Posts Tagged sardine research

Nov 29 2011

Partnership Preserves Livelihoods and Fish Stocks

Stevie Fitz leases a fishing permit from the Nature Conservancy. He reports his catches as part of the group's effort to manage fish stocks in Half Moon Bay. (Peter DaSilva for The New York Times)


HALF MOON BAY, Calif. — Stevie Fitz, a commercial fisherman, was pulling up his catch in one of his favorite spots off of Point Reyes in June when he saw something terrifying — in his nets were nearly 300 bocaccio, a dwindling species of rockfish protected by the government.

There are such strict limits on catching the overfished bocaccio that netting a large load, even by accident, can sideline and even ruin an independent fisherman.

Still, Mr. Fitz did not try to hide his mistake by slipping it back into the deep. Instead, he reported himself. With a few swipes on his iPad, he posted the exact time and location of the catch to a computerized mapping system shared by a fleet of 13 commercial boats, helping others to avoid his mistake.

“It was a slap in the face,” he said, “but we are trying to build an information base that will help everyone out.” He was later able to sell the bocaccio, although the catch still counted against his quota for the year.

A lifelong fisherman, Mr. Fitz is part of a very unusual business arrangement with the Nature Conservancy, an environmental group that is trying to transform commercial fishing in the region by offering a model of how to keep the industry vital without damaging fish stocks or sensitive areas of the ocean floor.

Five years ago, the conservancy bought out area fishing boats and licenses in a fairly extreme deal — forged with the local fishing industry — to protect millions of acres of fish habitat. The unusual collaboration was enjoined to meet stricter federal regulations and the results of a successful legal challenge. But once the conservancy had access to what was essentially its own private commercial fishing fleet, the group decided to put the boats back to work and set up a collaborative model for sustainable fishing.

Bringing information technology and better data collection to such an old-world industry is part of the plan. So is working with the fishermen it licenses to control overfishing by expanding closed areas and converting trawlers — boats that drag weighted nets across the ocean floor — to engage in more gentle and less ecologically damaging techniques like using traps, hooks and line, and seine netting.

The conservancy’s model is designed to take advantage of radical new changes in government regulation that allow fishermen in the region both more control and more responsibility for their operating choices. The new rules have led to better conservation practices across all fleets, government monitors say.

“It is blowing me away what is happening out there,” said William Stelle, the administrator for Pacific Northwest region of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s marine fisheries service. But, he added, the conservancy “may be the most sophisticated example of the successful marriage of interests between the environmental community and the fishing industry in marine conservation.” Similar programs are beginning to appear in other places.

American fish stocks have been troubled since the early 1990s and remain so because of overfishing, pollution, and warming seas. The government says that today 23 percent of fish stocks are not at self-sustaining levels at current fishing pressure.

Congress passed a law in 1996 demanding that local fishery councils protect “essential fish habitat.” In 2006, it also imposed tight catch limits for overfished species. As a result, if a fishery exceeds its limit on just one of these species, under federal law, the entire area could be closed to commercial boats for a season.

Local councils have struggled to balance the inherent tensions of adhering to these limits without ruining the fishermen’s ability to make a living. To do this, they have imposed regulations like prohibiting fishing in some areas, dictating the catch season and limiting what techniques and gear are used.

But last year, the Pacific Fisheries Management Council replaced some of those restrictions with strict quotas on six imperiled species and parceled them out among all 138 commercial vessels along the coast. Government observers are now put on every boat to make sure there is no cheating.

The downside is that if one boat lands too much of a sensitive species, known as bycatch, it must be docked until it can buy another boat’s unused quota — and there is not always a market to balance the catch. The quota system also provides incentive for each fisherman in the risk pool to help prevent others from using up their quota. And the early results for fish stocks are promising. Bycatch has dropped from 15 percent to 20 percent of the total haul to less than 1 percent.

The Nature Conservancy first got involved in central California in 2004 when it was looking to invest in marine conservation zones. The group realized that it needed better information to preserve the most critical areas.

“What the fishermen had was a deep local knowledge of the habitats of certain species,” said Michael Bell, senior project director with the conservancy. “There wasn’t scientific information at that level that could match the fisherman knowledge.”

Read the rest from The New York Times.

Nov 25 2011

Shrinkage of Humboldt squid puzzles scientists

A scientist uses his hand to show the small size of a Humboldt squid found in the Sea of Cortez (Steve Fyffe / Stanford News Service)

David Perlman, Chronicle Science Editor

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A mysterious force has stunted the growth of Humboldt squid in the Sea of Cortez, and marine biologists suspect a change in the weather is to blame.

The ravenous animals normally weigh up to 30 pounds when they spawn at 12 to 18 months of age, but Stanford biologists have discovered a group of the squid that weigh only a pound apiece and spawn at less than 6 months old.

The rubbery animals with their long tentacles are a precious livelihood for Mexican commercial fishermen along the Gulf of California, and they’re a prized prey for gringo sportsmen.

But to William Gilly, a marine biologist at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, they’re a scientific puzzle.

In a paper recently published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress, Gilly said he suspects the squid’s shrinkage was caused by the abrupt warming of the gulf’s water as a result of an El Niño that was detected during the 2009-10 winter.

The El Niño phenomenon, also known as the Southern Oscillation, occurs periodically when high surface air pressure over the Western Pacific pushes temperatures up throughout the tropical Eastern Pacific, including the Gulf of California, causing water temperatures to rise.

In September 2009, Gilly said, he and his colleagues cruised the Gulf of California, better known as the Sea of Cortez, and found abundant squid in their normal spawning grounds and their usual size.

“But in May, a year later, we couldn’t find any normal-sized squid in their normal spawning grounds,” he said. “Instead, the area was full of smaller squid – really small.”

A month later, Gilly said, the squid were still very small and spawning in what was formerly the normal spawning area for normal-size squid, while one group of full-size ones had migrated and were thriving 100 miles north around the gulf’s Midriff Islands.

“No one really understands the El Niño phenomenon,” Lilly said, “but it seems to be the best explanation – a change in the temperature is enough to change the total environment for squid or any other living organisms in the gulf.”

Read the rest at The San Francisco Chronicle.

Nov 25 2011

Rebuilding Fisheries: There’s an App for That

'iPhone' photo (c) 2008, William Hook - license:

Executive director, The Nature Conservancy – California

My daughter and I love to fish (on my iPhone). She’s 2; I’m a bit older, but we’re both excellent anglers (on my iPhone). Flick Fishing and Fishing Kings are our favorites. It’s no substitute for a father-daughter fishing trip, but there’s much less gear involved, and we never have to retie our lines. I’m keen on teaching her where her food comes from and never thinking fish comes from the grocery store. Catching things to eat is the world’s oldest profession, despite what they say about the other one. If you think about it, of everything we eat today, the only wild animals we still really hunt for food are fish.

The problem is that we’re getting too good at it.

That hunt is now going high tech in much bigger ways than my iPhone games. Off our California coast, environmentalists and fishermen have teamed up to use apps and iPads to not only find the right fish, but also to make sure we don’t catch them all. Keeping a stable population of fish healthy ensures there will be fish left to fish tomorrow. If you’re a commercial fisherman, you are required to record the number of fish you caught and where you caught them. Typically, you send all that data on hand-written logs into the federal fisheries agency and that’s the last you see of it. Enter eCatch, a new app developed by The Nature Conservancy and fishermen that lets them load their catch data at sea and have real time access to the latest information on where the fish are — the ones they want to catch and the ones they need to avoid.

Sharing information on what you caught and where is not the norm for fishermen. They tend to be the original rugged individualists and too often get caught in the race to catch more fish before the other guy does. The results of this have been bad for everyone: rapidly declining fish populations and fishermen going out of business. But a group of fishermen off our coast is trying to change the game by collaborating and sharing information.

Read the rest here.

Oct 7 2011

USC marine biologist presents study of Redondo Beach fish kill

Millions of sardines floated to the surface at Redondo Beach's King Harbor in March 2011. (Brad Graverson/Staff Photographer)

By Melissa Pamer Staff Writer

For nearly six years, USC researchers have been studying coastal waters in Redondo Beach, waiting for an event like the one in March that left some 170 tons of dead sardines stinking up King Harbor.

As the fish kill generated global media attention and much speculation about its causes, scientists from David Caron’s lab at USC were already at work examining the evidence.

They parsed data from underwater sensors installed in the harbor in 2006 after another big fish kill the previous year. On Friday night, Caron will present their findings during a free event at Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro.

There won’t be any jaw-dropping revelations. The explanation is very similar to that offered by Caron and other scientists in the immediate aftermath of the fish kill.

“What happened there was a low-oxygen event,” said Caron, a professor of biological sciences.

As hypothesized at the time, millions of fish swarmed into the harbor and used up all the available oxygen, essentially suffocating. It’s not really clear what drove them into the harbor.

There’s evidence from the sensors and other oceanographic data that an upwelling of cold ocean water from the deep had flowed into the marinas, lowering oxygen levels by nearly half in weeks before the fish kill, Caron said.

Read the rest of the story from the Torrance Daily Breeze.

Sep 7 2011

Barbecued squid salad with snake beans and grapefruit

Serves 4

By Bill Granger

While fish can fall apart and be tricky to cook on a grill, prawns, langoustines, squid and other seafood are made for it. The punchy dressing and citrus give this squid salad a real kick.

2 green chillies, finely chopped
1 tsp sea salt
4 coriander root, rinsed well and roughly chopped
1 garlic clove
3 tbsp fish sauce
3 tbsp caster sugar
3 tbsp lime juice
Large handful picked, fresh mint leaves
Large handful fresh coriander leaves
300g/10oz snake beans or green beans, cut into 5cm lengths
2 pink grapefruit, peeled, cut into segments, pith and membrane removed
800g/1¾lb squid tubes, cleaned, cut into approx 6cm x 3cm pieces and scored on the inside
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Read the full recipe here.

Sep 2 2011

KGO-TV: FDA helps create DNA database for fish

How do you know the fish you buy is really what it’s supposed to be? The answer is often you don’t. So the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is trying to protect consumers using DNA identification. It’s a global project, and the Philippines is believed to have more types of fish than almost any place on Earth, so it’s a great place to collect specimens. ABC7 News was the only TV station to go there with American researchers working to keep our food safe.

Read the rest of the story here.

Jul 29 2011

San Diego Union Tribune-Letter: Foraging for responsible bills

San Diego Union-Tribune

Letters to the Editor

July 29, 2011

If you didn’t know, you might think that forage fish like sardines and squid are on the brink of destruction in California. That’s what some activists and the Union-Tribune story on Assembly Bill 1299 imply (“Thinking small for a sea change,” July 18). However, these claims are incorrect.

California’s forage fisheries are among the best protected in the world, with one of the lowest harvest rates. Yet this state would squander millions of tax dollars – and thousands of jobs – to duplicate existing laws. Why?

To initiate new legislation like AB 1299 as if no current regulation exists is fiscally irresponsible and disrespectful of California’s management history.

Moreover, virtually all of these species range far beyond California state waters and wouldn’t be helped by this bill.

The anti-fishing activists pushing this legislation misrepresented the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s research. For example, they cited an incomplete ecosystem assessment to prove their overfishing hype, but failed to say it excluded Southern California waters, where 80 percent of California’s squid harvest occurs. AB 1299 is simply a disingenuous attempt to curtail sustainable fisheries.

 — Diane Pleschner-Steele, California Wetfish Producers Association

May 31 2011

Anchovy, sardine populations not at risk

The Santa Cruz Sentinel recently ran a column by D.B. Pleschner, executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association.  It’s reproduced in its entirety below:

By D.B. Pleschner

“In Monterey Bay, and around the world, little fish are in big trouble,” wrote Sascha Zubryd in her May 13 Sentinel article.

The article reported on a new study by Stanford researchers, who expressed surprise that small coastal pelagic fish, such as sardine and anchovy, were as subject to collapse as large predator fish.

But this isn’t news to scientists well-versed in the cycles of these coastal pelagic species. In fact, the first academic research paper that said essentially the same thing appeared in the 1880s, more than 100 years ago.

What’s more, in California, these species are not in trouble.

When asked about the Stanford study, Dr. Richard Parrish, a former member of the West Coast Coastal Pelagic Species Management Team and recently retired from the National Marine Fisheries Service, said, “I am always amazed when academic scientists publish papers on fisheries and are surprised by things that were well-known and published decades ago in fisheries journals.

“The brief answer is yes, small fishes can be and often are overfished,” he added. “The problem is confounded with environmental fluctuations that occur with a periodicity which suggests that you can believe what your grandfather tells you, but you cannot believe what your father tells you.”

Sardines are a classic example.

The storied Pacific sardine collapse in the 1940s was widely blamed on overfishing, but decades later scientific studies of core samples taken from the deep anaerobic trench in the ocean off Southern California revealed layers of sardine scales and layers of anchovy scales corresponding with oceanic cycles. Warm-water cycles favored sardines and cold-water cycles favored anchovies. The bottom line: the sardine population would have declined even without fishing pressure.

Such findings led Dr. Parrish and other members of the management team to design a new, ultra precautionary harvest strategy for sardines when the population was declared fully recovered in 1999.

And the same precautionary principles apply to other coastal pelagic stocks as well, in light of their known cycles of abundance and importance in the ecosystem as forage for other marine life.

Today’s fishery management of coastal pelagic species in California and along the West Coast portion of the California Current Ecosystem is acknowledged as the most precautionary in the world, one of only a few areas deemed to be “sustainable” by internationally recognized scientists Rebuilding Global Fisheries, Science 2009.

The basic management strategy adopted a decade ago for coastal pelagic species harvested in California and on the West Coast maintains at least 75 percent of the fish in the ocean to ensure a resilient core biomass. And the protection rate for sardines is even higher — about 90 percent.

In addition, the state of California is implementing a network of no-take marine reserves throughout state waters. Reserves established at specific bird rookery and marine mammal haul-out sites, for example near Año Nuevo, the Farallon Islands, and the Channel Islands in Southern California, are explicitly intended to protect species such as anchovy, sardines and market squid as forage for other marine life.

Recently, concern over increased utilization of small fishes worldwide has grown in response to a perceived increase in demand for fishmeal for an expanding aquaculture industry.

But again, this risk does not apply to California, as reduction fisheries and fishmeal plants no longer exist in the Golden State.

In Monterey and California overall, people can rest assured that the little fish are not in trouble here; rather these coastal pelagic species are harvested sustainably, and they still contribute enormous benefits to the socio-economic and cultural well-being of our harbor communities.



Apr 7 2011

Sardines return by the millions to B.C.

Ucluelet, Zeballos and Port Hardy harvested 22,000 tonnes of fast-swimming fish last year


Sardinesphoto © 2008 Mattie B | more info (via: Wylio)

Sardines have returned to the B.C. coast in schools “thick enough to walk on,” creating a fascinating spectacle and new fishery on Vancouver Island.

Fishing fleets in resourcedependent communities like Ucluelet, Zeballos and Port Hardy harvested 22,000 tonnes of sardines last year, a tiny fraction of the schools that observers say can be hundreds of metres long as they move into the island’s bays and inlets.

“I’ve seen them on the west coast of Vancouver Island thick enough to walk on,” Barron Carswell, senior manager of marine fisheries and seafood policy for the provincial Agriculture Ministry, said in an interview. “It’s incredible. They are all over the place. You can go into little bays and the surface of the water is all sardines.”

Sardines, also called pilchards, were at one time a major B.C. fishery, but they mysteriously disappeared in the 1940s. Overfishing along their migration route from California to Alaska is believed to be a prime cause.

Their return is being attributed to changes in ocean conditions.

Read the rest at the Vancouver Sun.



Apr 1 2011

175 tons of dead sardines scooped from CA marina

Sardinesphoto © 2000 Robin | more info (via: Wylio)

Associated Press


LOS ANGELES — Three weeks after a huge fish die-off in Southern California, officials have a body count but still can’t say what drove 175 tons of sardines into a marina.

Dave Caron, professor of biological sciences at the University of Southern California, said Thursday that as many as 2.5 million sardines blanketed the surface and floor of King Harbor Marina.

Read the rest of the story here.