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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

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Crab harvest is not only light, but late

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The rush to renew a North Coast New Year’s tradition — feasting on freshly caught Dungeness crab — may help ease the pinch of a late start to the season for fishermen and retailers, but mediocre early returns have so far added a little lemon juice to the cut endured this year by the fleet.

“I won’t say it’s poor,” said Bodega Bay fisherman Dick Ogg, before offering a laugh. “I’ll say it’s less than good. It’s not exactly what we had expected. Our original anticipation was that there were a fair quantity of crabs in the area. Unfortunately, that is not the case.”

The prediction of a mountain of Dungeness crab lying in wait at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean prompted a number of fishing boats from outside the area to descend this month on Bodega Bay.

They had time, as the season was delayed a month until Dec. 15 to allow endangered humpback whales time to clear the area and head south to their winter home off the coast of Mexico.

Ogg, the vice president of Bodega Bay Fisherman’s Marketing Association, said the added pressure didn’t help matters, but it ultimately comes down to this: There just aren’t as many crabs as predicted. And at this point, Ogg said, “the majority have been caught.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/10528717-181/north-coast-tradition-renewed-as

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , ,

Shorter season imposed on California’s Dungeness crab fleet to safeguard whales

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

California’s commercial crabbing fleet will be fishing significantly shorter seasons going forward and with greater safeguards in place to avoid ensnaring endangered marine life in potentially deadly gear under a legal settlement announced Tuesday.

The deal, reached between state regulators, environmentalists and representatives of the crab fleet, is meant especially to protect whales, some of them endangered, that feed in abundance during the spring off the Central and North Coast.

The framework unveiled Tuesday will cut the current season and future seasons by as much as 2½ months and mandate a near-constant watch on the entanglement risks posed to sealife. If those risks are too high, regulators could trigger mid-season closures of some areas.

“It’s been my view almost always we can do right by our natural resources and do right by Californians, and do it better together than in a courtroom,” state Fish and Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham said during a media call on the settlement.

Other parties to the deal included the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued the state in 2017 over a sharp rise in the number of whale entanglements, and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.

To a large extent, the complex settlement reinforces and formalizes efforts already being developed by wildlife regulators and partners to ensure that imperiled wildlife and the crab fishery can thrive.

State Sen. Mike McGuire, whose North Coast district accounts for most of the state’s crab catch, one of California’s most lucrative fisheries, said the cooperation was a sign of the “extremely proactive” posture the state has adopted “to ensure California’s majestic whale population and our crabbing fleet can co-exist.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9433839-181/shorter-season-imposed-on-californias

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Northern California commercial crab season delayed a second time

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
California Fish and Wildlife officials have delayed the start of commercial Dungeness crab fishing north of Sonoma County for a second time this year after routine testing showed the crab aren’t meaty enough to be harvested yet.
It will be at least New Year’s Eve before crabbers can range north of the Sonoma-Mendocino county line in search of the lucrative crustaceans already being caught in areas to the south, the agency said.
The highly regulated fishery opens to commercial crabbers Nov. 15 most years off the Sonoma Coast and in more southerly waters off San Francisco to Half Moon Bay, though the past two seasons have been disrupted by an algae-related toxin. This fall was the first time in three years that the season opened on time.The northern season was scheduled to open Dec. 1, conditional upon a minimum meat recovery rate from tested samples of Dungeness crab.
Underweight samples checked in November prompted a 15-day delay in the Northern California season. Additional samples tested Dec. 5 weren’t sufficiently filled out either, officials said.
Read more at: Northern California commercial crab season delayed a second time

Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , ,

State monitors domoic acid on coast

HALF MOON BAY REVIEW
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton H. Bonham is extending the emergency commercial rock crab fishery closure for areas north of Bodega Bay, which was due to expire May 16. Meanwhile, all crab — Dungeness and rock — is deemed safe to eat south of the North Bay.
State health agencies determined last fall that rock crabs north of Pigeon Point to the Oregon border had unhealthy levels of domoic acid and recommended a commercial fishery closure. Subsequently, Bonham submitted an emergency rule to close the commercial rock crab fishery north of Pigeon Point. That authority is new to the director this year.
Following new recommendations of state health agencies, the CDFW director announced on Feb. 10 that the open area of the commercial rock crab fishery had been extended northward to Bodega Bay in Sonoma County. CDFW is continuing to work closely with state health agencies to monitor levels of domoic acid in rock crabs and other species not affected by this closure.
This closure shall remain in effect until the director of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, in consultation with the Department of Public Health, determines that domoic acid levels no longer pose a significant risk to public health and recommends the fishery be open.
The recreational fishery for rock crab remained open statewide, but the California Department of Public Health issued a warning to avoid consuming the viscera of rock crab caught in the closure area. As a precaution, state authorities recommend avoiding the viscera in Dungeness crab as well.
State officials continue to test domoic acid levels in crab along the coast to determine when the fishery can safely be opened.Domoic acid is a potent neurotoxin produced by a naturally occurring marine alga. Those levels can be increased under certain ocean conditions.
Source: State monitors domoic acid on coast | Local News Stories | hmbreview.com

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , , ,

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

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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

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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

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To save whales, Sen. McGuire promotes program to recover entangling crabbing gear

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The rising number of whales that become entangled in lost or abandoned crab pots off the western United States has spurred a new state bill aimed at ensuring hundreds, even thousands of crab traps that are left behind each year get recovered from the ocean.
Authored by state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, the Whale Protection and Gear Retrieval Act would establish a fee-based regulatory system under which commercial crabbers could be paid to recover lost gear from the water, while owners would pay to reclaim it — or risk losing their crab permit — ensuring funding of the program for the coming year.
The system is modeled after a pilot program that has resulted in collection of about 1,000 crab pots and attached ropes over the past two years from coastal waters between Half Moon Bay and the Oregon border, McGuire said, though many of the details would be worked out at a later date.It was the commercial industry, through representatives on the California Dungeness Crab Task Force, that moved to make the program permanent, McGuire and others said.
“It’s basic accountability, is what it is: Take care of your equipment,” said Bodega Bay fisherman Dick Ogg, who took part in the pilot program this year, retrieving dozens of pots from the shoreline of the North Coast.
Read more at: To save whales, Sen. McGuire promotes program to recover entangling crabbing gear | The Press Democrat

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State’s commercial Dungeness crab fishery to remain closed

Christi Warren, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The commercial Dungeness crab fishery will remain closed until the health advisory that halted the season can be lifted for the entire California coast, or south of the Mendocino/Sonoma county line, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Wednesday.
The decision came down thanks to feedback from members of the commercial Dungeness crab fishery, said Jordan Traverso, deputy director of communications for the CDFW.
“Well, it’s way better than it was,” said Stan Carpenter, president of the Fishermen’s Marketing Association of Bodega Bay, noting the action is more fair than opening the season in some places and not others. “It could be better, though. You could close the recreational fishing as well. There are still people eating those crabs.”
“I understand that there are people suffering economic losses from this closure,” Charlton H. Bonham, CDFW Director, said in a press release. “However, the majority of the commercial fleet tells me they want a statewide opener or could live with an opener that adheres to traditional management areas, which would provide the utmost protection against someone falling ill from domoic acid poisoning.”
Source: State’s commercial Dungeness crab fishery to remain closed | The Press Democrat