Category Archives: Sonoma Coast

Unprecedented delay in California abalone season

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Wildlife managers hope lessening pressure on the imperiled mollusks will help the fishery rebound from a catastrophic mix of ocean conditions that have prompted extensive starvation in abalone stocks.

In a normal year, veteran diver Matt Mattison would likely have started this weekend clad in neoprene, plying the waves off the Sonoma Coast, eager to bag his first red abalone of the season.

Instead, the Monte Rio resident was among a group of volunteers who fanned out Saturday along the North Coast’s most popular abalone hunting grounds to head off any divers or rock pickers who mistakenly turned up and to inform them the traditional season start has been delayed.

A jubilant occasion that typically draws hundreds, perhaps thousands, of restless abalone hunters to coastal waters each year, the April 1 opener is a little like Christmas for those who pursue the succulent sea snails. It’s a rite of spring.

But after four decades of time-honored ritual — cause for reunions of family and friends on the Sonoma and Mendocino coast every year — the California Fish and Game Commission has taken emergency action curtailing this year’s season, axing both April and November from the calendar and sharply reducing the allowable annual catch, from 18 abalones to 12.

It will be the first April since 1921 — a time when the season began in mid-March — that red abalone cannot legally be harvested, according to Jerry Kashiwada, an environmental scientist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Read more at: Unprecedented delay in California abalone season shuts down North Coast in April | The Press Democrat

Filed under Habitats, Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

Tail end of gray whale migration happening off Sonoma, Mendocino coasts in April, May, June

Jeanne A. Jackson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Just off our coastline, more than 20,000 gray whales travel thousands of miles on their great migration. In autumn, they begin their journey from their feeding grounds in the Arctic Circle to their birthing, mating and nursery waters in the lagoons off Baja California. It’s a trip of five to seven thousand miles, one-way. And the whales do not eat until they return to the Arctic in the spring.

The first to leave the Arctic are the pregnant females. They are followed by those gray whales who will be mating. Those whales not mature enough to mate, will then follow, though some will linger off the coast.

While in the warm waters off Baja, mother whales give birth to their calves. Each mother whale births one calf. The mothers and calves will stay in the lagoons for the calves to gain enough strength to swim the thousands of miles north. The mothers will feed their calves with their rich, calorie-dense milk. They nurse their babies as human mothers nurse their young. Gray whale bodies have many similarities to human bodies.

The first whales to leave Baja and head north in late winter are the newly pregnant females. They swim fast and hard, as they need to reach their feeding ground where they will be eating for two.

The last to leave Baja are the mother/calf pairs, and that is what is occurring now. April, May and early June are the perfect times to whale watch, as the mother/calf pairs are closer to shore due to the current, and the whales come up more often for their offspring to breathe.

Read more at: Tail end of gray whale migration happening off Sonoma, Mendocino coasts in April, May, June | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

Worst salmon season in eight years projected in California 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

California fishermen are bracing for the worst salmon season in eight years, one so grim that many will likely sit the season out completely.

Years of drought and unfavorably warm ocean conditions that existed when this year’s potential crop of king salmon was young have reduced the adult population to the lowest level forecast since 2009, when projections were so pathetic both sport and commercial salmon seasons were canceled.

Some hope that abundant winter rainfall and last year’s welcome spring rains will help restore next year’s salmon fishery to something approximating full strength. But until then, “we have one more bad drought hangover year to work through,” said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association.

“It looks horrible,” said Bodega Bay fisherman Lorne Edwards, who may skip what would be his third season in a row.

The recreational salmon fishery opens to California sport fisherman on April 1 every year and would normally open to the commercial fleet May 1.

But it will be several weeks yet before the season schedule is set, based on complex modeling and statistical projections aimed at estimating the number of adult salmon waiting in the ocean for the signal to swim upstream and spawn throughout the intensively managed West Coast fishery off California, Oregon and Washington states.

Analysts weigh a host of factors, including the previous year’s landings, the number of adult salmon found dead after spawning and the number of fish set aside for Native American tribes to catch. State and federal biologists consider each distinct natural and hatchery salmon population and their historic distribution in the ocean to determine where and when sport fishers and trollers are allowed to drop their lines in a given year.

Read more at: Worst salmon season in eight years projected in California | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

Caltrans moving ahead with Gleason Beach project

Amie West, SONOMA COUNTY TIMES & NEWS

Proposed roadway. (Caltrans)

The public is invited to a meeting Thursday to discuss the state’s Gleason Beach project, a Highway 1 realignment that would shift the roadway inland and away from ocean erosion of cliffs about five miles north of Bodega Bay.

The meeting will be at the Bodega Bay Marine Lab lecture hall, 2099 Westshore Road in Bodega Bay from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Attendees will be able to view and provide input on the latest roadway and bridge project designs.

The purpose of the project is to provide a safe coastside transportation that avoids erosion undermining the coastal highway. Late last year, Caltrans issued an emergency work order to temporarily stabilize Highway 1 near Gleason Beach after damage from multiple erosive forces made the roadway vulnerable, especially in storms and extreme weather. According to Caltrans, at the current rate of coastal retreat, the roadway at Gleason Beach abutting the coastal bluffs is expected to be undermined within the five years.

The project would construct a 3,700-foot, two-lane roadway and 850-foot long bridge span over Scotty Creek, shifting the entire roadway to the east, away from the eroding cliff side. The road and bridge would be 49 feet wide and include 6-to-8-foot shoulders and a 6-foot wide sidewalk in the southbound direction for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The project also includes improving three access roads to Highway 1, plus additional improvements to vehicle turnouts and adding a dedicated parking area.

The realignment project has already conducted and received a certified Final Environmental Impact/Environmental Assessment under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The EIR states that no significant impact is expected from the project, though Caltrans states the bridge structure will change the visual character of the coastal landscaping looking inland from Gleason Beach.

Caltrans has plans to help mitigate impacts to coastal wetlands, the Scotty Creek floodplain, water quality, federally listed threatened and endangered species, including the Myrtle’s silverspot butterfly, and the rural character of the coastal Sonoma County landscape.  Caltrans expects the project will improve the environmental baseline of the Scotty Creek floodplain because the bridge will span the floodplain and remove a culvert currently spanning the creek that creates a potential barrier to migrating salmonids.

Read more at: Caltrans moving ahead with Gleason Beach project | News | sonomawest.com

Filed under Sonoma Coast, Transportation

Bodega Bay to be release site for quarter-million hatchery salmon

 Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The hatchery-reared fish will be trucked directly to Sonoma County from the state-run Mokelumne River hatchery near Lodi as part of a continuing effort to augment California’s declining Chinook salmon stocks, which took an especially hard hit during the prolonged drought.

Modeled after similar programs elsewhere on the California coast, the operation involves the use of a custom-made net pen to be positioned in the water, dockside, at Spud Point Marina in order to receive the smolts. The pen will provide a place for the young fish to adjust after their tanker ride and to acclimate to salt water before they head toward open water with the outgoing tide a few hours after their arrival.

The key advantage of such an effort is it allows the young fish to bypass the obstacles they would otherwise face getting downstream to the ocean, past unscreened water pumps and other dangers in the Sacramento River/San Joaquin River system, enhancing their chance of surviving to adulthood.

“The delta pumps just eat all those fish coming down, the little smolts coming down the river, and this makes sure that they make it northward to Bodega Bay, as a start,” said veteran Petaluma angler Victor Gonella, founder of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, a sport and commercial industry group that put the project together.“This is just really good news for the fishermen in Bodega, the businesses in Bodega, anybody who loves salmon,” Gonella said. “We’re all hopeful that it will continue for years to come as we continue this process.”

Read more at: Bodega Bay to be release site for quarter-million hatchery salmon

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

Interim chief gets permanent post with California Coastal Commission

Peter Fimrite & Steve Rubinstein, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

The California Coastal Commission named its acting executive director to formally head the agency Friday, exactly one year after firing his predecessor in a controversial ouster that caused a statewide outcry among environmentalists.

Named to the post was Jack Ainsworth, 59, who has worked for the commission for 29 years. Meeting in Newport Beach (Orange County), the commission voted unanimously to appoint Ainsworth, the agency announced in a news release.

“Jack’s depth of understanding of coastal issues, the challenges confronting this agency and his steady leadership over the last year thoroughly impressed us,” said commission chair Dayna Bochco. “We are all looking forward to continuing our work to protect California’s magnificent coastline and ensure access for all.”

Ainsworth’s promotion followed the commission’s decision last Feb. 10, with a 7-to-5 vote, to fire Charles Lester after a heated debate over the long-term mission of the agency. The decision prompted thinly veiled allegations of racism and intolerance to be hurled between commissioners and Lester’s staunchest supporter, the Surfrider Foundation.

Supporters of Lester alleged big-money developers were behind the move. His opponents said Lester’s staff was insufficiently diverse.

Surfrider, an advocacy group created more than 30 years ago to fight coastal development, said the commission pushed out Lester to appease builders and rich movie stars who wanted to construct Malibu mansions.

Read more at: Interim chief gets permanent post with California Coastal Commission – San Francisco Chronicle

Filed under Land Use, Sonoma Coast

Red crabs deposited on Sonoma Coast by unusual ocean conditions

The 18 pelagic red crabs now living at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab are the first ones reported this far north since 1985, when an isolated sighting was recorded in Fort Bragg, according to Eric Sanford, a UC Davis professor of evolution and ecology.

But those who follow life along the Pacific Coast may recall seeing images of the spidery, vermilion-colored creatures as they came ashore by the thousands last year in Monterey and a year prior, when beaches on both the Central Coast and in and around Orange County were covered in blankets of bright red crabs.

At the time, ocean waters were atypically high, a result initially of a phenomenon called “The Warm Blob” and then an ensuing El Niño ocean warming phase of record strength.

The surprise in finding the rare crabs off the Sonoma Coast at this point in time is that the ocean waters have cooled significantly over the past nine months or so, when the latest El Niño dissipated, Sanford said.

“They’re more often found in southern and central Baja, off of Mexico, and it’s very rare to see them even in the state of California,” Sanford said.

Seeing them now “is just another indicator of how strong that El Niño was,” he said.

Read more at: Red crabs deposited on Sonoma Coast by unusual ocean conditions

Filed under Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

Democrats push Obama to protect California coast from new drilling

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

With three weeks left until President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, Democratic lawmakers and environmentalists remain hopeful that President Barack Obama will grant their long-standing wish: permanent protection of the California coast from new offshore oil and gas drilling.

North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who met personally with administration officials at the White House in November, said he will continue lobbying for presidential action through Obama’s final hours in office on Jan. 20.

“We’ve got to keep pushing until the end,” Huffman said.

A host of Democratic heavyweights — including California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, Gov. Jerry Brown, 26 state senators including Mike McGuire of Healdsburg, and the California Coastal Commission’s chairwoman — sent official letters to Obama urging him to use an obscure federal law to withdraw California waters from future energy leasing.

But to their collective dismay, the Pacific Coast was not included in Obama’s decision two weeks ago to protect hundreds of millions of acres in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans in an executive action observers described as an effort to reinforce his legacy as an environmental leader.

Read more at: Democrats push Obama to protect California coast from new drilling | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma Coast

Bodega Bay’s Hole in the Head has a rich history 

Arthur Dawson, Towns Section, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Hole in the Head is a 70-foot deep pit dug at Bodega Head in the early 1960s. It is a sort of anti-monument, a place to remember something that didn’t happen. In the late 1950s, PG&E drew up plans for power plants up and down the California coast. Though the Bodega Head plant was initially cast as a “steam-electric generating facility,” the company eventually admitted it would be a nuclear plant — one of the largest in the world at the time.

In those days there was no public input on major projects. As ground was broken and a pit excavated in the first stage of construction, public reaction to the reactor was approaching critical mass.

The Association to Preserve Bodega Head and Harbor was formed by an eclectic group of local ranchers, jazz musicians, students, Sierra Club Director David Brower, homemakers and other concerned citizens.

At a meeting in Santa Rosa, a coordinator for the state’s Atomic Energy Development Agency, frustrated by all the public comments, told the group that they should leave the project “to the experts.” This did not sit well with people who felt they needed a nuclear plant like, well, “a hole in the head.”

They began writing letters to officials and organizing creative protest rallies. Gathering at Bodega Head on Memorial Day, 1963, they released 1,500 yellow balloons into the air. Each one carried a note: “This balloon could represent a radioactive molecule of strontium-90 or iodine-131.” The balloons showed up many miles downwind, landing as far away as the East Bay and the Central Valley.

PG&E insisted it would engineer the plant to safely survive a major earthquake. The activists responded by hiring a geologist to assess the site.

Read more at: Bodega Bay’s Hole in the Head has a rich history | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, Sonoma Coast

Ocean rhythms are changing, ocean wildlife dying

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Mass-starvation events have hit a spectrum of other West Coast marine wildlife, mostly due to the collapse of food chains brought on by warmer ocean water.

In any other year, the large bins of Dungeness crab that are loaded dockside in this busy fishing village and rolled out by truck to be sold and served during the holidays would seem like no big deal.

But after an unprecedented delay in the 2015-16 commercial season forced local crabbers to leave their boats tied up through winter and on into spring, the tons of meaty crustaceans landed in port this month have been a welcome sign of normalcy restored, if only for a moment.

For here on the edge of the Pacific, where commercial fishing remains a way of life, once reliable ocean rhythms have been seriously unsettled of late, confounding those who depend on predictable, seasonal cycles and highlighting future uncertainties.

Even the current Dungeness season lurched off to a bumpy start, with the fishery opening piecemeal and mostly behind schedule, a symptom of widespread marine anomalies that have prevailed for the past three years, threatening everything from seabirds and sea lions to treasured catches such as salmon and abalone.

“The ocean is changing,” one glum crabber aboard the vessel New Horizon said while waiting to unload his catch recently at Tides Wharf. Offshore a strong storm was building and the fisherman summed up the fishing industry’s environmental troubles with hard-earned experience.

“Irregularity “is starting to look like the new normal,” he said.

Scientists and fishermen alike are unsure about the degree to which recent upheaval fits within the ocean’s normal rhythms — which are complex — or is part of some longer-term trend, perhaps linked to global climate change and its many ripple effects.

It’s likely a bit of both, given the context of the Earth’s warming, though more immediate atmospheric conditions have been the primary suspect, scientists say.

“Climate change syndrome is definitely having an impact,” said John Largier, professor of coastal oceanography at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory. “…What is very difficult to tell is how much.”

It appears that an expanse of high-temperature water along the coast of North American known as “the Warm Blob” is mostly to blame for recent disturbances affecting the coast of California, causing significant redistribution of wildlife, disruptions in the food web and large-scale mortality in a variety of animals.

Read more at: Year in Review: Ocean changes upend North Coast fisheries | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma Coast, Wildlife