Tag Archives: ocean conditions

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

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

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

New limits posed for California’s abalone fishery amid poor ocean conditions 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The state Fish and Game commission is meeting over two days next week in San Diego and will take up the emergency abalone proposal on Wednesday. The meeting will be live-streamed at cal-span.org.More information is available at fgc.ca.gov.

Concern about abnormal ocean conditions off the North Coast is prompting a move by state wildlife officials to restrict next year’s abalone fishery, perhaps halving the number of sea snails individual hunters would be permitted to harvest and even lopping a month or two off the traditional seven-month season.

The dramatic cutback proposed for the popular recreational fishery comes as red abalone stocks are showing the severe effects of wide-scale habitat disruption, including the die-off of kelp forests, leading to starvation for abalone and other sea life.

While the survival of the species is not currently in question, the sustainability of the fishery is “threatened,” said Sonke Mastrup, environmental program manager for California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s marine region.

“We should try to be a little conservative until we know what is going to transpire, because if you overdo it, it’s hard to take back,” Mastrup said. “Once you’ve killed too many, you’ve killed too many.”

The state Fish and Game Commission is set to decide Wednesday in San Diego on the abalone harvest limits, including several proposals meant to protect stocks that draw divers and pickers by the thousands to the wave-battered Sonoma and Mendocino coasts from April to November each year.

Read more at: New limits posed for California’s abalone fishery amid poor ocean conditions | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sonoma Coast, 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

California’s stranded sea lions suffering from brain damage caused by algal blooms

Lisa M. Krieger, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS

Scientists have gleaned fresh insight into the havoc wreaked by a microscopic culprit that has disrupted marine life this year along the Pacific Coast, not only tainting Northern California’s delicious supply of Dungeness crab but also sickening or killing hundreds of sea lions. It’s long been known that a tiny toxin called domoic acid, produced by marine algae known as pseudo-nitzschia, kills brain cells. But new research by a UC Santa Cruz team illuminates the relationship between damage to the brain and sea lions’ profound loss of memory and navigational skills. In recent years, biologists have increasingly observed a high number of California sea lions struggle onto beaches, weak, confused and trembling.

“They have a lot of difficulty navigating and finding food,” said Peter Cook, who presented the findings Monday at the biannual Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals in San Francisco. “They have no sense of which way to go.”

While harmful algal blooms are not unusual, this year’s phenomenon was the largest ever recorded, lasting through the summer and extending from Santa Barbara to Alaska. Blooms of the toxic algae typically occur in the spring and last just a few weeks.

This year’s bloom caused the unprecedented shutdown of the commercial Dungeness and rock crab fisheries throughout most of California. But the toxin has affected other marine life as well, working its way up the food chain from razor clams to anchovies and other small fish to sea lions, one of the top predators in coastal waters.

For the first time ever, sick sea lions have been documented in Oregon and Washington, not just California, said Kathi Lefebvre, of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

An estimated one-third of stranded sea lions suffer from domoic acid poisoning, Cook said. The research is published in this week’s issue of the journal Science.

Read more at: California’s stranded sea lions suffering from brain damage caused by algal blooms – San Jose Mercury News

Filed under Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

Sausalito’s Marine Mammal Center sees record number of stranded seal pups

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The northern fur seal strandings are the latest in a string of alarming marine events. Experts have been working all year to address an “unusual mortality event” among California sea lions.

Another species of marine wildlife has begun turning up, emaciated and weak, in record numbers on the California coast in what continue to be alarming signs of oceanic distress.

Unhealthy northern fur seal pups have been found stranded on beaches in record numbers, newly weaned and weighing little more than typical birth weight for the species, marine mammal experts said.

“They’re adorable, but on the other hand they’re these little bags of skin and bones,” said Jeff Boehm, executive director of the Marine Mammal Center near Sausalito.

As of Friday, the nonprofit center on the Marin Headlands had taken in 85 northern fur seals, which live out in the Pacific Ocean’s waters and islands and would only rarely be found on shore.

That number is more than double the previous record of 31 pups in 2006, according to the center.

Read more at: Sausalito’s Marine Mammal Center sees record number of | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

Toxin in crab among impacts of warm sea that alarm scientists

 Peter Fimrite & Kurtis Alexander, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

The poisoning of Dungeness crab off the California coast by a mysterious algae bloom may be bad news for the seafood industry, but to marine biologists and climate scientists, it is a frightening omen of future distress to a vibrant ecosystem.

Experts say the toxin in the algae, which likely flourished in this year’s record-high ocean temperatures, is one symptom of a wholesale shift in the physical and biological makeup of the Pacific Ocean — a transformation so abrupt and merciless that it is endangering species and forcing migrations before our eyes.

“We are talking about a whole ecosystem change — including a lot of changes besides just the blooms,” said Raphael Kudela, a professor of ocean sciences at UC Santa Cruz. “It’s really restructuring the way California looks.”

Tissue samples of Dungeness and rock crabs last week showed contamination by domoic acid, a neurotoxin known to cause seizures, coma and even death when consumed by animals or humans. The finding prompted California wildlife officials to delay the $60 million commercial crab season, which was supposed to start Nov. 15.

The poisonous algae, multiplying since April, is now estimated to be 40 miles wide, in some places reaching down as far as two football fields, marine biologists say. It is the biggest and most toxic bloom researchers have ever seen.

Read more at: Toxin in crab among impacts of warm sea that alarm scientists – San Francisco Chronicle

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma Coast, Wildlife