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Scientists say decades are needed to rebuild California’s abalone collapsed fishery

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

It could take until at least 2032 before California reopens even the slightest season for abalone diving and hunting along the North Coast, where depleted stocks have shut the popular sport fishery since 2018.

But that’s a best-case scenario envisioned by scientists studying the beleaguered red abalone population, as nothing like the open seasons of the recent past is likely for up to three to six decades under the current range of environmental circumstances and reproductive projections that have sunk the species, the scientific team has concluded.

That rough timeline, though subject to ongoing debate and changes based on ocean conditions and population shifts in the coming years, suggests a whole generation of people could miss out on a sport that has inspired adventure and deeply held tradition for legions of families and friends across Northern California.

It also could mean die-hard divers in upper age groups may have to make peace with having bagged their last abalone.

“Some of us won’t live long enough to get back in the water, so that’s not making a lot of people happy,” said longtime ab diver Sonke Mastrup, invertebrate program manager and chief representative in the process for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Jack Likins, a 74-year-old Gualala ab hunter known for bagging trophy sized shellfish, summed up the gloom that has taken hold in the sport’s community. “I think fishermen like me are pretty discouraged,” he said.

The projections are part of a framework prepared for the state Fish and Game Commission to help guide management of the abalone fishery beginning next year, when an emergency three-year ban on the harvest of the mollusks expires.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10789434-181/scientists-say-decades-are-needed

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Why were whales increasingly caught in crab lines? Because of the climate crisis

Katharine Gammon, THE GUARDIAN

New study shows marine heat wave was causing marine life to cluster in an area that made feeding dangerous

When humpback whales began to appear in large numbers off the California coast in 2015 and 2016, people celebrated the comeback of the whales after a near-miss with extinction.

However, the excitement was quickly met with new worries – the whales increasingly got caught up in fishermen’s crab ropes. By 2016, there were more than 50 recorded entanglements that left whales injured or killed. Whales got ropes tangled around their mouths, making it difficult for them to eat. Crab lines cut through tissue and caused infections.

Although whales and fishing had coexisted for decades, this was a new problem. So what was driving it?

A new study published in the journal Nature Communications points at climate breakdown as a factor in the mass entanglements.

When the situation was unfolding in 2015 and 2016, it surprised most people, but not Jarrod Santora, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the lead author of the paper.

Santora was studying the ecosystem effects of the marine heat wave, known as “the blob”, that was happening off the coast of California at the time. Heat waves alter the ocean’s upwelling – the process in which deep, cold, nutrient-rich water rises to the surface. The upwelling in 2015 and 2016 shrunk to just a narrow band along the coast, causing organisms to cluster there. Due to a heatwave-related decline in krill, whales switched to feeding on anchovies in shallower and shallower waters. In addition, the crab fishing season – an $88m industry on the US west coast – had been delayed from November to April, and came to coincide with the whales’ presence.

Read more at

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , , , ,

Rising ocean acidity bad news for West Coast’s $200 million Dungeness crab fishery

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Acidification of the world’s oceans was supposed to be a distant problem — nothing to worry about until some time in the future.

But a new study of juvenile Dungeness crab collected off the Pacific Northwest coast shows the crustaceans are vulnerable to conditions that exist right now.

Published last week in the journal “Science of The Total Environment,” the study found that tiny developing crabs sampled from coastal waters off Oregon and Washington suffered damage to their shells as well as to bristly, hairlike sensory organs believed to help them orient to their surroundings.

The findings have unsettling implications for a roughly $200 million West Coast fishery — California’s most valuable ocean crop and a key economic driver for struggling fishing ports on the North and Central Coast.

The California fleet caught more than $47 million worth of Dungeness crab last year, including nearly $5 million worth of crustaceans landed in Bodega Bay.

The new research, said veteran Bodega Bay fishermen Tony Anello, sounds “very discouraging.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10644113-181/rising-ocean-acidity-bad-news

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma CoastTags , , , ,

Experts fear Trump’s weakening of environmental policy could expose North Coast to drilling

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A move by the Trump administration to roll back landmark environmental policy intended to ensure vigorous scrutiny of federal infrastructure projects has struck alarm in the hearts of California conservationists, particularly those striving to safeguard North Coast waters from offshore energy exploration and production.

Proposed changes to the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act would have sweeping effects nationwide, wherever there is federally built, funded or permitted construction or activity. Examples include mining on federal lands, construction of federally funded highways, or work on interstate gas pipelines or federal dams. But on the North Coast, where residents enjoy some of the most scenic and productive ocean waters on Earth, a coastline already subject to renewed drilling pressures and proposed wind generation facilities may be at greater risk if the NEPA revisions go through, experts say.

“Obviously, it’s going to have dramatic impacts on the whole offshore drilling equation,” said Richard Charter, senior fellow with the Ocean Foundation and a Sonoma Coast resident.

That’s especially true given increased instability in the Middle East due to tension between the United States and Iran, which could move the White House to try to fast-track plans to reopen the North Coast to oil drilling, he said.

“It’s quite frightening,” said Cea Higgins, executive director of Coastwalk California, headquartered in Sonoma County.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10571585-181/experts-fear-trumps-weakening-of

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Trawlers return to Pacific fishing area in rare environmental success story

Associated Press, THE GUARDIAN

A rare environmental success story is unfolding in waters off the US west coast.

After years of fear and uncertainty, bottom trawler fishermen – those who use nets to catch rockfish, bocaccio, sole, Pacific Ocean perch and other deep-dwelling fish – are making a comeback here, reinventing themselves as a sustainable industry less than two decades after authorities closed huge stretches of the Pacific Ocean because of the species’ depletion.

The ban devastated fishermen, but on 1 January, regulators will reopen an area roughly three times the size of Rhode Island off Oregon and California to groundfish bottom trawling – all with the approval of environmental groups that were once the industry’s biggest foes.

The rapid turnaround features collaboration between the fishermen and environmentalists who spent years refining a long-term fishing plan that will continue to resuscitate the groundfish industry while permanently protecting thousands of square miles of reefs and coral beds that benefit the overfished species.

Now, the fishermen who see their livelihood returning must solve another piece of the puzzle: drumming up consumer demand for fish that haven’t been in grocery stores or on menus for a generation.

“It’s really a conservation home run,” said Shems Jud, regional director for the Environmental Defense Fund’s ocean program. “The recovery is decades ahead of schedule. It’s the biggest environmental story that no one knows about.”

Read more at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/dec/26/fishing-groundfish-trawlers-oregon-california-environment

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma CoastTags , ,

California coastal waters rising in acidity at alarming rate, study finds

Rosanna Xia, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

Waters off the California coast are acidifying twice as fast as the global average, scientists found, threatening major fisheries and sounding the alarm that the ocean can absorb only so much more of the world’s carbon emissions.

A new study led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also made an unexpected connection between acidification and a climate cycle known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation — the same shifting forces that other scientists say have a played a big role in the higher and faster rates of sea level rise hitting California in recent years.

El Niño and La Niña cycles, researchers found, also add stress to these extreme changes in the ocean’s chemistry.

These findings come at a time when record amounts of emissions have already exacerbated the stress on the marine environment. When carbon dioxide mixes with seawater, it undergoes chemical reactions that increase the water’s acidity.

Across the globe, coral reefs are dying, oysters and clams are struggling to build their shells, and fish seem to be losing their sense of smell and direction. Harmful algal blooms are getting more toxic — and occurring more frequently. Researchers are barely keeping up with these new issues while still trying to understand what’s happening under the sea.

Read more at https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-12-16/ocean-acidification-california

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Why you should participate in the Local Coastal Plan process

Eric Koenigshoffer, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

If you are wondering why you should participate in the process now underway to update the Local Coastal Plan let me offer my take on the core reason. The continuation of sound public policy protecting the coast from excessive development while ensuring access to the beach and care of the environment requires commitment. That commitment comes in the form of work…that’s right, work. Doing the work of learning the issues and the process and then showing up.

Sonoma County Permit & Resource Management Department (Permit Sonoma) recently released the Draft Update of the Local Coastal Plan (LCP). Meetings seeking community input are now underway. The draft document is available on-line at the PRMD website. Hard copies are available for review in public libraries around the county. There will be public hearings as the process unfolds.

The current LCP is 270 pages. Find it here.

The draft update LCP is 424 pages. Find it here.

In addition to the main body of the document there is also an appendix of a few hundred pages.

The work of wading through hundreds of pages of (let’s face it) sometimes boring text requires tenacity (and lots of coffee!).

One very basic point to remember when reviewing the Draft LCP is that the Coastal Zone is different than any other area of the county. You will see references made to conforming the LCP and the Sonoma County General Plan. Fact is, the two documents can conform with one another in most aspects but not completely. The Coastal Zone is subject to a variety of statewide policies which do not apply to the General Plan. These policies speak to issues which are unique to the coast. Here are a few examples:
Public Access:

At the core of the 1972 Coastal Initiative and reaffirmed in the 1976 Coastal Act is the public’s right under the California Constitution to access the states shoreline. All policies within the Coastal Zone are subject to this fact. Permits issued in the Coastal Zone often have special conditions applied to implement access.
Visitor Serving facilities:

Coastal access results in visitors. Visitors need services. These services include hotel rooms and other lodging, campgrounds, restaurants, groceries, gas stations, electric charging stations, etc. Implementing access to the shore includes making sure these services are available. This is state policy which does not apply elsewhere in the county. Of course, implementing this policy should be mindful of impacts on local coastal residents and communities while meeting state law.
Coastal Dependent use priority:

Use of land in the Coastal zone is subject to policy which sets priorities by type of use. Protecting environmental values and unique natural features is a high priority. Preserving coastal agriculture is too. Housing to meet local community needs is recognized as also important. A notable specific point is that “coastal dependent” uses are preferred over general commercial uses. For example, visitor serving use such as lodging is preferred over a non-coastal-dependent commercial use.

Update of the LCP and General Plan take place every 20 years to so. This is equivalent to the generally accepted definition of a generation as being 20-years. It is important that each update cycle engage each new generation and explore the policies at issue and the history of how these important policies came to be.

I’m confident Supervisor Hopkins will make sure the public engagement process is truly open and transparent she’s good about such things!

Source: https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/changes-to-our-coast-the-local-coastal-plan-lcp

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, Sonoma CoastTags , , , , ,

The world’s oceans are in danger, major climate change report warns

Brad Plumer, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Climate change is heating the oceans and altering their chemistry so dramatically that it is threatening seafood supplies, fueling cyclones and floods and posing profound risks to the hundreds of millions of people living along the coasts, according to a sweeping United Nations report issued Wednesday.

The report concludes that the world’s oceans and ice sheets are under such severe stress that the fallout could prove difficult for humans to contain without steep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Fish populations are already declining in many regions as warming waters throw marine ecosystems into disarray, according to the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to guide world leaders in policymaking.

“The oceans are sending us so many warning signals that we need to get emissions under control,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, a marine biologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany and a lead author of the report. “Ecosystems are changing, food webs are changing, fish stocks are changing, and this turmoil is affecting humans.”

Hotter ocean temperatures, combined with rising sea levels, further imperil coastal regions, the report says, worsening a phenomenon that is already contributing to storms like Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Houston two years ago.
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For decades, the oceans have served as a crucial buffer against global warming, soaking up roughly a quarter of the carbon dioxide that humans emit from power plants, factories and cars, and absorbing more than 90 percent of the excess heat trapped on Earth by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Without that protection, the land would be heating much more rapidly.

But the oceans themselves are becoming hotter, more acidic and less oxygen-rich as a result, according to the report. If humans keep pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at an increasing rate,marine ecosystems already facing threats from seaborne plastic waste, unsustainable fishing practices and other man-made stresses will be further strained.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/25/climate/climate-change-oceans-united-nations.html

Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , ,

Why toxic algae is especially dangerous for California sea lions this year

Carrie Schuman, SAN LUIS OBISPO TRIBUNE

A 2012 overview of trends in toxic algae along the West Coast — published in the journal Harmful Algae — notes a body of evidence suggesting toxic blooms off of California have been worsening in the past 10 to 15 years. A 2018 study published in the same journal further identifies Southern California as a domoic acid hotspot.

On a beautiful Friday in July, a dehydrated young sea lion was rescued from the Harford Pier by the Marine Mammal Center’s San Luis Obispo County rescue team.

Pier visitors noticed the curious sea lion had been lounging on a floating dock for a suspiciously long time.

This California sea lion, later dubbed “Landing,” represents one of the hundreds the center cares for every year, including a large number suffering poisoning from an algal toxin called domoic acid.

Dr. Cara Field, one of the center’s veterinarians, said this year is especially alarming because the algal blooms responsible for producing domoic acid have started earlier than usual — just in time to target “adult female sea lions making their way to the Channel Islands to give birth” and “a whole second generation” of unborn sea lion pups.

The source of domoic acid — a potent neurotoxin — is a microscopic plant-like organism called phytoplankton.

When one particular species called Pseudo-nitzschia finds just the right sweet spot of conditions, it can rapidly reproduce and form a “ bloom.”

People unfortunate enough to be exposed to domoic acid by eating tainted shellfish can develop amnesic shellfish poisoning. Severe cases of the condition, as described by the California Poison Control Network website, includes “short-term memory loss, seizures, coma or shock” — although these cases are rare thanks to precautions taken by the state Department of Public Health.

Marine mammals are also susceptible to poisoning but don’t have a warning system in place like we do.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9845544-181/why-toxic-algae-is-especially?sba=AAS

Posted on Categories Habitats, Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , ,

California fights US plan to drop rat poison on Farallon Islands

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Federal wildlife officials were urged Wednesday to withdraw a proposal to drop 1.5 tons of rat poison on remote islands off the coast of California to kill a mice infestation until they address questions on the impact to wildlife.

The California Coastal Commission heard public comment on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan, which has drawn criticism from local conservation groups. The commission is seeking to determine whether the plan complies with state coastal management rules.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a report presented to the commission in March that a massive house mice population is threatening the whole ecosystem on the rugged Farallon Islands, 27 miles (44 kilometers) off the coast of San Francisco.

The archipelago is home to the largest seabird breeding colony in the contiguous United States, with approximately 300,000 to 350,000 birds of 13 species, including the rare ashy storm petrels. The islands are also used by marine mammal species for resting and breeding and by migratory birds.

Federal wildlife officials proposed using helicopters to dump 2,900 pounds (1,315 kilograms) of cereal grain pellets laced with brodifacoum, an anticoagulant that causes rodents to bleed to death. The substance is banned in California.

Officials acknowledged the plan will kill some seagulls and other species but argue that the benefits of eliminating the invasive species will heal the whole ecosystem.
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“The only way to protect these species and allow the ecosystem to recover is 100% eradication of the mice,” said Pete Warzibok, a biologist who has worked on the Farallon Islands for more than 20 years. “Anything else is simply a stopgap measure that will not adequately address the problem.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9786599-181/california-fights-us-plan-to