Posts Tagged California

Dec 5 2014

Study: California Drought Most Severe Dry Spell in at least 1,200 Years


A car sits in dried and cracked earth of what was the bottom of the Almaden Reservoir south of San Jose on Jan. 28. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California’s current drought is pretty exceptional — like the driest in about a millennium — according to an article published today in the journal Geophysical Research Letters by scientists with the University of Minnesota and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

But how could they know that? There weren’t a lot of rain gauges in California in 800 A.D. — at least, not the plastic kind.

So authors Daniel Griffin and Kevin Anchukaitis looked to tree-ring samples from California blue oaks.

“California’s old blue oaks are as close to nature’s rain gauges as we get,” said Griffin, a NOAA Climate and Global Change Fellow with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. “They thrive in some of California’s driest environments.”

The researchers collected their own blue oak tree-ring samples from south and central California, giving them a pretty good idea of yearly precipitation in the area back to 1293. They then augmented their samples with data from the North American Drought Atlas and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Palmer Drought Severity Index.

The result: The study estimates that in the past 1,200 years, there have been 66 dry periods lasting three-to-nine years and 37 more-severe, three-year droughts. But not one of them has been as extreme as the one beginning in 2012, despite some years in the past seeing similarly low precipitation.

It’s not only lack of rain that makes a drought, though. Record-high temperatures added to California’s strife to make this dry spell the worst in more than 1,000 years, according to the study. The researchers estimate high temperatures have intensified the drought by about 36 percent.

UC Berkeley geology professor and researcher Lynn Ingram said the study’s findings appear solid.

“The tree-ring records provide the highest resolution as they have annual growth layers,” she said, adding the study provides a “cautionary lesson” about how human-caused warming “may already be impacting climate and water in California.”

Watch the California drought progress from the beginning of 2011 to the end of 2014 below. The NOAA U.S. Drought Monitor released the latest outlook today, up-to-date as of Dec. 2. More than half the state is now in “exceptional drought,” defined as “exceptional and widespread crop/pasture losses; shortages of water in reservoirs, streams, and wells creating water emergencies.”

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Nov 25 2014

Commercial Dungeness Crab Season Opens Dec. 1 in Northern California


The northern California Dungeness crab season will open at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014 north of the Sonoma-Mendocino county line.

Prior to the season opening, commercial fishermen are allowed a 64-hour gear setting period. This year, crab trap gear can be set no earlier than 8 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 28.

Quality tests conducted in northern California in November indicate that California Dungeness crabs are ready for harvest. For the results from the pre-season quality tests, please visit the PSMFC website.

Oregon and Washington Dungeness crab seasons will also open on Dec. 1. The central California Dungeness crab season (Sonoma-Mendocino county line to Mexico border) opened on Nov. 15.

For more information on Dungeness crab, please visit the Invertebrate Management Project web page.
Nov 20 2014

San Francisco can’t keep up with bonanza Dungeness crab catch

Posted by permission of SEAFOODNEWS.COM  – November 19, 2014



If you are hoping to eat crab on Thanksgiving, you’ll love this. Crab boats are coming back absolutely loaded to the gills. The only downside is that huge catch is creating a few challenges.

Pier 45 has been dealing with a bottleneck of boats trying to deliver their catch. Several boats are still parked in the bay waiting to deliver their catch and head back out to fish. That means the dock workers will be working past midnight for the fourth day in a row.

Since the beginning of the commercial crab season began on Saturday, an estimated 400 boats have been delivering a steady stream of crab to Pier 45.

“We stayed until 2 or 3 last night,” president of the Crab Boat Association Larry Collins said. When we asked him how much sleep he got, he replied, “Not much.”

Many boats have been parked in the bay waiting to deliver. Crews are pumping in oxygen to keep their catch alive.

“We just don’t have the facilities here to unload any more than we are,” skipper Dan Hunt said. He explained in the meantime, “We just sit on crab. Pump on them, keep them alive until the market can take them.”

“It doesn’t look like there’s much crab in Eureka, Crescent City or Brookings, so everybody and their brother came down for this opener,” Collins said.

Skipper Brian Kelley and his crew, from Fort Brag hauled in 30,000 pounds in the first three days. This all amounts to plenty of overtime pay for Juan Cornejo who straps rubber bands around the claws of the Dungeness crabs and gets his share of pinches. He said it happens twice a day.

The crabbers are getting $3 a pound and by the time it’s shipped, boiled, cracked and put on your plate at the restaurant, the price is about $10.95 a pound.

“Yeah, a lot of good crab this year. It’s all 2.5 pounds or bigger. Usually, they’re about a pound and a half to two,” C.J. Green form Alioto’s restaurant said.

Eventually, the crab harvest will thin out and the price will claw its way up. But until then, crab lovers are being encouraged to come and get it.

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Nov 18 2014

UC Santa Cruz researchers say densovirus may be responsible for wiping out West Coast starfish

Posted with permission from SEAFOODNEWS.COM

[San Francisco Chronicle] by Peter Fimrite – November 18, 2014

Seafood News

Scientists have identified a virus that they believe is the mysterious killer that is wiping out starfish along the Pacific coast, but they can’t figure out why it suddenly became so deadly or whether it will continue its reign of destruction.

The pathogen believed responsible for causing millions of sea stars along the coast of California to wither and die was identified as a densovirus, a type of parvovirus, researchers at UC Santa Cruz and Cornell University said Monday.The disease was found not only in the tissues of its victims, but in brittle stars, which are closely related, and sea urchins.

It was also in seawater and sediments collected from affected areas, including Santa Cruz and Monterey, according to a paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  Strangely, the virus was also detected in museum specimens dating back to 1942, meaning the disease has been lurking for decades but only recently turned deadly, said co-author Peter Raimondi, chairman of the ecology and evolutionary biology department at UC Santa Cruz. The virus wiped out starfish along huge swaths of the coast from Mexico to Alaska starting last year and has recently gone on a rampage through the Olympic Coast, in Washington state.

“What is unresolved is why it is so virulent,” said Raimondi, who leads the Pacific Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Program, which has been documenting the spread of the disease along the West Coast. “This virus has been around for at least 70 years, which brings up the question of why now?”

Another conundrum, said Raimondi, is the fact that the virus is present in other species, like sea urchins, which have not been dying nearly as much as starfish.

“Even if they don’t get infected, they carry it,” Raimondi said of the sea urchins. “That could be very problematic with respect to recovery.”

The mysterious pathogen, dubbed sea star wasting disease, was first detected in the summer of 2013 in Southern California. It was then found in tide pool areas along the coast of Monterey and has since spread through Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and southern Alaska. The telltale sign of the syndrome was that it caused starfish to become mushy and deteriorate until body parts began falling off.  Dead and dying starfish have been found close to shore and deeper underwater.

The disease even found its way last year into the filtration system of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which uses seawater in its tanks. The virus has ravaged 20 varieties of starfish, going through a kind of progression, usually starting with the Ochre star, the purple or orange starfish most commonly seen in intertidal regions, Raimondi said. The pathogen has also ravaged the population of sunflower stars, the largest sea stars in the world. Short-spined sea stars and giant sea stars have also been hit hard. Raimondi said starfish feed on a variety of invertebrates, including mussels, sea urchins, clams and snails, which could be a source of the spreading disease.

The pathogen can also spread in the water almost like the common cold among the dense, often interwoven, populations of starfish, he said.The disappearance of starfish could have serious consequences by shifting the ecological balance of the sea. Mussels and other starfish prey could begin to overpopulate areas where their numbers were once controlled, Raimondi said. As a result, he said, fish, invertebrates, crabs and other species that feed on algae, plants and other sea life that thrive when starfish are in control will be marginalized and forced to look elsewhere for food.

Signs of hope

There is a light, however, amid the darkness. Huge numbers of baby sea stars have appeared in previously devastated sites in the Monterey Bay region, according to surveys conducted this year. In one study site, on a reef called Terrace Point, off Santa Cruz, researchers found more juvenile sea stars than have seen in 15 years of monitoring.

“There were just immense numbers of babies,” said Raimondi, who believes the diseased and dying sea stars went into reproductive mode, shooting out sperm and eggs as an evolutionary response to stress. “If they live, it’s going to mean we are going to have a recovery here in the next few years.”

Problem persists

Raimondi said the discovery of the suspected killer does not resolve the problem, but it helps in the quest to figure out what is going on in the ocean and, perhaps, prepare for change.

“One question is whether this virus evolved and became much more lethal,” Raimondi said. “The other possibility is that there is an environmental stress that is causing sea stars to become more susceptible, for instance warmer water or ocean acidification. It could be both. We don’t know. Our research will be looking at whether this is an isolated example or whether these things could become more common in the future. One question is whether this virus evolved and became much more lethal.”

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Nov 18 2014

Dungeness crab fishery opens on Central California Coast, hundreds of boats participate

Published with permission from SEAFOODNEWS.COM by John Sackton Nov. 18, 2014
The Central California dungeness crab season opened on Saturday, and initial reports are that the catches are going well.

“”We’re guardedly optimistic,” said Zeke Grader executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association.

“We could very well be looking at year records for this time of year, but that doesn’t mean there’s necessarily more crab than in previous years, it just means more crab has been harvested earlier.”

Each year vessels in the northern zones of California and Oregon have to make a decision whether to participate in the early Bay Area fishery that opens November 15th, or wait until the regular season opens in the Northern sections, which usually is around December 1st, but can be delayed by slow growth of the crabs.

Any vessel fishing in the southern zone has to wait 30 days after the northern seasons open before itr can return to fish in the northern areas.

This year, most boats from Crescent city in Northern California set out to fish the Bay area, based on reports of abundant crabs, and the recent facts that the central area has landed more crab than the north.

Last year, the northern area landed about 6.68 million lbs, while the southern area landed 10.41 million lbs.  This is different than the historical average, where landings are generally higher in the north.

In Northern California, Oregon and Washington, the opening is determined by when a test fishery operated by the three states shows the crabs have sufficient meat fill, above 25%.  This year, the tests are being done as late as possible.

Anecdotal reports from some of the sport fisheries suggest the crabs have good meat fill, and that the season may open on December 1st.

Tests for Eureka and Crescent city should be available later this week.

Between 2013 and 2014, dungeness landings coast wide fell about 28%.  The shortfall, combined with strong live market demand from china, has led to consistently high dungeness prices over the past year.

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Nov 6 2014

Coast Marine Mammal Survey Spots Unusual Whales, Dolphins, Turtles and Seabirds

Marine Mammal and Turtle Division,

By Michael Milstein, NOAA Public Affairs Officer

An on-going NOAA Fisheries marine mammal and ecosystem survey off the West Coast has sighted several surprising species of tropical cetaceans and birds, including pygmy killer whales and Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, never before documented so far north, and loggerhead turtles, likely attracted by unusually warm Pacific Ocean waters.

pygmyPygmy killer whale in foreground with Research Vessel Ocean Starr in background (photo: Paula Olson).

The survey has encountered strikingly warm sea surface temperatures as high as 23˚ Celsius (74˚ Fahrenheit), which NOAA Fisheries researchers have been watching for months. The warm conditions have been linked to other recent sightings of unusual species of seabirds, fish and marine mammals rarely seen in the northern Pacific.

CommonAndStripedDolphins_BoydThe recent sightings are part of the four-month California Current Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey (CalCurCEAS), conducted every three to six years by the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC). The CalCurCEAS assesses marine mammals off the U.S. West Coast and tracks conditions that affect the ecosystems in which they live. The findings inform NOAA decisions on West Coast fisheries, ensuring safeguards to protect marine mammals and other protected and endangered species, such as marine turtles and seabirds.

“There’s no substitute for actually getting out on the ocean and systematically surveying the number and location of these animals,” said Jay Barlow, a SWFSC marine mammal biologist who is chief scientist for the survey. “The ocean is always changing, and we need current data to understand how these top predators are doing and how they are responding to ocean conditions.”

The survey began in San Diego in early August and has continued in legs of about 24 days each, crisscrossing waters up to 300 miles off the West Coast north to Washington. The survey coincides with fall whale and seabird migrations and will continue into December. Research scientists describe their findings from each leg in reports available on the SWFSC website.

Among the highlights so far:

  • A group of pygmy killer whales, a rarely seen tropical species that typically frequents warmer southern waters. “We knew immediately it was an unusual sighting,” said Lisa Ballance, Director of the SWFSC’s Marine Mammal and Turtle Division. Scientists aboard a small boat took tiny skin samples for genetic studies of population structure.
  • The sighting off Oregon of a killer whale with a distinctively damaged dorsal fin that was previously known mainly from sightings in Monterey Bay, CA and more recently off Vancouver Island. The whale’s dorsal fin was apparently injured in past years by an entanglement and a propeller strike.
  • Short-beaked common dolphins almost every 15 to 30 minutes over the course of one day, totaling thousands of individuals.
  • Warm-water seabirds that are extremely unusual so far north. Scientists spotted a exitBrown Booby off Washington and two others, each off Oregon and California, which researchers described as “an unprecedented northward dispersal” of the species. Sightings of two Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were likely the first-ever reports of the species in the northeast Pacific. The storm petrels were likely from populations in Hawaii or the Galapagos.
  • Other sub-tropical seabirds such as Hawaiian Petrels, Black-vented and Pink-footed Shearwaters and Red-billed Tropicbirds.
  • Numerous other whale and dolphin sightings included sei, blue, fin, humpback and short-finned pilot whales, and common, striped, Pacific white-sided and northern right whale dolphins. In one case, northern right whale dolphins were riding in the wake of a fin whale.

The surveys take frequent environmental measurements and sample plankton and marine life such as squid as indicators of ocean conditions and the state of the marine ecosystem. Researchers also deploy acoustic equipment to listen for whale and dolphin vocalizations. The equipment includes a towed hydrophone array, buoys that listen to high-priority species and free-floating recording devices that monitor ocean sounds 100 meters below the surface without noise interference from the research ship.

In one mid-September report researchers recounted recording humpback whale songs once described as a “barnyard chorus.” They identified one humpback whale 0.2 nautical miles from the starboard side of the research vessel. After retrieving the hydrophone array so the vessel could better maneuver, researchers found they could hear the whale vocalizations in the open air.

“Out on the back deck we could actually hear, with our bare ears, the singing humpback whale just behind the boat on the starboard side,” they described. “Out in the open air, it is easy to understand how whale song has inspired decades of research and centuries of curiosity on cetacean vocalizations.”

Reports from future legs of the survey will be posted as they become available.Please contact the Chief Scientist, Jay Barlow, for additional information.

line1Pilot whales on left (photo: Paula Olson) and juvenile loggerhead turtle basking in warm waters on right (photo: Mridula Srivivasan)

line2Red-billed Tropicbird resting on left (photo: Michael Force) and blue whale at surface on right (photo: Paula Olson)

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Sep 4 2014

D.B. Pleschner: State’s wetfish industry solid, sustainable


Despite gloomy predictions of El Niño and the broader impact of climate change on the ocean and planet, California’s historic wetfish fisheries carry on – still the foundation of California’s fishing economy.

More than 150 years ago, Chinese fishermen rowed Monterey Bay at night in sampans, with baskets of burning fat pine on the bow used as torches to attract market squid, which fishermen harvested with round-haul nets.

This was the modest beginning of California’s “wetfish” industry. The immigrant Asian, Italian, Slavic and other nationalities of fishermen who came to America introduced new fishing methods.

Around the turn of the 20th century, Sicilian immigrants to Monterey brought their lampara nets, another type of round-haul net, and launched what would become the largest fishery in the western hemisphere – California’s famed sardine industry, popularized in our collective conscience by John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row.”

It was the plentiful schools of fish – especially sardines that stretch from the Gulf of California to Alaska – that provided opportunity for generations of enterprising fishing families to prosper. The complex of fisheries that make up California’s wetfish industry, including mackerel and anchovy as well as squid and sardines, helped to build the ports of Monterey and San Pedro, as well as San Diego and San Francisco.

Wetfish, now called coastal pelagic species, or CPS, have contributed the lion’s share of California’s commercial catch since before the turn of the 20th century.

Even back then, fishermen recognized that a sustainable fishery was good for both fisherman and fish. That’s why over the decades, fishing interests have supported marine protections based on sound science, and have contributed significantly to cooperative research. That tradition continues today.

In fact, today, coastal pelagic fisheries in California like squid and sardines are managed with strict quotas as well as numerous time and area closures, including a statewide network of no-take marine reserves. Fishermen are allowed to harvest only a small percentage of the overall fish population.

Current regulations require that at least 75 percent of CPS finfish must stay in the ocean to ensure a resilient core biomass, and the sardine protection rate is even higher at about 90 percent.

In addition, squid fishing is closed on weekends (squid live less than a year and die after spawning). And about 30 percent of squid spawning grounds are also closed in reserves.

What’s more, to preserve the quality of the catch, fishermen typically fish day trips nearby the ports. This makes California’s CPS fisheries among the most efficient and “greenest” fisheries on the planet with one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world.

For example, wetfish fisheries can produce 2,000 pounds of protein for only six gallons of diesel fuel.

Beyond the history, the culture and the sustainability, California’s CPS fisheries contribute essential revenue into local port communities.

Wetfish fisheries are an important part of California’s fishing economy and squid is California’s most valuable fishery. Statewide, these fisheries represent more than 80 percent of all landings and close to 40 percent of dockside value of all fisheries in the Golden State.


D.B. Pleschner is executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association, a nonprofit created to promote sustainable wetfish resources.

May 8 2014

California drift net ban bill defeated in close vote, saving swordfish fishery

Seafood News

SEAFOODNEWS.COM [Saving Seafood] – May 7, 2014 –

California drift net fishermen have won a hard-fought battle against environmentalists working to ban the use of controversial gill nets, which are notorious for snagging unintended victims in their underwater synthetic webs.

A bill in the state Legislature that would have likely shut down a local swordfish and thresher shark drift gill net fishery failed its first committee hearing despite widespread support from ocean and environmental advocates.

Assembly Bill 2019 was killed last week on a 7-6 vote in the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife. Now, state National Marine Fisheries Service officials are considering transferring the fishery (which is in federal waters) to federal jurisdiction. NMFS’s Pacific Fishery Management Council will meet this week to discuss that as well as alternative fishing methods.

Supporters of AB 2019 were as surprised by its failure as members of the fishery, who have long contended with public criticism. Many gill net fisheries have been constrained or entirely shut down across the country, and those that remain are constantly looking for new technologies to reduce the rate of so-called bycatch.

“There were quite a few of us that were pretty close to having tears running down our face when the judgment came,” said Arthur Lorton, who has fished swordfish off California since gill nets were permitted in the 1980s. “I was very worried about it. If we were shut down, swordfish in restaurants would come from the southern Pacific, where stocks are not as healthy and fishing isn’t as scrutinized.”

Ken Coons 1-781-861-1441
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Apr 24 2014

Without fishermen, region’s harbors and bistros would be poorer



Fishing is really at the leading edge of the tourism culture. Just ask Ventura Harbor and Morro Bay, which have been trying to rebuild their tourism cred in part by reinvigorating their commercial fishing appeals and playing up their local seafood.

One of the oldest occupations on the Central Coast is fishing. Unfortunately, after years of regulation designed to manage the regions fisheries, it’s the fishermen themselves who are an endangered species.

That’s unfortunate for a couple of reasons. First, fishing is really at the leading edge of the tourism culture. Just ask Ventura Harbor and Morro Bay, which have been trying to rebuild their tourism cred in part by reinvigorating their commercial fishing appeals and playing up their local seafood.

Second, we are just at the dawn of a new era for the marketing of locally caught fish. Programs such as Community Seafood in Santa Barbara and a UC Santa Barbara spinoff called Salty Girl Seafood are dramatically closing the gaps between fishermen, consumers and restaurants.

Better information is the key to resolving problems such as seafood mislabeling, a pet issue for State Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, who claims that some 40 percent of California seafood served at Bay Area restaurants is not what the menu says it is.

I recently toured the Santa Barbara Harbor with U.S. Rep. Lois Capps, a Santa Barbara Democrat, and a number of veteran commercial anglers. Most are very small business owners with just an employee or two, and they are afraid that the rules and regulations for fishing have gotten so restrictive that it’s hard to turn a profit.

Longtime fisherman Chris Voss talks about fishing in terms that Warren Buffett might appreciate. “It’s really about portfolio management,” Voss said, adding that he holds permits to take lobster off the Channel Islands in the winter and then has permits for salmon fishing in Alaska in the summer months. He was about ready to make the big move up north when I caught up with him.

For all of its high costs and restrictions, Santa Barbara remains a key center for commercial fishing along the California coast. That’s partly because the city has maintained public hoists that allow fisherman to bring their catch ashore, as well as separate berths for commercial vessels.

Justin West at Restaurant Julienne is one of the pioneers in the farm-to-table movement. He was along on the tour to learn more about the seasonality of the fishing business because he tweaks his menu each day based on what’s arriving at the dock. Instead of relying on a few seafood staples, the Julienne offerings are highly variable, based on what’s going on at the harbor that day. “We don’t give our diner’s a lot of choice,” he said.

Likewise, Community Seafood is delivering its products direct to consumers who sign up for deliveries on designated days — and agree to take whatever the catch is that day. That means, among other things, teaching consumers that anchovies are for more than caesar salad and pizza.

The local sourcing of seafood has a lot of advantages for fishermen, restaurants and consumers. For fishermen, the ability to sell directly to an end user means higher prices and higher profit margins. “It’s a little more work,” said Voss, to prepare smaller portions or to sell in smaller lots, but it’s clearly worth it.

Also, the chance to develop a relationship with a chef or restaurant owner means a better understanding of market demand and customer needs. And developing relationships between suppliers and customers can create a more sustainable economy in the long run.

Interestingly, both Voss and West are fighting the same competitive battle. Voss has seen the number of individual or small-group boat owners dwindle as larger operations have consolidated fleets and built market share. West has seen a number of local restaurants come under corporate ownership, which then means common provisioning and less farm-to-table sourcing.

Fishermen don’t have the luxury of tearing out their raspberry patches and planting blueberries if market tastes change. They have to take what the sea gives them, which is why getting their catches quickly into the hands of informed customers really matters.

Contact Henry Dubroff at
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Mar 7 2014

El Nino predicted to return this year with implications for weather and fisheries

Seafood News
A warming of the central Pacific Ocean this year will change weather worldwide, US forecasters predict.

The warming, called an El Nino, can mean an even hotter year coming up and billions of dollars in losses for food crops.

Australia and South Africa should be dry while parts of South America become dry and parts become wet in an El Nino. Peru suffers the most, getting floods and poorer fishing.

But it could bring good news for some parts of the planet, leading to fewer Atlantic hurricanes and more rain next winter for drought-stricken California and southern US states. It could also bring and a milder winter for the frigid US north next year, meteorologists say

The National Oceanic Atmospheric and Administration issued an official El Nino watch today. An El Nino is a warming of the central Pacific once every few years, from a combination of wind and waves in the tropics. It shakes up climate around the world, changing rain and temperature patterns.

Read the full article here.