper: five fishers filling about a tenth of the pier outside Chesapeake Fishing Company.

“We just wanted to make sure the public had access to 100-percent sustainable, traceable fish,” says Fukushima.

“I thought we were gonna replace some of the middlemen,” says Halmay, one of Tuna Harbor’s founders. “Then I realized that wasn’t the goal. The goal was to simply show that fishing exists in San Diego.”

The market made fishing cool again. —Kelly Fukushima

Market attendance was slow, but they kept showing up each weekend rain or shine. Then San Diego’s Asian communities discovered it, particularly Filipinos (San Diego is home to the country’s second-largest Filipino population). In many Asian cultures, seafood is an almost-daily staple. Fresh seafood is not a delicacy inasmuch as a standard. Asian customers also supported the diversity of seafood found at the market.

“We have different species that different ethnic communities like,” says Halmay. “About 60 percent of our customers are Asian, and they know how to cook dogfish and mackerel. Your white La Jolla customer is buying the spot prawns.”

Just as monocultures like corn and soy have devastated farmlands, a country that eats only a few species of fish creates a dangerous imbalance in the oceans. In 2015, only 10 fish species made up 90 percent of American seafood sales (salmon and shrimp alone accounted for 55 percent). Overfishing a single species—tuna—led to the collapse of San Diego’s fishing fleet in the ’70s.

“Like a lot of things in life, being diverse and moderate is good,” explains Mesnick. “Tuna are top predators. You can’t just eat the lions of the sea. Eating through the food chain is good for your health and the sea.”

The next wave to discover Tuna Harbor were the chefs. JoJo Ruiz remembers being picked up by Paddy Glennon for his first trip to the market. They arrived before dawn and met all the fishers and their families. “It’s changed my entire cooking career and my life,” Ruiz says. “A lot of chefs say the same thing. If it wasn’t for the market, we’d still be using langoustines and turbot, stuff flown from all over the world.”

Chef JoJo Ruiz at Hotel Del Coronado’s new Sere~a restaurant, demonstrating their whole-fish presentation. | Photo: Justin McChesney-Wachs

Ruiz, executive chef at Lionfish and the new Serea at Hotel del Coronado, credits the market for his being named a James Beard Smart Catch Leader for sustainable seafood. At Sere~a, he presents local fish whole to diners, lets them look their dinner in the eye and choose one, and then the kitchen fillets and cooks it for them. He swears not only by the ethics of sustainability and connecting people to their food source (“I want my son to have the same seafood I have”), but also by the taste.

“Fresh, local vermilion rock cod is 10 times better than frozen red Thai snapper used at most restaurants,” he says. “Local halibut as a crudo is better than Alaskan halibut. Have you seen the claws on spider crabs? They’re giant; big as my wrist.”

There’s a parallel between Tuna Harbor Dockside Market and San Diego’s famed Chino Farm. It was Chino delivering the produce for the early farm-to-table movement. Alice Waters and Wolfgang Puck were regulars. Now Tuna Harbor is fueling the boat-to-throat movement, with regular customers from some of San Diego’s top seafood spots—Juniper & Ivy, Ironside, Wrench & Rodent, The Land & Water Co., The Fishery, The French Gourmet, and Saiko Sushi.

“In my 20 years of commercial fishing, I’ve never seen such a big increase in the demand for local fish,” Fukushima says. “The market really revitalized the fishing industry. It’s attracted a lot of people to the waterfront and made fishing cool again. Fishing was seen as something only outcasts or criminals or people without real jobs do. At the market they see the fishermen, meet their families, see them working together.”

It’s that humanizing element—and the ability to be an “attraction,” with people coming down to watch boats unload fish, snapping pics for the Insta—that may have motivated Yehudi Gaffen to make commercial fishers a focal point of his redevelopment plan.

Left: Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar’s chef de cuisine, Mike Reidy

The Future Is Now

The seaport plan includes hotels, a veterans’ museum, restaurants, almost 400,000 square feet of retail, an aquarium, and a 480-foot “Spire” observation deck. If all goes well, they’ll break ground in early 2024. But the plans and discussions that will guide these tectonic shifts are happening right now. Waterfront businesses must speak up, or risk being left out.

“Another mall on the water would be a huge disgrace to the harbor,” Gaffen says. “Another Disneyland would do a disservice and have no place. There has to be authenticity of a waterfront project.”

When the port first asked for redevelopment proposals, Haworth says they warned the fishers. “They said, ‘Listen, guys, you better negotiate with the developer, because we don’t have any money for Tuna Harbor. If you want it revitalized you better make the deal.”

The initial discussions with Gaffen were heated. Fishermen and women are notoriously defensive of their territories, because their territory has been taken from them—once allotted nine acres on the harbor, they’re currently down to 3.9. So Halmay and a few others formed the San Diego Fishermen’s Working Group. They started showing up to seaport plan meetings and port meetings, having productive sessions with Gaffen and his son-in-law, an ex–Navy SEAL named Alex Buggy.

Nick Haworth and his father, David Haworth. David’s father, retired, is also a fisherman.

“Where there’s two fishermen there’s usually six opinions,” Gaffen laughs.

“Forming the fishermen’s group let us speak with one voice,” Halmay says. “We had to stop fighting fires and build a fire station first. The working group is that fire station.”

For instance, they sent Gaffen’s first proposal back with some curious markups. “The first few designs and drawings came back and they had them labeled HS1 and HS2,” he explains. “And I remember saying ‘What is that?’ It was Horseshit 1 and Horseshit 2. On a fisherman’s list of people they trust, we’re not on it.”

Gaffen and the seaport plan have to balance every interest, not just the fishing community’s—yachts want space in the harbor, people want parks, tour buses want parking, restau­rants have wants, hotels have wants. So many wants. Plus there’s the money issue. Unlike other governing agencies, the port doesn’t receive any public funding. They depend on money from leases, and commercial fishing has not been an eco­nomic boom for San Diego since the collapse. Not compared to, say, a luxury hotel. Not even close.

“If it wasn’t for the market, we’d still be using langoustines and turbot, stuff flown from all over the world.” ——JoJo Ruiz, Executive Chef, Sere~a and Lionfish

It was so fortuitously timed that Tuna Harbor Dockside Market has grown into a legitimate attraction. But even that was small potatoes until—seemingly out of nowhere—the big boats started showing up again.

“These tuna boats came in at just the right time,” Halmay says. “Just as Gaf was asking us, ‘How do we know you’re going to have this demand?’—here they came! I said, ‘Hey guys, here’s your demand!’”

The three big boats—carrying between 20,000 and 40,000 pounds of tuna—belong to Hawaiian Fresh Seafood, which just relocated to San Diego from Honolulu. Owner Frank Porcelli (a grad of Poway High) says he has plenty more boats he’s ready to bring in, many from the overcrowded Honolulu Harbor. But in order to accommodate this growth, San Diego desperately needs more infrastructure—slips, storage for traps and nets, ice machines, loading docks, cranes, and so on.

In September 2018, Gaffen and the Fishermen’s Working Group signed a memo of understanding. In it, Gaffen promises a list of items to “facilitate the revitalization of San Diego’s commercial fishing industry”—making improvements to Tuna Harbor, building a new processing plant, a bridge where visitors can watch fish be offloaded, and most importantly keeping yachts and recreational boats out of their “Alamo.”

Some are skeptical. The seaport plan to build a veterans’ museum and a processing plant on the G Street Mole (not to mention the new Manchester Group hotel across the street) will bring more traffic to what is already one of San Diego’s most congested parking lots. “They’re trying to stuff 10 pounds of [stuff] into a five-pound bag,” Fukushima says. Nearly all fishermen I talk to doubt whether Gaffen and the seaport plan can pull this off without grinding commercial fishing to a halt.

Gaffen and Buggy are confident they can. They’ll build a workable space for San Diego’s fishers—and help establish the city as the capital of sustainable seafood.

“It’s a differentiator and it’s authentic,” Gaffen says. “Com­mercial fishing is starting to come back. It’s a vital security need. If we can catch local, sustainable seafood for our community and restaurants—it’s a legacy I’d be really proud of.”

Original post:

May 3 2019

What is the Real Cost of Protein?

With headlines published in the media like “Two-Thirds of the World’s Seafood is Over-fished” and “Science Study Predicts the Collapse of All Seafood Fisheries by 2050,” what is really the state of the ecosystems in the Earth’s oceans?

Will we deplete the ocean’s resources in the near future? or do we have time to make adaptions to ensure the vitality of fisheries?

At the event in Seattle, Foodable Host Yareli Quintana sat down with Dr. Ray Hilborn, professor of Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington who has been researching the topic of conservation and quantitative population dynamics of seafood for the last eight years.

Hilborn starts out by pointing out that there a two environmental challenges when it comes to seafood supply.

First, it’s the substantial fuel used to catch the fish, which generates carbon foot and then, the impact on biodiversity. As specific fish populations continue to be caught, this is changing the ecosystem of the ocean.

The seafood conservation expert also clears up a common misconception that our ocean is being depleted.

“Within the last 20 years the abundance of stock has really turned around in many places, there are certainly exceptions where that’s not true though,” says Hilborn.

But that doesn’t mean that chefs shouldn’t be concerned about what fish product that they are serving.

Each type of seafood makes a different impact on the environment. For example, Maine lobster generates a lot of energy to catch, while sardines, oysters, and mussels, on the other hand, make a really low impact.

Oyster and mussels feed themselves and most of the environmental cost comes from feed production.

Then there’s the problem of food waste, which is a challenge for restaurants, but more so, for consumers eating at home.

“One of the big issues of fish and food, in general, is waste. Globally, about 30 percent of food is wasted. In rich countries like the U.S., that’s mostly at home…So it’s important to be more careful about making sure you buy what you need and use it,” says Hilborn.

Watch the Seafood Talk Session above to learn more about the sustainability, research and management practices that are being worked on and adjusted every day in order to do right by nature and to feed the masses.

Original post:

Apr 3 2019

Pacific sardines likely to face another shuttered season

For the past four years, fishermen who are on the ocean on a near daily basis have been reporting an increasing biomass of sardines – in a range of sizes — in nearshore waters of California. In October 2018, our collaborative CDFW/CWPA aerial survey documented more than 13,000 tons of sardine in nearshore waters along a 70-mile stretch of coast near Big Sur.

Yet the 2018 AT survey ran the length of the West Coast from Canada to Mexico and estimated only 27,547 mt in July 2019; 94 percent of the estimate was located in the Pacific Northwest, and very few sardines in California.

In light of multiple lines of evidence of recruitment and abundance excluded from this update stock assessment, we ask the Council to employ some “best available common sense,” suspend this assessment until the problems can be resolved in a new STAR panel review, and simply extend last year’s fishery management measures in the interim.

Pacific Sardines. NOAA photo.


Sardine fishermen on the West Coast are preparing for another year of severe restrictions after a new draft assessment from NMFS shows the the population is continuing its collapse.The new report, released on March 26, indicates a sardine population of 27,547 metric tons. Any tonnage below 50,000 metric tons is considered “overfished” by NMFS.

These numbers indicate a 98.5 percent collapse since 2006, when the population reached an estimated 1.77 million metric tons, according to NMFS data.

The assessment still must undergo review and adoption by the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee before any rules are passed to restrict this year’s season, which begins on July 1.

Last year the council voted to allow up to 7,000 metric tons of sardines to be caught by West Coast fishermen as incidental take, or bycatch.

The cause of the sardine population collapse is still being debated.

The California Wetfish Producers Association has repeatedly taken issue with NMFS’ assessment strategy. Executive Director Diane Pleschner-Steele has called Oceana-driven claims of overfishing to be “fake news.”

The organization claims that NMFS is not collecting data close enough to shore where fishermen are reporting seeing more sardines, not fewer. NMFS has acknowledged that its research vessels are unable to take stock data close to shore but have said the number of missed fish is unlikely to have a significant effect on their general findings.


Jun 6 2018

The Cost of Food

Everything we eat has environmental costs. We trade human health and nutrition for some necessary amount of environmental disturbance, though we should always strive to reduce our dietary impact. Seafood causes less environmental damage than any other animal proteins and should be considered in any low-impact diet.

Read it here:

May 7 2018


Reporter Anne Roth quoted me in her article “When will sardines return? Not any time soon say scientists.” But she got many of her facts wrong, missed the point, and misquoted what I said. Here’s the true story.

I’m one of the fishermen whose observations Diane Pleschner-Steele relied on when she said ‘fishermen are seeing more sardines, not less.” We began seeing an abundance of small sardines beginning around the fall of 2014, leading up to the 2015 El Niño.

In fact, independent surveys as well as NOAA surveys also encountered record numbers of young of the year – both sardines and anchovies. The NOAA acoustic-trawl cruise caught a bunch of young sardines in its trawl net in 2015, but when scientists included the length composition data from those fish into the stock assessment model, it blew up the biomass estimate to more than a million tons. Scientists thought that was unreasonable, so they threw out the data.

The reporter quotes Oceana’s Geoff Shester extensively as an “authority” on sardine, but fails to acknowledge objective, and contradictory, scientific evidence on two important points: the first is that sardine abundance is driven primarily by ocean cycles with negligible impact from fishing pressure, especially considering the precautionary modern-day harvest allowance, and sea lions are now found to be at or above carrying capacity, and higher pup mortality rates are expected, along with an increase in disease that is also apparent now.

Oceana is quick to accuse the fishery of “overfishing,” but this is grounds for libel, as this allegation has been debunked not only by scientists but also by the [former] NOAA Assistant Administrator for Fisheries.

The reporter also misunderstood the reason why incidental catch rates are low now. It’s not because sardines are scarce and they don’t school – it’s just the opposite. Sardines often school with other fish like anchovy, and the mix can be 50:50 percent or higher. We don’t catch many sardines now because the percentage of sardine in mixed schools is often ABOVE the 40 percent rate allowed, so we must forego catching them.

The truth is that fishermen have seen an increasing abundance of sardines since at least 2015, but the government is only now beginning to realize and acknowledge that they’re missing fish in their stock assessments. We think they’re missing a lot of fish, and we’ve offered to help them document the abundance inshore of their surveys. But that’s going to take time, and the bureaucracy moves slowly. It may take years for government surveys to fully assess and account for sardines in the area where most of the sardines are, and I only have a few years of fishing left. But I hope I do see a return to sardine fishing in my lifetime. Fishermen know far better than scientists how many fish are in the ocean. It’s time they start listening to us.


When will sardines return? Not any time soon say scientists

Neil Guglielmo, a 76-year-old commercial fisherman, says he doubts the sardine stock will bounce back in his lifetime. (Annie Roth — Herald Correspondent)

Monterey >> Less than 30 years after the Pacific sardine population was deemed “recovered,” the stock has once again fallen into a severe slump according to stock assessments conducted by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Scientists estimate the West Coast population of Pacific sardines has declined by 95 percent since 2006. Although sardine populations naturally fluctuate in response to shifting climatic conditions, overharvesting is believed to have accelerated the stock’s collapse. Although no one knows exactly how long it will take for the sardine supply to replenish, many scientists are certain it won’t be anytime soon.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the stock didn’t come back for 20 years.” said Dr. Geoff Shester, California program director and senior scientist at Oceana, the world’s largest ocean conservation non-profit.

In 2012, scientists from the National Marine Fishery Service warned that another collapse was imminent — but this warning went largely unheeded. When this warning was issued, sardine biomass was still above the 150,000 ton threshold required for commercial fishing. The Pacific Fishery Management Council — whose members include fishermen, industry stakeholders, and federal and state officials from the National Marine Fisheries Service — said there wasn’t enough evidence of decline to justify a moratorium on commercial sardine fishing.

Sardine fishing continued until 2015, when the stock fell below the commercial cutoff and the directed fishery was closed. Shester believes the council’s failure to take precautionary measures made a bad situation worse.

“Because the population was already declining, and fishing made it worse, the stock is going to have a lot more trouble recovering than it would have had had we stopped fishing earlier,” said Shester.

Pacific sardines were on the rise during the early 2000s, but in 2006 the population took an unexpected downturn. Estimates suggest the Pacific sardine population decreased from 1.8 million tons to 86,000 tons between 2006 and 2017. The latest assessment puts the size of the Pacific sardine stock at a mere 52,065 tons, a fraction of the 150,000 ton threshold required for commercial fishing.

“Ultimately, a trade off was made to fish in the short term, and that’s now having this detrimental consequence that may last for decades,” said Shester.

Sardines are an important food source for several marine species including sea lions, salmon, brown pelicans, dolphins, and whales, and in California — whose coastal waters boast relatively large numbers of Pacific sardines — the fallout of their decline continues to be evident from shore.

Starving California sea lion pups have been washing up on beaches by the thousands since 2012, most suffering from malnutrition. According to a press release issued by the Marine Mammal Center in 2013, “The sardine and anchovy fish numbers were extremely low in 2012, and it appears this resulted in female adult sea lions having a difficult time providing enough nourishment to their pups.” Scientists estimate that 70 percent of California sea lion pups born between 2013 and 2014 died before weaning age due to a lack of nutrient rich food.

Even though the commercial sardine fishery is closed, you might still see sardines on the menu. The Pacific Fishery Management Council allows a few thousand tons to be harvested by fishermen who catch them incidentally or intend to sell them as live bait. In April, the council set an incidental catch limit of 7,000 tons for the 2018 fishing season.

Shester says this year’s incidental catch quota is “irresponsibly high” and considers the council’s decision to continue allowing a limited harvest a step in the wrong direction.

“There is no level of sustainable fishing on a stock that’s collapsing,” said Shester.

Fishermen rarely meet incidental catch quotas simply because it is very difficult to catch sardines by accident. In order to commercially land sardines caught incidentally, they have to make up less than 40 percent of your catch. Because sardines rarely form schools with other marketable species, achieving this ratio can be challenging.

If Pacific sardine biomass falls below 50,000 tons, fishery managers are required to close the live bait fishery and implement a moratorium on incidental harvest. In 2018, the estimated sardine stock was only 2,000 tons over this threshold. If current trends continue, it’s unlikely the stock will make this cutoff next year — but many fishermen have high hopes that it will.

In a press release issued earlier this month, Diane Pleschner-Steele, executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association, said “fishermen are seeing more sardines, not less, especially in nearshore waters.”

Not only does Pleschner-Steele reject the notion that overfishing played a role in the decline of the sardine stock, she calls the stock’s collapse “fake news.”

“Oceana claims that overfishing is the cause of the sardine fishery decline, but the absolute opposite is true: fishing is a non-issue and more importantly, the sardine stock is not declining.”

Pleschner-Steele believes the way the National Marine Fishery Service conducts its sardine stock assessments is fundamentally flawed and urges members of her organization to disregard them.

“This [latest] stock assessment was an update that was not allowed to include any new methods and was based primarily on a single acoustic survey that reached only as far south as Morro Bay and totally missed the nearshore coastwide,” said Pleschner-Steele.

The National Marine Fishery Service has acknowledged its inability to survey nearshore areas, but the agency doesn’t believe the lack of this data has compromised the accuracy of its assessments.

“We’re likely missing some sardines but maybe not at a huge portion,” said Josh Lindsay, a fishery policy analyst from the National Marine Fisheries Service.

“There is a broad understanding from the agency that we are not sampling the entire population, and a lot of that uncertainty gets built into our stock assessment model,” said Lindsay

For the last several years, scientists from the National Marine Fishery Service have been developing new ways to improve the accuracy of the agency’s stock assessments. The agency recently announced plans to use solar powered autonomous drones, also known as saildrones, to survey waters that their ships can’t reach.

Pleschner-Steele hopes surveys of nearshore areas will prove her theory that the stock is increasing, but not all fishers share her optimism. Neil Guglielmo, a commercial fisherman and member of the California Wetfish Producers Association, fears the stock won’t bounce back in his lifetime. The commercial purse-seiner says he began to suspect the stock was crashing seven years ago, because sardines were becoming increasingly difficult to catch.

“When there’s a lot of fish around, they’re easy to catch,” said Guglielmo.

Guglielmo, who has been catching sardines, anchovies and squid off the California coast for more than 40 years, shares Pleschner-Steele’s view that the latest stock assessment underestimated the true size of the stock, but unlike Pleschner-Steele, Guglielmo doesn’t think the sardine population is bouncing back.

“I’m 76 years old. Unless something drastic happens, I don’t think I’ll ever fish sardines again,” said Guglielmo.

Apr 10 2018

California Wetfish Producers Association Statement: West Coast Sardine Fishery Management Action

April 9, 2018 — The following was released by the California Wetfish Producers Association:

On Sunday, the Pacific Fishery Management Council approved the management measures for the West Coast sardine fishery that were recommended by the CPS management team. The decision provides for 7,000 Mt for all uses, allowing fishermen a reasonable set aside for incidental take.

“We are very thankful to the Council for applying the best available common sense in making its decision, especially in light of the concerns expressed during the recent ATM methods review and the earlier problems voiced about last year’s sardine STAR panel review.

“And we are especially grateful to NOAA Assistant Administrator Chris Oliver, who took the time to address the Council in support of sustainable fishing communities, as well as resources, saying in part, ‘We have to combine that scientific underpinning with practicality and common sense.’

“This is especially topical given the ongoing forage fish discussion and its relationship to California’s historic wetfish industry, which has been the foundation of our fishing economy for more than a century. All too often, that importance is largely ignored or dismissed with pleas to ‘leave most of the fish in the water for other predators.’ Our precautionary catch rules already do that.

“In sum, a big thank you to the Council for doing the right thing for sardine fishery management and for fishing families and communities up and down the West Coast.”

Diane Pleschner-Steele, Executive Director
California Wetfish Producers Association


About the California Wetfish Producers Association
The California Wetfish Producers Association is a nonprofit dedicated to research and to promote sustainable Wetfish resources. More info at

Diane Pleschner-Steele

Ray Young

Read more about forage fish management here


Apr 5 2018

Sardine Fishery Collapse Latest Fake News

For Immediate Release
April 5, 2018
Diane Pleschner-Steele

Ray Young

Sardine Fishery Collapse Latest Fake News

Deeply Flawed Population Survey Fuels False Claims


Buellton, CA – This Sunday, April 8, the Pacific Fishery Management Council is meeting in Portland to debate the fate of the West Coast sardine fishery, after the 2018 sardine stock assessment estimated the biomass has declined by 97 percent since 2006. The only problem with that finding is it belies reality.

“Fishermen are seeing more sardines, not less, especially in nearshore waters. And they’ve been seeing this population spike for several years now,” said Diane Pleschner-Steele, executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association (CWPA). “This stock assessment was an update that was not allowed to include any new methods and was based primarily on a single acoustic survey that reached only as far south as Morro Bay and totally missed the nearshore coastwide.”

The 2018 update assessment of 52,000 tons, down from 86,586 tons in 2017 and 106,100 tons the year before, is based on a change in methods and assumptions in estimating population size developed during an independent stock assessment review in 2017. Scientists acknowledged that assuming the acoustic survey ‘sees’ all the fish leads to lower biomass estimates. But it’s obvious to fishermen that the survey missed a lot of fish. In fact, with different assumptions, the 2017 biomass estimate would have increased from 86,586 tons to 153,020 tons.

The thorny problem the Council faces in April is what to do with a flawed assessment that is perilously close to the 50,000-ton minimum stock size threshold that would trigger an “overfished” condition and curtail virtually all sardine fishing. (The directed fishery has been closed since 2015, but incidental harvest in other fisheries, as well as Tribal take and live bait fishing have been allowed under a precautionary annual catch limit of 8,000 tons for all uses.) The extremist group Oceana has already signaled its intent to lobby for the Council to declare sardines “overfished.”

“Despite ample evidence to the contrary – most scientists agree that environmental factors play the primary role in sardine populations swings – Oceana claims that overfishing is the cause of the sardine fishery decline,” said Pleschner-Steele. “But the absolute opposite is true: fishing is a non-issue and more importantly, the sardine stock is not declining.”

The NOAA acoustic survey was based mainly on the 2017 summer acoustic trawl cruise that ran from British Columbia to Morro Bay, CA, but did not include the area south to Pt. Conception and Southern California where fishermen have reported large schools of sardines for the past three years. What’s more, this stock assessment update was based on a model that the chair of the 2017 Stock Assessment Review panel termed the “least worst” option. In part, the problem is that acoustic trawl surveys conducted by large research vessels cannot gather data in nearshore waters inside about 50 meters depth – 27 fathoms. But 70 to 80 percent of California’s sardine catch comes from nearshore waters inside the 20-fathom curve.

Acoustic trawl survey methods also underwent review in January 2018, and independent scientists criticized current survey methods and assumptions, noting that the current ATM trawl procedure seems to focus on precision at the expense of accuracy, and the protocol is repeatable but not necessarily objective.

To document the missing fish, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and CWPA conducted a cooperative aerial survey in the Monterey / Half Moon Bay area last summer – at the same time the acoustic trawl cruise was surveying outside waters – and saw a significant body of both sardine and anchovy inside the acoustic survey nearshore limit.

Here is the map illustrating the thousands of tons of sardine that the NOAA acoustic survey missed, an estimated 18,118 mt of sardine and 67,684 mt of anchovy.

And here is a video from fisherman Corbin Hanson who was out fishing for squid last November and saw large schools of sardines in Southern CA. He commented that, “…this is just one school. Last week we drove by the biggest school of sardines I have ever witnessed in my career driving boats. It was out in front of Ventura Harbor and we saw countless other schools along with it.”

The problem is this evidence has not yet been qualified for use in stock assessments. However, at the upcoming meeting, the Department of Fish and Wildlife will present the data from our nearshore aerial surveys in 2016-17. CWPA will also request that the Council approve our experimental fishery permit to help us qualify our aerial surveys as an index of nearshore abundance for future assessments.

“The bottom line is it’s vital for proper management of our fisheries that we use all available scientific data. That’s why the Council needs to take into consideration these nearshore findings when recommending sardine management measures in 2018,” said Pleschner-Steele. “CWPA along with sardine fishermen contest the 52,000-ton stock assessment and will request a new stock assessment review as soon as possible, including other indices of abundance in addition to acoustic trawl. If the Council closes the sardine fishery entirely, California’s historic wetfish industry – which until recent years produced 80 percent or more of the volume of seafood landed statewide – will suffer unnecessarily, along with the state’s entire fishing economy.”

About the California Wetfish Producers Association
The California Wetfish Producers Association is a nonprofit dedicated to research and to promote sustainable Wetfish resources. More info at

# # #

Oct 31 2017

‘Rule of Thumb’ Management Approach Is Wrong For Forage Fish, Dr. Ray Hilborn Tells U.S. Senate

Saving Seafood interviews Dr. Ray Hilborn about forage fish management ahead of his testimony before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard.


WASHINGTON (Saving Seafood) – October 31, 2017 – At a hearing of the U.S. Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard last week, respected fisheries scientist Dr. Ray Hilborn testified that fisheries managers “can do better than a one-size-fits-all” approach to managing forage fish. He also said there was “no empirical evidence to support the idea that the abundance of forage fish affects their predators.”

Dr. Hilborn’s comments came in response to questioning from Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) about whether fisheries managers should manage forage fish according to a “rule of thumb” approach, where fisheries are managed according to a set of broad ecological and management principals, or a “case-by-case” approach, where management is guided by more species-specific information.

Dr. Hilborn, a professor at the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, was part of a team of top fisheries scientists that recently examined these issues, as well as what effects fishing for forage fish species had on predator species. Their research indicated that previous studies, like a 2012 report from the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force, may have overestimated the strength of the predator-prey relationship.

Before the hearing, Dr. Hilborn spoke with Saving Seafood about his research and his message for lawmakers.

“It’s very clear that there really are no applicable rules of thumb, that every system is independent [and] behaves differently, and we need to have the rules for each individual forage fish fishery determined by looking at the specifics of that case,” Dr. Hilborn told Saving Seafood.

He also discussed his team’s finding that forage fish abundance has little impact on their predators. They looked at nearly all U.S. forage fish fisheries, including the California Current system and Atlantic menhaden, and concluded that predator species generally pursue other food sources when the abundance of any one forage species is low.

“The predators seem to go up or down largely independent of the abundance of forage fish,” Dr. Hilborn said, adding, “For Atlantic menhaden, for their major predators, the fishery has reasonably little impact on the food that’s available to them.”

Another key message Dr. Hilborn had for the Subcommittee was that fisheries managers must determine what they want to accomplish so that scientists can advise them accordingly.

“The time has come to refocus our fisheries policy on what we actually want to achieve because rebuilding is only a means to an end,” Dr. Hilborn told Saving Seafood. “Do we want to maximize the economic value of our fisheries? Do we want to maximize jobs? Do we want to maximize food production?”

In his testimony, Dr. Hilborn praised U.S. fisheries policy that has “led to rebuilding of fish stocks and some of the most successful fisheries in the world.” He attributed this success to a variety of factors, including funding of NOAA, regionalizing fisheries management decisions, and requiring managers to follow science advice. As a result, overfishing should no longer be the top priority for fisheries managers, he testified.

“The major threats to U.S. fish stock and marine ecosystem biodiversity are now ocean acidification, warming temperatures, degraded coastal habitats, exotic species, land based run off, and pollution,” Dr. Hilborn testified. “Overfishing remains a concern for a limited number of stocks but should not continue to be the most important concern for U.S. federal fisheries policy.”

The hearing was the latest in a series examining reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the nation’s supreme fisheries law. It was organized by subcommittee chairman Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and focused on fisheries science.

Originally posted: Saving Seafood Inc.