Archive for the View from the Ocean Category

Nov 11 2018

Major Disease Outbreak Strikes California Sea Lions

preamble —

This article stated:  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced in January that California sea lions had reached carrying capacity—the number of individuals their environment can sustainably support—in 2008.

The expected symptoms of a population of mammals at carrying capacity include reduced reproductive output, decreased growth and survival of young animals, delayed sexual maturity, increases in disease or parasites and decreased size and survival of adults.   There have beenrecent increases in California sea lion pup mortality and reduced pup growth rates, as well as increased incidence of leptospirosis observed in central California and Oregon, leading to the suggestion that the population is approaching carrying capacity (McClatchieet al. 2016).


Leptospirosis afflicts sea lions on a semi-regular cycle, but warming waters and migrating fish could make the marine mammals more susceptible

Princepajaro, a male California sea lion, swims in a pool during treatment for leptospirosis at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, CA. When a leptospirosis outbreak occurs, the Center’s scientists study the disease to learn more about what causes an outbreak and how we can improve treatment for infected animals. (Bill Hunnewell / The Marine Mammal Center)

Shawn Johnson knew it was coming.

“Last fall, we saw a few cases,” he said. “And that was a warning signal, so we were prepared—well, we weren’t prepared for this level of an outbreak.”

Over the past month, Johnson, director of veterinary science at the Marine Mammal Center, just north of San Francisco, and his team have been getting an average of five sick California sea lions a day. The animals have leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that affects their kidneys, causing fatigue, abdominal pain and, more often than not, death.

As of October 16, Johnson’s team had seen 220 sea lions with the disease, which made it the center’s second largest outbreak. Since then, the center reported 29 more sea lions have been rescued and 10 of those died due to leptospirosis. More than a dozen animals are still awaiting diagnosis. The number of cases has started to slow, but if historical trends hold up, Johnson expects this outbreak to eventually surpass 2004’s record of 304 cases of sea lion leptospirosis.

The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, CA, is responding to an outbreak of a potentially fatal bacterial infection called leptospirosis in California sea lions. The pictured sea lion, Glazer, is seen curled up with his flippers folded tightly over his abdomen prior to his rescue by trained Center responders in Monterey. The posture exhibited is known as “lepto pose,” and is often an indication the sea lion is suffering the effects of the disease. (The Marine Mammal Center)

 

All told, about 70 percent of the sea lions the team tried to save have died.

Leptospirosis outbreaks among sea lions occur at fairly regular intervals, but changing ocean conditions—warmer waters and relocating fish—are affecting how the disease strikes populations along the Pacific Coast. The threats aren’t new, but they’re threatening in slightly new ways. Changes in marine conditions appear to be affecting the population’s resiliency to this disease and others. While researchers scramble to save sick sea lions today, they are also studying what this year’s outbreak can tell us about how sea lions will fare down the line.

The good news is that sea lions are fairly mobile and resilient animals. And until recently, their populations were booming. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced in January that California sea lions had reached carrying capacity—the number of individuals their environment can sustainably support—in 2008.

Since then, though, their numbers have fluctuated. A “blob” of unusually warm and long-lasting water moved in along the West Coast from 2013 to 2015, causing widespread algal blooms that spread a neurotoxin called domoic acid throughout the marine food chain. Sea lions with elevated levels of the toxin suffered brain damage, resulting in strokes and an impaired ability to navigate, ultimately killing most of the afflicted individuals.

The warm water also sent fish and smaller marine life out to search for cooler environments, meaning the sea lions had to travel farther to find food. The combination of more distant hunting and impaired navigation led to record numbers of stranded pups—many taken in by the Marine Mammal Center—as well as a dip in the sea lion population during those years.

California sea lion Yakshack is one of 220 patients at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, CA, that has been rescued so far this year impacted by a bacterial disease known as leptospirosis. The Center has been at the forefront of research on leptospirosis in marine mammals and has published a number of scientific papers on the disease dating back to 1985. (Bill Hunnewell / The Marine Mammal Center)

 

But the warm water conditions also led, ironically, to a decline in cases of leptospirosis during that time. Over the past decade, scientists have determined that the disease, which spreads via a parasite, is endemic to the population. Some animals carry the disease and don’t get sick, but they do excrete the parasites in their urine, which is how it spreads to other individuals. When sea lions haul out on a pier or beach, they freely roll around in each other’s pee.

When the blob of warm water appeared, sea lions had to swim farther to find food and had less time to haul out and be social, Johnson says, meaning less time sitting around in each other’s pee and parasites—and fewer cases of leptospirosis. But the lack of the disease a few years ago led to consequences today. Sea lions that get leptospirosis and survive develop antibodies that fend off the parasite in the future, says Katie Prager, a veterinarian researcher at UCLA’s Lloyd-Smith Laboratory who collaborates with the Marine Mammal Center. These antibodies, however, cannot be inherited by offspring.

“It’s not something that can be passed on,” Prager says. “Antibodies are something that the pup has to develop on its own.”

The warm waters meant fewer sick sea lions, but it left the population very vulnerable. Now the disease is back with a vengeance.

“A lot of the animals are now naive to that bacteria and their immune systems haven’t been exposed to that,” says Alissa Deming, a veterinarian researcher at Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama who previously studied sea lion diseases at the Marine Mammal Research Center. “There is a group of animals that haven’t seen this before.”

The risk, according to the researchers, is that continued domoic acid outbreaks could result in a vicious cycle—fewer cases of leptospirosis produce unexposed populations, and then major outbreaks flare up like we are seeing this year.

“This is a great example of how environmental change has so much impact on a wild species—all the way from where they eat, where they migrate and how their diseases change over time, just based on a few degrees’ increase,” Johnson says.

California sea lion Herbie lays on his pen floor during treatment for leptospirosis at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, CA. Veterinarians can usually identify leptospirosis in a patient even before laboratory tests confirm a diagnosis because of the infection’s distinctive symptoms in California sea lions, which include drinking water and folding the flippers over the abdomen. (Bill Hunnewell / The Marine Mammal Center)

 

The first documented case of a marine mammal suffering from the domoic acid toxin was in 1998, and the events are now increasing in frequency—so much so that the spread of domoic acid has become a yearly sign of the changing seasons around San Francisco Bay. “The days are getting shorter, pumpkin spice lattes are here and once again, it’s time for that other Bay Area rite of fall: worrying about the levels of toxins in local Dungeness crabs,” begins a recent San Francisco Chronicle article on the influence of the toxin on the start of crabbing season.

Sea lions don’t wait for permission from the Department of Public Health before they start eating crabs, though.

To exacerbate the issue even more, an El Nino event is predicted over the coming months, meaning warmer ocean waters off the West Coast and possibly more algal blooms and toxins. Already, Southern California waters—where researchers have found some of the highest concentrations of diatoms that produce domoic acid—have had record high temperatures this year.

NOAA has even deemed the recent warm-water years a “climate change stress test” for West Coast oceans. The agency said the conditions “may offer previews of anthropogenic climate change impacts projected for the latter part of the 21st century.”

If this has been a test, sea lions might not have passed, says Robert DeLong, a scientist with NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center. DeLong has been studying California sea lions for decades at their breeding grounds, Channel Islands off Santa Barbara. He says the species should be pretty resilient in the face of climate change, but the rate of warming waters is proving a major challenge.

Volunteers from The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, CA, release California sea lions Bogo (left), Brielle (center), and Biggie (right) back to the wild near Bodega Bay. All three sea lions were treated for leptospirosis at the Center’s Sausalito hospital. Many different animal species, including humans and dogs, can become infected with Leptospira through contact with contaminated urine, water or soil. The Center has a number of safety protocols in place to prevent transmission to veterinarians and volunteers working with sea lion patients. (Bill Hunnewell / The Marine Mammal Center)

 

The center of the West Coast sea lion population is around Baja California, so the species has adapted to warmer water than is currently being seen farther north up the coast. “They have that capability to live in warmer water,” DeLong says. And unlike, say, coral reefs, sea lions are very mobile, able to swim long distances to find suitable habitats.

But while males can chase food far up north, during the breeding season females are tied to a small radius around the rookery. If there is less food available there because fish have moved to cooler waters, it could present a major problem for sea lion mothers and their pups.

“So if this is what climate change looks like, and this period is an adequate proxy, if that’s really the case, then sea lions may not do as well as we would think,” DeLong says.

There are still signs of hope. Sea lions are increasingly moving north to new breeding grounds off the San Francisco Bay, for instance. The limiting factor is time.

“If the environmental changes are slow enough to adapt, they’ll be able to move and will probably move farther up the coast,” Johnson said. “If changes are slow enough, I could see them being able to adapt.”


Original post: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/

 

Nov 8 2018

Quantifying sensitivity and adaptive capacity of shellfish in the Northern California Current Ecosystem to increasing prevalence of ocean acidification and hypoxia

The severity of carbonate chemistry changes from ocean acidification is predicted to increase greatly in the coming decades, with serious consequences for marine species-­ especially those reliant on calcium carbonate for structure and function (Fabry et al. 2008). The Northern California Current Ecosystem off the coast of US West Coast experiences seasonal variations in upwelling and downwelling patterns creating natural episodes of hypoxia and calcite/aragonite undersaturation, exacerbating global trends of increasing ocean acidification and hypoxia (OAH) (Chan et al. 2008) (Gruber et al. 2012). The goal of these experiments was to identify thresholds of tolerance and attempt to quantify a point at which variance in responses to stress collapses. This study focuses on two species: Cancer magister (Dungeness crab) and Haliotis rufescens (red abalone). These species were selected for this study based on their economic and ecological value, as well as their taxonomic differences. Respirometry was used as a proxy for metabolic activity at four different scenarios mimicking preindustrial, upwelling, contemporary upwelling, and distant future conditions by manipulating dissolved oxygen and inorganic carbon (DIC) concentrations. Both species showed a decrease in mean respiration rate as OAH stressors increase, including an effect in contemporary upwelling conditions. These results suggest that current exposure to ocean acidification (OA) and hypoxia do not confer resilience to these stressors for either taxa. In teasing apart the effects of OAH as multiple stressors, it was found that Dungeness crab response was more strongly driven by concentration of dissolved oxygen, while red abalone data suggested a strong interactive effect between OA and hypoxia. Not only did these two different taxa exhibit different responses to a multiple stressors, but the fact that the Dungeness crab were secondarily impacted by acidification could suggest that current management concerns may need to be focus more strongly on deoxygenation.

Gossner H. M., 2018. Quantifying sensitivity and adaptive capacity of shellfish in the northern California current ecosystem to increasing prevalence of ocean acidification and hypoxia. MSc thesis, Oregon State University, 104 p. Thesis.


Original post: https://news-oceanacidification-icc.org/

Nov 8 2018

Alterations to seabed raise fears for future

The ocean floor as we know it is dissolving rapidly as a result of human activity.

Normally the deep sea bottom is a chalky white. It’s composed, to a large extent, of the mineral calcite (CaCO3) formed from the skeletons and shells of many planktonic organisms and corals. The seafloor plays a crucial role in controlling the degree of ocean acidification. The dissolution of calcite neutralizes the acidity of the CO2, and in the process prevents seawater from becoming too acidic. But these days, at least in certain hotspots such as the Northern Atlantic and the southern Oceans, the ocean’s chalky bed is becoming more of a murky brown. As a result of human activities the level of CO2 in the water is so high, and the water is so acidic, that the calcite is simply being dissolved.

The McGill-led research team who published their results this week in a study in PNAS believe that what they are seeing today is only a foretaste of the way that the ocean floor will most likely be affected in future.

Long-lasting repercussions

“Because it takes decades or even centuries for CO2 to drop down to the bottom of the ocean, almost all the CO2 created through human activity is still at the surface. But in the future, it will invade the deep-ocean, spread above the ocean floor and cause even more calcite particles at the seafloor to dissolve,” says lead author Olivier Sulpis who is working on his PhD in McGill’s Dept. of Earth and Planetary Sciences. “The rate at which CO2 is currently being emitted into the atmosphere is exceptionally high in Earth’s history, faster than at any period since at least the extinction of the dinosaurs. And at a much faster rate than the natural mechanisms in the ocean can deal with, so it raises worries about the levels of ocean acidification in future.”

In future work, the researchers plan to look at how this deep ocean bed dissolution is likely to evolve over the coming centuries, under various potential future CO2 emission scenarios. They believe that it is critical for scientists and policy makers to develop accurate estimates of how marine ecosystems will be affected, over the long-term, by acidification caused by humans.

How the work was done

Because it is difficult and expensive to obtain measurements in the deep-sea, the researchers created a set of seafloor-like microenvironments in the laboratory, reproducing abyssal bottom currents, seawater temperature and chemistry as well as sediment compositions. These experiments helped them to understand what controls the dissolution of calcite in marine sediments and allowed them to quantify precisely its dissolution rate as a function of various environmental variables. By comparing pre-industrial and modern seafloor dissolution rates, they were able to extract the anthropogenic fraction of the total dissolution rates.

The speed estimates for ocean-bottom currents came from a high-resolution ocean model developed by University of Michigan physical oceanographer Brian Arbic and a former postdoctoral fellow in his laboratory, David Trossman, who is now a research associate at the University of Texas-Austin.

“When David and I developed these simulations, applications to the dissolution of geological material at the bottom of the oceans were far from our minds. It just goes to show you that scientific research can sometimes take unexpected detours and pay unexpected dividends,” said Arbic, an associate professor in the University of Michigan Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Trossman adds: “Just as climate change isn’t just about polar bears, ocean acidification isn’t just about coral reefs. Our study shows that the effects of human activities have become evident all the way down to the seafloor in many regions, and the resulting increased acidification in these regions may impact our ability to understand Earth’s climate history.”

“This study shows that human activities are dissolving the geological record at the bottom of the ocean,” says Arbic. “This is important because the geological record provides evidence for natural and anthropogenic changes.”

McGill University (via SienceDaily), 29 October 2018. Article.


Originally posted: https://news-oceanacidification-icc.org/

Oct 29 2018

Coastal Pacific Oxygen Levels Now Plummet Once A Year

40-year crabber David Bailey says hypoxic water can show up like the flip of a switch, “If there are crabs in the pot, they’re dead. Straight up.” — Kristian Foden-Vencil/Oregon Public Broadcasting

 

Scientists say West Coast waters now have a hypoxia season, or dead-zone season, just like the wildfire season.

Hypoxia is a condition in which the ocean water close to the seafloor has such low levels of dissolved oxygen that the organisms living down there die.

Crabber David Bailey, who skippers the Morningstar II, is rattled by the news. He remembers a hypoxia event out of Newport, Oregon, about a decade ago. He says it shows up “like a flip of a switch.”

“It shows up like a flip of a switch,” he says.

“If there are crabs in the pot, they’re dead. Straight up,” Bailey says. And if you re-bait the pots, “when you go out the next time, they’re blanks, they’re absolutely empty. The crabs have left the area.”

A hypoxia event will kill everything that can’t swim away—animals like crabs, sea cucumbers and sea stars.

“We can now say that Oregon has a hypoxia season much like the wildfire season,” says Francis Chan, co-chair of the California Hypoxia Science Task Force.

“Every summer we live on the knife’s edge and during many years we cross the threshold into danger – including the past two years,” Chan says. “When oxygen levels get low enough, many marine organisms who are place-bound, or cannot move away rapidly enough, die of oxygen starvation.”

The hypoxia season hits Oregon, Washington and California waters in the summer and can last from a few of days to a couple of months. Some years it only affects a few square miles of ocean; other years it’s thousands of square miles.

Video taken by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in 2006 showed dead marine life littering the sea floor.

“These reefs that used to be full of rockfish, they were all gone and a lot of the marine life: the sea stars, the sea cucumbers. They were dead,” says Chan.

The question now is: Why is this happening?

“One of the more fundamental reasons is that the ocean is warmer now and warmer water holds less oxygen,” says Chan. “And then the second part is that a warmer surface ocean, it acts as an insulating blanket.”

So that blanket stops colder low-oxygen water from rising up and mixing with oxygen in the surf.

Scientists say climate change is behind this. The ocean has been absorbing nearly all the rising heat from greenhouse gas emissions, and it’s projected to grow even warmer in coming decades.

Other factors may be contributing too. Oregon State University oceanographer and co-chair of the Oregon Coordinating Council on Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Jack Barth, thinks higher temperatures are also slowing ocean currents. If we could see under the waves, he says, there’d be a lot more concern.

Oregon State University oceanographer Jack Barth deploys a glider that will spend weeks at sea collecting data on everything from dissolved oxygen levels to temperature. “When we used to think about hypoxia in the ocean, we think about little areas. But now what we’re looking at is…out in the ocean, there’s low oxygen…all along the coast,” he says.

Kristian Foden-Vencil/Oregon Public Broadcasting

“As an analogy, think about the summer when the skies were filled with smoke. Covered the whole Pacific Northwest,” Barth says. “When we used to think about hypoxia in the ocean, we think about little areas. But now what we’re looking at is…low oxygen all along the coast.”

Barth is collecting data to draw the first hypoxia maps of Oregon’s coast.

“We’re actually seeing real interest from the fishing community. They know how to look at our data and say, ‘Where are the layers in the ocean? Where is the high and low oxygen?'” Barth says.

Barth also notes that the crabbing and the oyster industries were ahead of the curve. “They were among the first to notice that the ocean just off our coast is changing and was affecting their livelihoods,” Barth says. “And they have been working with scientists ever since.”

Deep Pacific waters 50 miles off the coast have always been hypoxic. And it’s hardly surprising. The water down there take decades to slowly flow thousands of miles from Japan to the west coast — all the while separated from oxygen in the air.

But in 2002, fishers started to notice hypoxic waters moving closer-in — to just a couple of miles off the coast.

Back then, Francis Chan had just finished his Ph.D and was looking for a research subject. State fish and wildlife biologists started to call him to say crabbers were calling them, saying their crabs were dead. The crabbers also noticed strange behavior, like octopuses climbing up ropes.

Chan went out to sample the water and found extremely low levels of dissolved oxygen across tens of square miles. Four years later it happened again, but across a larger area and with lower oxygen levels.

“Hypoxia is something we rarely saw throughout the 20th century,” Chan says, “but have seen almost annually since the year 2002.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration just issued a grant for about 40 new oxygen sensors to be distributed among crabbers so they gather data where they put their pots. Crabbers say they’re happy to hand over the data, but they’re not so sure about revealing the locations — favorite crabbing spots are a closely held secret.


Original post: https://www.npr.org/

Sep 26 2018

Sardines

The little things

Consider the sardine. The small fish sits at the base of the ocean’s food web. Cold currents welling up in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans nurture schools of billions of the creatures, their populations waxing and waning in decades-long global cycles. Entire industries and ecosystems have been built upon the little swimmers.

Not that they get much credit. Sardines are ground up into animal meal, rendered into oil or bait, and stuffed unceremoniously into cans for mass consumption.

But their star is on the rise. Trendy, delicious, and aesthetically irresistible, sardines have begun to garner public adoration once again. In Portugal, the city-wide celebration of Santo António, Lisbon’s patron saint, wouldn’t be complete without a fresh sardine, grilled on a street corner with a splash of lemon. In fact, Portugal has elevated the sardine to the pinnacle of its culinary culture, prizing them equally at home or on a white tablecloth. And finally, the rest of the world is catching on.

But just as they’re ready to swim back into our lives again, the fish may be leaving for cooler waters. Climate change is threatening the species’ ancestral homes. Let’s dive in.

By the digits

300 AD: Date to which scientists have ocean sediment cores tracking population fluctuations of Pacific sardines

30 years: Age at which canned sardines are still excellent to eat

7 km (4.3 miles): Length of shoals of fish in the South African sardine run, which rivals in biomass East Africa’s great wildebeest migration

0.323 kg (0.71 lb): Weight of the heaviest sardine on record

15 years: Oldest recorded age of a live sardine

Sardine populations have been rising and falling for thousands of years. An average cycle is approximately 55-60 years. But combination of overfishing in some regions and natural cycles means catches have been falling since the 1990s.

 

Wait, what’s a sardine again?

Sardines are not just one, but at least 21 species of cold-water loving fish. Silds, sprats, herring and pilchards are all classified as sardines, depending on whether one is fishing in the Mediterranean, North Sea, Pacific or elsewhere.

Sardines live fast, but they don’t die young. The oldest can live for 15 years, reaching 90% of their adult length (about 27 cm) within a year. They swim with their mouths open, gorging on tiny phytoplankton and zooplankton in the water column. Within a few years, females can spawn 400,000 to 1 million eggs annually (to match their fecundity, hens would need to lay almost 5,000 eggs.)

That’s good news, because sardines are the all-you-can-eat buffet of the sea. They are the key forage species for predators including fish, squid, marine mammals, and seabirds. Not to mention humans: Fishery experts estimate every major sardine fishery in the world is already fully exploited.

Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

 

The fish that filled a thousand factories

The ancient Greeks and Romans loved sardines, and the first modern sardine factory opened in Setúbal, Portugal in 1880. The country is the fish’s greatest champion on the continent, and celebrates St. Anthony’s Day (June 13th) by grilling fresh sardines on every street corner.

Sardines are typically washed, cleaned, and steamed before being packed in oil or water. Styles vary. Olive oil is preferred in Portugal, Spain, and Morocco. Soybean oil is common in the US, herring oil in Norway, while some prefer water, mustard or tomato sauce. Sardine scales are suctioned off to make cosmetics, lacquers, and artificial pearls.

Today the industry is almost gone from the US. The value of sardines consumed once routinely exceeded that of Maine lobsters in the 1960s. But by 2005, per capita sardine consumption had fallen to 0.1 pounds per year in the US (compared to 16 pounds for all seafood and 220 pounds of meat), and has yet to recover. California’s famed canneries, immortalized in John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, declined from about 51 in 1948 to just one in 1968—today there are zero. Maine’s last cannery closed in 2010.

Reuters/Nacho Doce

How do I eat them?

Sardines were once considered finer than lobster. Oscar Wilde’s son even opened a sardine tasting club in 1930s London. The finest specimens ended up in European pantries next to foie gras and caviar.

Demand for protein during WWII transformed them into lunchbox food for workers and soldiers in the US, takng the shine off the species’ reputation. Human consumption has been declining ever since.

But all is not lost. A cadre of “sardinistas” around the world are resurrecting the culinary glory days of the sardine. (They happen to be great for you: full of protein, essential fats, and amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.)

The classic preparation is to grill up fresh sardines rubbed with olive oil, garlic, and parsley and splash on a bit of red wine vinegar and lemon juice. There’s also sardelosalata, a version of a classic caviar, and no shortage of inventive things to do with the canned ones.

Staying out of hot water

Sardines may not be sticking around. Stocks have recently plummeted by almost 80% off the coast of Portugal and Spain, grounding their fleets for months (a 15-year ban is being contemplated). The US just shut down the west coast sardine fishery for the fourth straight year after a 97% collapse in sardine populations since 2006.

The reason? Natural cycles in the oceans, for the most part. But now global warming is set to take over. As soon as ocean temperatures rise above sardines’ preferred 10 to 15°C, they leave, says Francisco Chavez, a biological oceanographer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

For now, natural cycles are the primary factory in sardines’ boom and bust cycles. “It’s not going to be that way in the future,” Chavez says. “In maybe 20 years, climate change will be the dominant player.” When that happens, sardines will head to the poles, leaving their traditional fishing grounds, and the countries that rely on them, high and dry.

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Original post: https://qz.com/emails/quartz-obsession/1400071/

Sep 10 2018

Wait, So How Much of the Ocean Is Actually Fished?

September 10, 2018 — The following is excerpted from an article published today by The Atlantic. More information about this paper is available at Sustainable Fisheries UW

How much of the world’s oceans are affected by fishing? In February, a team of scientists led by David Kroodsma from the Global Fishing Watch published a paper that put the figure at 55 percent—an area four times larger than that covered by land-based agriculture. The paper was widely covered, with several outlets leading with the eye-popping stat that “half the world’s oceans [are] now fished industrially.”

Ricardo Amoroso from the University of Washington had also been trying to track global fishing activity and when he saw the headlines, he felt that the 55 percent figure was wildly off. He and his colleagues re-analyzed the data that the Global Fishing Watch had made freely available. And in their own paper, published two weeks ago, they claim that industrial fishing occurs over just 4 percent of the ocean.

How could two groups have produced such wildly different answers using the same set of data? At its core, this is a simple academic disagreement about scale. But it’s also a more subtle debate that hinges on how we think about the act of fishing, and how to measure humanity’s influence on the planet. “I think this discussion really shows how little we know about the world’s oceans and why making data publicly available is so important for stimulating research,” says Kroodsma.

As ships traverse the oceans, many of them continuously transmit their position, speed, and identity to satellites. This automatic identification system was originally developed to prevent collisions, but by training Google’s machine-learning tools on the data, the Global Fishing Watch (GFW)—a nonprofit founded by Oceana, SkyTruth, and Google—can identify different kinds of fishing vessels, and work out where they’re dropping their lines and nets.

They quantified that activity by dividing the oceans into a huge grid of around 160,000 squares. Each of these squares had sides that span half a degree of latitude, and an area of around 3,100 square kilometers. And in 2016, around 55 percent of them included some kind of fishing activity. “You’re dividing the ocean into 160,000 cells, and you’re seeing fishing activity in half of them,” says Kroodsma. “One reason this resonated with people is that however you slice it, that’s impressive.”

Actually, it’s misleading, says Ricardo Amoroso from the University of Washington. He and his colleagues had spent years trying to measure the impact of trawlers and based on their early results, the GFW’s estimates smelled fishy. The problem is that they divided the ocean into such large squares that if a single boat drops a net in an area the size of Rhode Island, that area would count as “fished” in a given year.

Fortunately, the GFW made all their data freely available, so Amoroso’s team could analyze it at finer resolutions. When they divided the ocean into smaller squares that are 0.1 degrees of latitude wide and take up around 123 square kilometers, they found that fishing activity occurs in just 27 percent of them. And when they used even smaller squares that are 0.01 degrees wide and 1.23 square kilometers in area—the size of a city block—just 4 percent of the ocean is “fished.”

Read the full story at The Atlantic

Aug 24 2018

MARK HELVEY: Protect California’s Drift Gillnet Fishery

August 24, 2018 — WASHINGTON — California’s drift gillnet (DGN) fishery has come under attack in recent months. One of the most prominent media attacks was a July Los Angeles Times editorial “Dead dolphins, whales and sea turtles aren’t acceptable collateral damage for swordfishing,” which irresponsibly called for the shut down of the fishery. Like many similar critiques, it overlooked the ways DGN fishermen have worked to reduce bycatch and the unintended consequences of shutting down the fishery.

It is first important to note that the DGN fishery operates legally subject to all bycatch minimization requirements in federal law. This includes not just the Magnuson-Stevens Act—the primary federal fishing law—but also the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). These statutes are precautionary and conservation-minded, and help make U.S. fisheries some of the most environmentally conscious and best managed in the world.

DGN fishermen have collaborated extensively with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service over the years to further reduce bycatch. Since 1990, the fishery has operated an observer program to effectively monitor bycatch. It has deployed devices such as acoustic pingers to ward off marine mammals from fishing gear, has established the Pacific Offshore Cetacean Take Reduction Plan to further reduce marine mammal interactions, and has implemented time/area closures to reduce interactions with endangered sea turtles.

These measures have led to significant progress in reducing bycatch. For example, no ESA-listed marine mammals have been observed caught in the DGN fishery since the 2010-2011 fishing season and no listed sea turtles since the 2012-2013 season.

As mentioned in the Times editorial, there is indeed good news from fisheries deploying new, experimental deep-set buoy gear. But it is just that – experimental, and it is still unclear whether it will become economically viable. And while fishermen hope that it does, the volumes produced won’t make a dent in the over 80 percent of the 20,000 metric tons of swordfish consumed annually in the U.S. that comes from foreign fisheries.

Often missing from the discussion of the drift gillnet fishery is that most foreign fisheries are far less regulated and are much more environmentally harmful than any U.S. fishery. Should the U.S. DGN fishery be shut down, it will only further increase our reliance on this imported seafood. All U.S. fishermen abide by the highest levels of environmental oversight relative to their foreign counterparts, meaning that U.S. caught seafood comes at a fraction of the ecosystem impacts occurring abroad.

Californians need to understand this and help protect U.S. fisheries that are striving to do things the right way. California’s DGN fishermen provide seafood consumers with a local source of sustainably-caught, premium quality swordfish. We should thank them by keeping them on the water.

Mark Helvey had a 30-year career with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) before retiring in 2015.  He served as the last Assistant Regional Administrator for Sustainable Fisheries with the NMFS Southwest Region in Long Beach, representing the agency on fishery conservation and management for highly migratory and coastal pelagic species on the west coast.


Read the original post: https://www.savingseafood.org/tag/pacific/

Aug 24 2018

Southern California Coast Emerges as a Toxic Algae Hot Spot

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

Copyright © 2018 Seafoodnews.com

Seafood News


 

SEAFOODNEWS.COM [University of Southern California] August 23, 2018

A new, comprehensive survey led by USC scientists shows the Southern California coast harbors some of the world’s highest concentrations of an algal toxin dangerous to wildlife and people who eat local seafood.

Episodic outbreaks of algae-produced toxins make headlines every few years when stricken marine animals wash ashore between Santa Barbara and San Diego. The USC research is the most thoroughgoing assessment yet and reveals the growing scale of the problem over the last 15 years. The researchers say their findings can help protect human health and environment by improving methods to monitor and manage harmful algal blooms.

The findings are a “smoking gun” linking domoic acid produced by some types of algae to deaths of marine birds and mammals, according to David Caron, a biologist at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and postdoctoral researcher Jayme Smith, the study’s main authors.

“We are seeing an increase in harmful algal blooms and an increase in severity,” Caron said. “The Southern California coast really is a hot spot and our study also shows that the concentrations of particulate domoic acid measured in the region are some of the highest – if not the highest – ever reported.”

The findings appear in Harmful Algae.

Domoic acid is produced by microscopic Pseudo-nitzschia, needle-like diatoms in the water; half of the species in its genus can produce the neurotoxin. It can stain the ocean, a condition generically called “red tide,” although this particular toxin is brown. The substance accumulates in shellfish and moves up the food chain, where it attacks the nervous system of fish, birds, seals and sea lions. It can cause amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP) in people. ASP symptoms include rapid onset of headaches, abdominal pain, cramping, nausea or vomiting; severe symptoms include permanent short-term memory loss, seizures, coma or shock in 48 hours. Although human fatalities are rare, the California Department of Public Health monitors coastal waters and shellfish for the toxin.

The research encompasses the years 2003 to 2017 between Santa Barbara and the Mexico border, and includes new samples and tests collected over the past three years to supplement historical data. The study suggests that while natural processes lead to the formation of blooms, they could be exacerbated by nutrients discharged from man-made sources, including runoff and sewage outfalls.

Among the key findings:

Pseudo-nitzschia is the culprit behind domoic acid. It’s been present along the Southern California coast for decades, but its role in wildlife mortality is recent and increasing.
The world’s highest domoic acid measurement in water occurred near San Pedro in March 2011. It was 52.3 micrograms per liter – about five times higher than a level of concern.
Through the years, researchers found a strong correlation between domoic acid in the water and impaired marine wildlife on shore.
Domoic acid is ever-present offshore, either in shellfish or the water. Some years it’s abundant, while other years it’s scarce.
Conditions are worse in the spring, due to seasonal upwelling of nutrients that spur plankton growth. The toxin is less abundant in the summer and winter.
Domoic acid in shellfish can occur at high concentrations off the coast of San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties, but it tends to be more prevalent in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties due to local environmental conditions.
Man-made sources of nutrients contribute to algal blooms, but that doesn’t explain disparities in time and location of some of the domoic acid outbreaks. Other environmental factors are likely in play.
The algae and its toxin diminish on the West Coast when water temperatures exceed 68 degrees Fahrenheit, apparently due to temperature sensitivity of the microorganisms.
Also, a warming Pacific Ocean appears to be helping spread Pseudo-nitzschia species farther north. For example, harmful algal blooms have been widespread along the west coast of North America from Central California to Alaska in the past two years, according to the study. Separately, harmful algae blooms have been reported along the Gulf Coast this summer and the governor of Florida declared a state of emergency for affected counties last week.

The USC study brings together diverse data and observations that shed light on the environmental conditions that promote harmful algal blooms. Of note, an extreme drought across the U.S. Southwest between 2014 and 2016 resulted in very low concentrations of domoic acid off the Southern California coast. The findings imply a link between surface waters flowing to the ocean, or other drought-related conditions, and coastal algal blooms.

Those nuances and uncertainties need further exploration to explain the regional and year-to-year variations favoring toxic algae – key steps before more reliable health forecasts can occur, the USC scientists say.

“Our findings summarize our present level of understanding with respect to this important animal and human health risk in Southern California waters and identify several avenues of research that might improve understanding, prediction and eventually prevention of these harmful events,” Smith said.

Study authors include Smith as lead and corresponding author, Caron as senior author, as well as Paige Connell, Erica L. Seubert, Avery O. Tatters and Alyssa G. Gellene of USC; Richard H. Evans of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center; Meredith D.A. Howard of the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project; Burton H. Jones of the Red Sea Research Center, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, in Saudi Arabia; Susan Kaveggia of the International Bird Rescue in Los Angeles; Lauren Palmer of the Marine Mammal Care Center in Los Angeles; Astrid Schnetzer of North Carolina State University; and Bridget N. Seegers of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the GESTAR/Universities Space Research Association.

Photo credit: Restless Mind Media/Fotolia


Linda Lindner
Urner Barry 1-732-240-5330 ext 223
Editorial Email: Editor@seafood.com
Reporter’s Email: llindner@urnerbarry.com

Copyright © 2018 Seafoodnews.com

Aug 10 2018

Warming waters and migrating fish stocks could cause political conflict

Climate change is driving fish species to migrate to new areas, and in the process they’re crossing political boundaries – potentially setting up future conflicts as some countries lose access to fish and others gain it, according to a recent study published in the journal Science.

Already, fish and other marine animals have shifted toward the poles at an average rate of 70 kilometers per decade. That rate is projected to continue or even accelerate as the planet warms.

When fish cross into new territory, it might prompt competitive harvesting between countries scrambling to exploit disappearing resources.

“Conflict leads to overfishing, which reduces food, profit, and jobs that fisheries can provide, and can also fracture international relations in other, non-fishery sectors,” Malin Pinsky, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of biology at Rutgers University, told SeafoodSource.

The study looked at the distribution of nearly 900 commercially important marine fish and invertebrates, examining how their movements intersect with 261 of the world’s Exclusive Economic Zones. By 2100, more than 70 countries will see new fish stocks in their waters if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rates.

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions could reduce the scale and number of these migrations by half or more, Pinsky said.

Conflict over shifting fish stocks is not unheard of. In the 2000s, migrating mackerel in the northeast Atlantic caused such a rift between Iceland and other nations that it played a role in derailing attempts to join the European Union. In the eastern Pacific, a bout of warm ocean temperatures in the 1980s and 1990s shifted salmon spawning patterns, prompting a scuffle between U.S. and Canada.

Pinsky listed the United Sates, Iceland, Britain, Russia, and countries in East Asia as some that will have to start sharing significantly more.

“I worry in particular about East Asia, where maritime relations are already tense over disputed borders,” Pinsky said.

Many countries may end up getting up to 30 percent of their catch from new fisheries that have migrated into their exclusive economic zones by 2100, according to the study. Australia and fisheries around the Bering Sea may get an even higher percentage.

But tropical countries seem likely to suffer significantly, since fish will move out and others won’t move into the replace them.

“Fish in general are moving to higher latitudes, which means new species aren’t moving into countries near the equator,” Pinsky said. “We think that means there will be fewer fish in the tropics, but we don’t know for sure yet.”

Some species might adapt to warmer waters, and some evidence suggests that is likeliest to happen in the tropics, where fish won’t also have to compete with new species, Pinsky said. “However, we don’t yet know if they can adapt fast enough to keep up with rapidly warming waters,” he said.

The Gulf of Maine is already experiencing major migrations. Lobster are moving towards Canada, cod are shifting deeper, and black sea bass are showing up north of Cape Cod.

“The Gulf of Maine is really ground zero for mitigating and adapting to climate-induced change,” Marissa McMahan, a senior fisheries scientist at Manomet, a New England science nonprofit that works on environmental issues, including by partnering with fishermen, told SeafoodSource.

While some fishermen can adapt to migrating fish, others struggle. Large offshore trawlers that had targeted sea bass in areas like North Carolina are steaming as much as 10 hours north just to catch sea bass, McMahan said. But smaller inshore boats that use fish pots to catch sea bass can’t do that, suffering greater effects from the shifting fish.

Fishermen are responding to climate-driven species shifts in different ways. Some are targeting underutilized or undervalued species. Younger fishermen, in particular, seem more willing to look at the potential of aquaculture to diversify their income.

“That way their entire livelihood doesn’t depend on a fishery that could collapse if the species shifts,” she said. But most fisheries are closed or have limited entry, making it difficult to get a license, she added. “So if you’re a lobstermen looking to diversify into another wild harvest fishery, there are very few options.”

Manomet is helping fishermen prepare. The group has worked with soft-shell clam harvesters to develop farming techniques, and is researching the viability of quahog aquaculture. They are working on developing fisheries and markets for invasive green crab, so fishermen can benefit from them economically.

As fish migrate to new waters, better data is needed to really assess stocks. Fishermen and their observations need to be included, McMahan said.

“They are on the front lines, so to speak, and witness the changes we are talking about each and every day. The amount of knowledge they posses about these ecosystems and stocks is unparalleled,” McMahan said.


Original post: https://www.seafoodsource.com/

Jul 12 2018

House Passes MSA Reauthorization with Support of NCFC Members

 

WASHINGTON — July 12, 2018 — The following was released by Saving Seafood’s National Coalition for Fishing Communities:

Yesterday the House passed H.R. 200, the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act, which modifies and reauthorizes the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Members of Saving Seafood’s National Coalition for Fishing Communities from around the country have been invested in improving MSA for years, and weighed in with their comments and concerns at various points in this process.

Many of these concerns were addressed during the committee process and in the discussion of amendments. Several Members of Congress cited support from NCFC members for the bill during the debate on the House floor.

From Rep. Bradley Byrne of Alabama:


Let me tell you, there are over 170 groups that have signed on to being supportive of this bill. I do not have time to read all the names to you, but let me just read a few: the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation…the National Coalition for Fishing Communities…and the Guy Harvey Foundation. This is a very broadly, deeply supported bill among people who are actually fishing. Now, it may not be supported by people who don’t fish and who don’t know anything about fishing, but for those of us who do fish…we like it.

From Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana:

…Mr. Chairman, this bill is bipartisan. It’s why we have bipartisan support for this legislation. We have co-sponsors. It’s why the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, the National Coalition for Fishing Communities…American Scallop Association, Garden State Seafood Association, West Coast Seafood Processors Association, North Carolina Fisheries Association, Florida Keys Commercial Fishing Association, Gulf Coast Seafood Alliance, Southeastern Fisheries Association and many, many others that have a genuine stake in the sustainability of our fisheries [support this legislation].

In the debate over a proposed amendment from Reps. Jared Huffman of California and Alcee Hastings of Florida that would be detrimental to commercial fishing, Rep. Don Young of Alaska, author of the bill, quoted from a letter signed by several of our members and submitted the day before the vote. The amendment was ultimately defeated.

According to a letter authorized by the National Coalition for Fishing Communities…I want to submit for the record, if I could, the letter to the leadership of the House and to myself where they say… “We believe it will undermine the MSA, impede reforms that are desperately needed, and attack jobs in coastal communities around the country, including California and Florida,” the home states of Mr. Huffman and Mr. Hastings. I suggest this amendment is uncalled for and frankly will gut the bill and the MSA, period.


Original post: savingseafood.org