Tag Archives: fisheries

Russian River’s future draws diverse crowd to conference

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The supervisor’s goal in drawing together diverse interests from the public, private and nonprofit sectors is to “drive toward creating a one-watershed plan,” he said.

Environmentalists, bureaucrats, public officials, Native Americans and a patron of the arts gathered Friday to plot a future for the Russian River, the waterway they all consider a foundation for communities throughout the North Bay.

The river, which snakes 110 miles from the Mendocino County highlands near Willits to the Pacific Ocean at Jenner in Sonoma County, is a magnet for boaters, bird-watchers, swimmers and anglers, a water supply for 600,000 North Bay residents and the main artery of a 1,500-square-mile watershed.

It also faces a host of challenges over poor water quality and competing demands to support endangered fish, tourism, water storage, flood control and human needs ranging from raw thirst to pure inspiration.

Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore convened the Russian River Confluence, which drew about 220 people Friday to Santa Rosa Junior College’s Shone Farm, located about 2 miles east of the river in the Forestville area.

Read more at: Russian River’s future draws diverse crowd to conference | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

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

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

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

California sets stricter limits on abalone

Tara Duggan, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Citing poor environmental conditions affecting the Northern California red abalone fishery, the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to reduce the annual limit on the recreational fishery from 18 to 12 per diver.

The move follows recommendations from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to reduce the annual abalone take by about 24 percent. The agency and many divers have been at odds as to the best way to respond to underwater surveys that show the abalone population facing starvation due to kelp forest decline. Researchers also found that abalones are not reproducing at sustainable rates, partly because of warm ocean temperatures.

“We’re concerned that these warm water conditions that caused or partly caused these situations may persist next year,” Sonke Mastrup, environmental program manager of the invertebrate program at Fish and Wildlife, said at the meeting, which took place in San Diego.

The new limits, which will go into effect in 2017, follow a previous reduction in 2014 that changed the annual limit from 24 to 18, based on rules in the state’s Abalone Recovery and Management Plan.

About 95 percent of diving takes place in Sonoma and Mendocino counties, bringing in an estimated $44 million a year in tourism revenue, according to an analysis done by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Read more at: California sets stricter limits on abalone

Filed under Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

Bodega Bay boats set out for Dungeness crab along Sonoma Coast

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The full force and focus of the West Coast crabbing fleet has turned on the waters off Sonoma County, where newly opened fishing grounds are expected to yield the next crop of holiday Dungeness crab.

Local fishing vessels left docks in droves before dawn Friday to start setting traps in a fishery whose bounty has made the sweet, succulent crustaceans an important cash crop around the North Coast.

Boats from around California, as well as Oregon and Washington, where the crab seasons have been delayed, have also joined in the latest opening, making for crowded, derby-style action that gives the advantage to the very biggest boats, crabbers say.

“I’ve never seen this many boats and this much gear north of Point Reyes,” Windsor crabber Ben Platt said by phone Friday off the Sonoma Coast as he deployed traps earlier set in Half Moon Bay, where he started the season.

In a normal year, the entirety of the Sonoma Coast would have opened Nov. 15, along with San Francisco, Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, all of which are in the same district, and other areas to the south. But because of lingering, if only slightly elevated levels of a naturally occurring biotoxin in some sample crabs, a line was drawn at Point Reyes and the Sonoma Coast remained off limits, until now.

The decision announced late Thursday by state health and wildlife agencies to permit commercial crabbing as far north as Salt Point beginning at midnight Friday suggests the current issues with domoic acid, the algae-related biotoxin, will be significantly less problematic than last year, when a huge and persistent harmful algae bloom-tainted crab, delaying the commercial Dungeness season an unprecedented 4½ months.

Read more at: Bodega Bay boats set out for Dungeness crab along Sonoma Coast | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sonoma Coast, Sustainable Living, Wildlife

Critics of proposed low-flows for Russian River blast supervisors 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Critics of a permanent plan to curtail summertime flows in the Russian River blasted Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday, with many saying the long-anticipated shift in water management would devastate lower river communities and economies dependent on recreation and tourism.

A string of speakers implored county officials to rethink their strategy or risk increased nuisance and toxic algae that could severely impact quality of life throughout the county. About 80 people attended the public hearing at the supervisors’ chambers, the only one planned as part of an environmental impact report scheduled for release later this year.

Others Tuesday night challenged the science behind the move, questioning the rationale of a 2008 federal opinion by the National Marine Fisheries Service that instructed the Sonoma County Water Agency to reduce artificially elevated summertime flows in the river and in Dry Creek as a way to improve habitat for threatened and endangered salmonid fish. At issue is a proposed overhaul of the agency’s management under which releases have been made from Lake Mendocino into the Russian River and from Lake Sonoma into Dry Creek, which joins the river near Healdsburg. County supervisors serve as the agency’s board of directors.

“Nothing good will come out of a low-flow proposal,” said Linda Burke, whose family has operated Burke’s Canoes in Forestville for two generations. “This is draconian. It’s unheard of. It’s sad, and it’s disgusting.”

The plan is informed by the 8-year-old federal decision that deemed existing operations a potential threat to the habitat and survival of struggling coho salmon, chinook salmon and steelhead trout, all of which are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Federal fishery experts say juvenile fish need low-velocity streams in order to thrive while feeding, resting and building up strength to go out to the ocean. It’s also believed reducing flows would encourage maintenance of a freshwater lagoon at the river mouth near Jenner, enhancing the survival of young steelhead trout.

Reserving a cold water pool in Lake Mendocino for release each fall also would benefit migrating chinook salmon adults as they come in from the ocean and head upstream to spawn, agency personnel said.

Read more at: Critics of proposed low-flows for Russian River blast supervisors | The Press Democrat

Filed under Habitats, Water, Wildlife

North Coast kelp beds ‘like a desert’ this year

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Abalone diver Richard Hayman already had been observing troubling shifts in underwater conditions off the North Coast when he found himself gazing around the ocean floor in Arena Cove with a new level of alarm.

“It’s like a desert out there,” he recalled, describing a barren underwater landscape stripped of vegetation by colonies of purple urchins that vastly outnumbered the mollusks he sought. It looked, he said, “like a fire went through.”

During 25 years of diving, Hayman had come to know the area offshore the Mendocino County town of Point Arena as a source of succulent abalones, abundant and plump with meat.

 In June, he came ashore with his limit of three, despite a substantial reduction in the number of shellfish he saw. But they were so withered that, once removed from their shells, the creatures weighed less than a third of what they normally would.

“They’re starving to death,” the Calistoga man said. “It’s obvious.”

Hayman, 52, was among a dozen veteran divers who recently shared their observations at the midway point to the 2016 red abalone season, which resumes Aug. 1 after a month-long break and runs through November.

What they revealed was near consensus that all is not as usual out there, off the edge of the land, beneath the waves.

Scientists had predicted as much just before the season’s April 1 start, describing an unprecedented collapse of the North Coast’s iconic bull kelp forest and the resulting gloomy outlook for the abalone fishery and the overall ecosystem.

Divers reporting in over the past few weeks — people like Napa diver Andy Treweek, 55 — witnessed as much in some areas, where they discovered a few undersized abalone living on near-barren ocean floor.

Read more at: North Coast kelp beds ‘like a desert’ this year

Filed under Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

Lake Sonoma Steelhead Festival offers close look at powerful fish

Jeremy Hay, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

At the height of the sport fishery, in the 1950s, annual runs brought some 60,000 steelhead into the river, according to the Russian River Wild Steelhead Society.

Steelhead trout are tough, ocean- going fish and they seemed to affirm that in the way they came slamming through the trap door Saturday into a square elevator of water at the fish hatchery below Lake Sonoma.

“They’re strong and they’re very hardy,” said Danny Garcia, a state Fish and Wildlife technician supervising operations at the Don Clausen Hatchery at Warm Springs Dam.

“That’s probably why they got the name steelhead,” he said, smiling, “but don’t quote me on that.”

The fish, a favorite with anglers, were in the spotlight at the annual Lake Sonoma Steelhead Festival, put on by the Friends of Lake Sonoma.

“It’s about kids, education and the importance of freshwater,” said Richard Thomas, president of the nonprofit group.

He estimated that nearly 6,000 people would attend during the one-day event, a crowd up slightly over last year’s numbers.

“We want to draw attention to Lake Sonoma as a public facility and the hatchery is part of that — our goal is the preservation of steelhead in the Russian River,” Thomas said.

After living in the ocean for several years, the steelhead make their way up the river and into Dry Creek, where a fish ladder leads to the hatchery. The hatchery’s job to manage and boost runs of the once-bountiful fish, which is no longer able to reach spawning streams cut off by the dam.

Read more at: Lake Sonoma Steelhead Festival offers close look at | The Press Democrat

Filed under Wildlife

Outlook grim for oceanic habitats

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

With the wait underway for federal aid that might help idled fishermen amid the unprecedented closure of California’s commercial Dungeness crab season, scientists and lawmakers assembled at the state capitol Thursday to grapple with other looming hardships ahead for those who make their living on the seas.

Between drought, the increasing warmth and acidity of ocean waters and other factors that have disrupted conditions and wildlife habitat, the outlook is overwhelmingly grim, presenters said at an annual forum of the joint legislative Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture.

“Something’s going on in the ocean, and it’s not right, and it doesn’t fit our historical understandings,” California Fish and Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham told members of the committee, led by state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg.Bonham noted stretches of coastline suddenly barren of sea urchins, while tropical sea snakes and other warm water species are plying the waters off the California coast. The prolonged algal bloom and resulting neurotoxin that has shut down the state’s commercial crab season is among numerous anomalies that are growing increasingly apparent, Bonham said.

“This should be an … alarm to the general public to stay aware and engaged in this ecological change that’s going on in the ocean,” Bonham said.

Commercial fishermen, especially those on the North Coast, are all too aware of the impacts, having come off a dismal salmon season last summer. The second blow was the postponement of the crab season over human health concerns presented by a naturally occurring neurotoxin called domoic acid that has persisted in a massive algae bloom off the West Coast.

What’s worse, said Clarissa Anderson, an assistant researcher at UC Santa Cruz’s Institute of Marine Sciences, is the record levels of domoic acid follow an overall rise in the neurotoxin since a shift in conditions observed in 1998.

“There have been a few dips in there, but in the last five, six years, we start to see an unprecedented level every year,” Anderson said.

Read more at: Scientists and lawmakers foresee grim outlook for California’s | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sonoma Coast, Wildlife