Posted on Categories Habitats, Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , , , ,

Seafood's new normal: An ecosystem at risk

Tara Duggan, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
In the shallow waters off Elk, in Mendocino County, a crew from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife dived recently to survey the area’s urchin and abalone populations. Instead of slipping beneath a canopy of leafy bull kelp, which normally darkens the ocean floor like a forest, they found a barren landscape like something out of “The Lorax.”
A single large abalone scaled a bare kelp stalk, hunting a scrap to eat, while urchins clustered atop stark gray stone that is normally striped in colorful seaweed.
“When the urchins are starving and are desperate, they will leave the reef as bare rock,” said Cynthia Catton, an environmental scientist with Fish and Wildlife. Warm seawater has prevented the growth of kelp, the invertebrates’ main food source, so the urchins aren’t developing normally; the spiky shells of many are nearly empty. As a result, North Coast sea urchin divers have brought in only one-tenth of their normal haul this year.
The plight of urchins, abalones and the kelp forest is just one example of an extensive ongoing disruption of California’s coastal ecosystem — and the fisheries that depend on it — after several years of unusually warm ocean conditions and drought. Earlier this month, The Chronicle reported that scientists have discovered evidence in San Francisco Bay and its estuary of what is being called the planet’s sixth mass extinction, affecting species including chinook salmon and delta smelt.
Baby salmon are dying by the millions in drought-warmed rivers while en route to the ocean. Young oysters are being deformed or killed by ocean acidification. The Pacific sardine population has crashed, and both sardines and squid are migrating to unusual new places. And Dungeness crab was devastated last year by an unprecedented toxic algal bloom that delayed the opening of its season for four months.
Read more at: Seafood’s new normal: An ecosystem at risk

Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , , ,

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

Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , Leave a comment on State considers locally based regulations for recreational red abalone

State considers locally based regulations for recreational red abalone

Samantha Kimmey, POINT REYES LIGHT
Regulations for recreational red abalone diving have been mostly uniform along the Northern California coast for a decade, but the state is now considering changes to allow more locally specific rules.
Through an online survey, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is asking divers for input about how the red abalone fishery should be managed. The department says tightening rules about when and where divers can fish could increase the likelihood of catching more abalone, while expanding diving opportunities could make it more difficult to find the mollusk. Changes could include stricter rules at some sites and more lax rules at others, based on local populations. But finely tuned regulations would also be more expensive to enforce, likely costing divers more in fees.
The survey responses and comments from public meetings held last fall will inform a forthcoming fishery management plan for red abalone, a brick red to pink-shelled mollusk that is the largest of all abalone species. (The world record is around 12.3 inches long.)
Rules for red abalone diving —such as a ban on scuba gear, annual and daily catch limits and seasonal closures—have been dictated by the state’s Abalone Recovery and Management Plan. The decade-old document outlines management and recovery efforts for all species; two kinds, white and black abalone, are endangered. But the department is developing a specific plan for red abalone, which is the only one with a robust enough population for a recreational fishery.
In California, red abalone can only be fished north of the San Francisco Bay. Divers are subject to a number of regulations; for instance, they must carry a measuring device on them while diving, so they don’t take abalone under seven inches.
Of the roughly 256,000 taken legally every year along the Northern California coast, most—about 95 percent—comes from Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. There isn’t as much easy public access in Marin, and one avid diver from Point Reyes Station, Billy Wessner, said sedimentation in the county’s waters also makes the mollusk even more difficult to find. Still, over 3,000 are taken from Marin every year, according to state figures.
“There’s still plenty here. It’s alive and well,” Mr. Wessner said.
A combination of overfishing, bad management, disease and predation spurred a massive decline of abalone stocks in the 20th century. And abalone are slow growers: it can take a decade or more for one to reach seven inches in diameter, the minimum size divers can take, making recovery a slow process.
Read more via State considers locally based regulations for recreational red abalone | The Point Reyes Light.

Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , , , Leave a comment on Bodega Bay lab at forefront of effort to save rare abalone species

Bodega Bay lab at forefront of effort to save rare abalone species

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The stacks of white, water-filled troughs in a small building at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory offer a bright spot in a landscape of often-grim news about California’s marine environment.
Roughly 2,000 tiny white abalone almost a year into life here represent the promise that an all-but-extinct sea mollusk might survive.

The product of a 4-year-old program that began with 18 wild white abalone plucked from the ocean depths near the Channel Islands 15 years ago, these small shellfish — from pencil-point- to almond-sized — are proof that captive breeding can work. Already, descendant abalone produced over three spawning seasons in affiliated science labs across the state are nearly equal in number to those believed to remain in the wild, where they are scattered so widely they no longer reproduce.

But with greater success in the lab each season, and a new round of spawning planned in early March, scientists in the program say they are just a few years away from beginning to test the survival of the young abalone out at sea, in hopes of eventually restoring some portion of the wild population.

“We may not bring it back anywhere close to what it was,” said Gary Cherr, director of the Bodega Marine Lab and principal investigator for the white abalone captive breeding program. “But if we can establish some self-sustaining populations up and down the coast … that would be a first. That would be really remarkable.”

Read more via Bodega Bay lab at forefront of effort to | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , Leave a comment on Abalone massacre in 2011 pinned on microscopic coastal killer

Abalone massacre in 2011 pinned on microscopic coastal killer

Peter Fimrite, SFGATE.COM

Scientists have identified a microscopic sea creature with a Jekyll and Hyde personality as the culprit in the death of tens of thousands of abalone three years ago along the Sonoma and Mendocino coasts, but they don’t know how to stop the elusive critter from killing again.

The toxic "red tide" in 2011 turned the pristine coastal waters into a graveyard, with the rotting carcasses of red abalone, sea urchins, starfish and other mollusks strewn along the shoreline from Bodega Bay and Fort Ross to Anchor Bay in southern Mendocino County.

A team of scientists and geneticists said this week that they used a sophisticated, new forensic genome testing technique to pin the carnage on a mysterious poison-producing micro-organism known as Gonyaulax spinifera, a species of phytoplankton virtually unheard of in this part of the world.

via Abalone massacre pinned on microscopic coastal killer – SFGate.

Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , Leave a comment on Abalone die-off plagues the coast

Abalone die-off plagues the coast

Sam Scott, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A recent explosion of plankton off the Sonoma Coast has turned lethal for abalone and other shellfish.

White meat from the prized sea snails has been washing up on area beaches for more than a week, sending wafts of rotting flesh over bluffs, and dismaying those who consider themselves stewards of the ocean.

“It’s like going up to an old growth forest and then coming back and it’s been clear cut,” said Matt Mattison, an abalone diver from Monte Rio, who was stunned by the extent of the die-off near Fort Ross on Monday. “In 28 years of diving up here, I have never seen anything like this.”

State scientists say the destruction appears to be the result of a plankton bloom that began toward the end of August and is now dissipating.

via Abalone die-off plagues the coast | The Press Democrat.